By Charlene & Richard Mixa
A Welcoming “Front Porch” to Western North Carolina
Where is your favorite vacation destination? As Travel Writers, we frequently hear this question. Our answer, “Each place has its own unique qualities.” Yet, when we seek a vacation get-a-way for a month, we consistently return to the North Carolina Mountains. Our vacation headquarters is Black Mountain, NC. Known as the “Front Porch” of Western North Carolina, it has a welcoming front porch, downhome charm. Serenity, fresh air, and magnificent mountain views are found in this quaint yet bustling small town in the Swannanoa Valley. A town that offers a wide variety of cuisine to please any palette and numerous unique shops from upscale to local crafts. Plus, Black Mountain is just a short drive to Asheville with its attractions from the Biltmore Estate to the newest microbrewery and the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway. Each day we have a choice! Do we relax on the porch, partake in a walk around Lake Tomahawk, take a jaunt in Asheville, drive the Parkway, hike a mountain trail in Montreat, climb to waterfalls, or take a tour? The list is truly endless! Each visit we always find some new exciting adventures.
THE FLAVORS OF BLACK MOUNTAIN -A small town that boasts forty eateries from upscale cuisine to good ol’ downhome BBQ. Black Mountain has some great restaurants that are favorites of locals and visitors.
Take the “Pub and Grub Crawl” – Food tours are a new trend and Black Mountain jumped on this bandwagon. Creative Mountain Food Tours offers the Ultimate Foodie Tour, the Dessert Tour, and the Pub and Grub Crawl to give one a “taste” of Black Mountain restaurants. Taking the Pub and Grub Crawl, we start at the Swannanoa Valley Museum where Christina Ruiz, Museum Director, educates us on the unique history of the area. Before the tour, we take a self-tour of the museum to learn the well-known and less well-known history of the Black Mountains. Sandi, tour guide and co-owner, begins our “crawl” to sample beer and taste local grub. A short walk to the Black Mountain Ale House, our group is eagerly welcomed. Learning about the Ale House, we have savory samplings of zesty Ale House Wings along with a Flip Side IPA. Wow! Wings & Beer – a great start! The wings are oven roasted, fried crispy and tossed with a house-made sauce. Wing samples include teriyaki, buffalo, dry rub and honey sriracha. Our favorites are the dry rub and sriracha! Across the street, at Dark City Deli & Pub, tasting starts with dessert! Huge decadent mouth-watering brownies! As the owner shares her dream of owning a restaurant, we are treated to a Pisgah Pale Ale to accompany a savory Brickyard Grilled Chicken sandwich, an Avila Chipotle Black Bean Burger, and a tangy Kale Salad. Lots of flavorful foods delight our taste buds.
Now for authentic German cuisine at Berliner Kindl Restaurant. With October just a couple of weeks away, the Spatz Octoberfest German beer is perfect with the plate of a Bavarian burger (actually a bratwurst burger), German Potato Salad, a house recipe Sauerkraut, and German Red Cabbage. More beer tasting awaits at Lookout Brewing, Black Mountain’s newest microbrew. Personally, I like the Wet Hopped whiskey IPA, while Richard is excited about the Front Porch Wet Hopped. We visited this microbrew last year after it opened. Fantastic to see it is growing. Goodness! More grub and beer await us at FRESH Wood Fired Pizza. With pitchers of light and dark IPA’s, we wet our whistle and bite into the “hot” Sicilian Pizza and Chevre Pizza. Each has a wonderful crust and fresh ingredients. Amazing! The pizza is cooked just as it was 180 years ago in a wood fired, hearth oven at over 800 degrees. The Pub and Grub Crawl is FANTASTIC! You will not leave hungry or thirsty. creativemountainfoodtours.com
More Tastes in Black Mountain – A little town with plenty of flavor, there are more restaurants to visit. A favorite lunch restaurant is The Veranda. With its welcoming downhome decor and an attentive wait staff, all decked out in handmade aprons. Their eclectic menu boasts sandwiches, wraps, grilled sandwiches, salads, soups, and homemade desserts. A spicy Mexican fare is found at Ole Guacamole that does a booming business. A hidden gem is Black Mountain Bakery with its fresh home-baked breakfast treats to lunches of homemade sandwiches. For an upscale cuisine we recommend dining at the Palate Restaurant at Monte Vista Hotel.
Stretch the Legs – Walk Lake Tomahawk -Wanting to get some cardio exercise, take a stroll around Lake Tomahawk. A .55 mile walk around the lake basically over flat terrain is perfect for a walk. Making several laps to get a few miles in the lake is an easy path and has some fabulous views. We stop at a storyboard showing the peaks of the Seven Sister Mountains. On this clear morning each of the seven peaks is visible. Kids will love the playground and various events are held at the Lake so check the local calendar for activities. Locals and visitors, often take an evening stroll around the lake and then stop by Kilwin’s for an ice cream treat.
Evening Activities – Having visited the White Horse Tavern a year ago for a July 4th music celebration, we visit this year for an evening of storytelling. Touted as a “Rose Between Two Thorns”, Debbie Gurriere has us in stitches on her tales of growing up in Mississippi and then living in New York. Then Michael Burch stories include his special humor with noises, sounds, as well as music with his “little guitar”. Intriguing and funny with a spin, Pete Koschnick has us laughing at his antics of growing up. Moonshine and what! It was a fun evening of laughter and tales. The Tavern offers a variety of music and other entertainment so be sure to check their calendar. Note: Wear comfy, casual clothes. There is no AC and even with the fans it can be warm.
Beer and Music! At the Pisgah Brewery on Friday night we enjoy their delicious organic microbrews as we listen to the Cajun rhythm of the Bayou Band. On a star filled night sitting at picnic tables, we watch dancers, drink great beer, and chat with visitors. The DOG’s food truck offers snacks.
Rocking Chairs & More! - How appropriate – Black Mountain is known as “The Little Town That Rocks!” And “The Front Porch of Western North Carolina.” We look for the unique rocking chairs around town that are part of this summer’s second “The Little Town that Rocks” campaign. For 2014 the medium is photography from both amateurs and Professional photographers. Our favorites are the “Early Fall on the Blue Ridge Parkway” and the “I found my heart in Black Mountain.”
Outside of town we roam the ruins of the “Rhododendron Estate” the home of Raphael Guastavino, Sr. As a primary architect at the Biltmore Estate and the St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville, he was renowned a genius as architect, tile-maker and craftsman. On a tour of the Basilica we learn so much about this amazing man and his craft. Walking through the ruins and viewing the storyboards we have visions of life at this magnificent estate. We find The Wine Cellar door intact made of bricks using the Guastavino arched construction.
Stroll the downtown streets to visit the The Old Depot Arts & Craft Center with its hand-made crafts, the old General Store, antique shops, upscale clothing stores, and shops featuring unique mountain crafts. The new park in downtown has two huge rockers to welcome visitors to the “Front Porch” and a fun/cool splash pad for kids, a nice rocky fountain and a brand new town clock. On Saturday morning find fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, fish and more at the Black Mountain Farmers Market. Bright fresh flowers and hand-made crafts from jewelry to pottery are also available.
How downhome and welcoming is Black Mountain? Where else can you go that has a FREE PICNIC lunch on July 4th? Yep! It’s all free. Thanks to Harwood Funeral Home that hosts this free Independence Day picnic each year. Lots of food! On our visit everyone is friendly, welcoming and offering seconds. Another fun activity the Montreat Independence Day parade. A true downhome local parade with a simple homemade fun event.
Where to Stay – Having rented for at least a month for over five years in Black Mountain, our suggestions are VRBO.com, Greybeard Rentals and the Village of Cheshire. Each have rentals from short term to long term. This year we rented through VRBO.com and were delighted with Hiker’s Haven.
Hiker’s Haven(VRBO Listing #601426) is a delightful three story house with a rustic feel. Just completed in 2014 everything is new. Located east of Black Mountain, a few miles from the Interstate, it is convenient to both Black Mountain and Asheville. Great layout, well decorated, and wonderful porch with relaxing views, and more. It actually has two Master bedrooms (one downstairs and one upstairs) and a small loft with a day bed upstairs. It was great when our son’s family visited as the grandchildren slept in the loft on the daybed. The kitchen has a large family table and the sectional couch gives plenty of space for seating in the Great Room. Floor to ceiling picture windows in the Great Room allows plenty of light and an open feeling. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit at Hiker’s Haven and highly recommend it for visitors to the area. It is about 4,000 ft. elevation so always nice cool temperature. Plus it is in a gated community (you don’t see the neighbors) and is only a few miles from I-40. On our visit we saw bears on three different occasions which was exciting.
Greybeard has an extensive listing of rentals in the Black Mountain and Asheville area. Their staff has always been extremely responsive and definitely assures our desires are met in a rental property. A most professional and efficient team makes renting a breeze. For our purposes their Monthly Furnished Rentals offers cabins to and home rentals at a most reasonable rate.
The Village of Cheshire is a community that has that old hometown feel. Set just outside downtown, The Village of Cheshire, has a few homes and cabins available for rent. We especially liked this location with the friendliness of the neighborhood, newness and style of the homes, and the restaurants on site. Their expansive Fitness Center allows one month memberships, too. On our visit this summer, we use Greybeard Rentals and are most impressed with the various options for rentals and their professionalism.
Whether short or long visit, be sure to consider Black Mountain, NC as a Vacation Headquarters. You can stay busy in town, or hop in the car to explore Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and more.
If you go:
Mountain-Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce, 201 E. State Street Black Mountain, NC
Greybeard Rentals, 204 East State Street, Black Mountain, NC 28711
Village of Cheshire, 7 Cheshire Dr, Black Mountain, NC 28711