If you're in need of a romantic vacation before the holiday rush starts, head to Gatlinburg where a balcony view awaits.


November brings leaf-turning to an end in the Smokies. This time of year the air is crisp, and on a clear day, it seems as if you can see all the way across Tennessee. Escape to a cabin in Gatlinburg with your beloved to watch autumn drift into winter. The biggest decision you'll face is whether to sit in the porch swing or soak in a hot tub.

Friday―Settle in the Mountains
There are enough motels in this city to sleep a branch of the military and then some. Instead of choosing one of these, cozy up to a cabin―it's more romantic. Check in between 3 and 5:30 p.m. to one of the 100 or so cabins for rent at Jackson Mountain Homes (1-800-473-3163 or www.jacksonmtn.com). From spas to fireplaces, each house varies. For $145 a night, the Blue Heron Cabin has a whirlpool tub inside, hot tub outside, fireplace, and a balcony perfect for bear watching.

After you've settled into your weekend chalet, treat yourself to a candlelit dinner at Buckhorn Inn. This country inn offers prix fixe dinners for $30 in a softly lit room overlooking the mountains. An evening meal might include New England clam chowder, Mediterranean Blue Salad, chicken with tomato sauce and risotto, and a sinful chocolate torte with macadamia nuts for dessert. Bring your own bottle of wine. Reservations are required.

Saturday―Get To Know Gatlinburg
Start your day with a stack of pancakes at Log Cabin Pancake House. The friendly folks at this restaurant feed that mountain appetite with good country cooking.

A fun way for you and your spouse to start a weekend-long date is with some laid-back fly-fishing in a nearby river. Suit up and get a fishing license at The Smoky Mountain Angler, the oldest fly-fishing shop in Gatlinburg. For a half-day (about four hours), a professional fishing guide can teach one person the ropes―make that lines―for $135. Each additional individual costs $40.

In case you don't have luck catching your lunch, arrange for a picnic. Klassy Snacks caters meals of sandwiches, fruit, cheese and crackers, potato and pasta salads, and sparkling grape juice. Owner Mary Russell will deliver baskets brimming with goodies and leave them in the cabin for you.

Spend the rest of the afternoon seeing the sights in Gatlinburg. Known for its skilled artisans and craftspeople, the city boasts an 8-mile loop of interesting shops and galleries. Pick up a hand-carved wood, stone, or bronze sculpture at Turtle Hollow Gallery.

If you still want to see more, make your way to the impressive Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. The underwater aquarium tunnel, a 340-foot moving walkway that transports you under 750,000 gallons of water filled with swimming sharks, is terribly impressive--to say the least.

To close a delightful afternoon, take an elevator ride up to the top of the Space Needle for a magnificent view of sparkling downtown Gatlinburg and the mountains beyond. By all means, remember to bring your camera.

For supper, locals say rainbow trout is the only thing to eat in these parts. The Park Grill, a well-known establishment in town that resembles a mountain lodge, serves trout several ways, including grilled and pan-fried ($18.95). The wait can be endless, so you may want to plan a 5:30 or 8:30 p.m. dinner to avoid the rush.

Sunday―Explore Nature
First things first--you must vacate your cabin no later than 10 a.m. Then you can feast on the Bountiful Breakfast at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. For $7.75 to $9.95, you can partake of a family-style spread that will keep you full the rest of the day. Choose from eggs and fried potatoes to biscuits and a meat of your choice.

To work off some of your brunch, head approximately 26 miles to Cades Cove, a truly enchanting place to enjoy nature. Get there prior to noon, before the rush of other travelers hits. An 11-mile, one-way loop road takes you through the area. Morning is the best time to spy raccoons, woodchucks, and deer. You can drive the entire loop, or get out and hike to see some of the sights along the way. There are more than 70 historic buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including log cabins and churches. There is a visitors center where you can stop for a map and books.

If you missed the aquarium yesterday, it is open 365 days a year, so you can visit today. Know that many of the galleries and shops do close on Sunday, however.


This article is from the November 2002 issue of Southern Living.