Author Jan Karon is shy to admit that her fictional town of Mitford is based on Blowing Rock, North Carolina, but residents are convinced. Karon started writing her popular novels when she was living there, and many local attractions (along with lush Blue Ridge scenery) make appearances in her stories. "Mitford would simply like to be the pause that refreshes," muses the author in At Home in Mitford.
Regardless of whether Mitford was born purely of her imagination, people in Blowing Rock know that, in real life, their town delivers.
Every summer, locals and tourists alike line up for Kilwins' ice cream, where a one-scoop order brings a serving that looks like three. In high season, be prepared to wait for your mint chocolate chip; the crowd sometimes spills out onto Main Street. Once you have a waffle cone in hand, it's tradition to vie for a comfy bench in Blowing Rock Memorial Park. From there, watch shoppers hunt for quaint gifts at Take Heart and unexpectedly funky home decor at Neaco.
The Blue Ridge Parkway weaves away from town, toward the former country abode of Moses Cone, a textile entrepreneur of the Gilded Age. His 3,500-acre estate has carriage trails that are still frequented by horses, as well as a mansion that's now home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild. In warmer months, wood-carvers and textile artisans take turns providing demonstrations on the front porch of the grand Colonial Revival mansion. Inside, a gift shop features the work of around 150 regional craftspeople.
Ellen Schaller, who's the manager of the Moses Cone Manor, believes that all the beautiful scenery surrounding Blowing Rock naturally lends itself to creativity. "Artists get a lot of inspiration from their environment, and then they translate that into their work," she says. "The mountains tend to attract people who appreciate nature, and the spirit of the landscape is in many of the pieces we have here."
Lunch is casual at The New Public House in Blowing Rock and is served only on Saturdays.
Spend the afternoon shooting clays or enjoying the spa offerings at Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock, but don't get so relaxed that you forget to make evening reservations at a local favorite like Bistro Roca.
The Restaurant at Gideon Ridge Inn offers dinner—more of an experience than just a meal—that shouldn't be missed. Book a month ahead of time.
Historically, Western North Carolina has been known for its fast-running moonshine, but now it's also gaining a new reputation as wine country. There are three wineries within easy driving distance of Blowing Rock: Grandfather Vineyard & Winery, nestled at the base of Grandfather Mountain in Banner Elk; Linville Falls Winery in Newland, where visitors can enjoy events such as live music and "yoga in the vineyard"; and Banner Elk Winery & Villa, located in the community whose name it shares. Both Grandfather and Linville Falls are family-run wineries. (Grandfather's staff even includes popular "Bordeaux Collie" Casey.)
Banner Elk Winery & Villa's accommodations offer high-thread count luxury, but it's their blueberry patch that best reveals traditional High Country character. You're invited to handpick fruit by the gallon, but there's no attendant. Just leave your payment in a red mailbox standing near the entrance, utilizing an honor system that seems like something straight out of the Mitford stories.
"The High Country has an easy pace of life," says Lisa Koch, property manager at Banner Elk Winery. "It's around 70 degrees when it's sunny. All three wineries in the area have covered porches. Grandfather has a river. We have a lake. People come here for the tastings, sure, but they're really coming to enjoy summer. Life's good in the mountains."