A Few Favorite Activities
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
Slivers of bright red, sunny yellow, and brilliant orange cover the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina. The last week of October the autumn leaves are getting ready for the annual burst of fall foliage in these brilliant colors. Our timing is great as a cold front comes through and the trees show off their colors in just a few days. Autumn in Asheville is spectacular and even more so for Florida folks, who don’t get an annual “Leaf Experience.”
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, as it travels up the mountains from Asheville, we are greeted with an array of fall colors. Today, it is absolutely clear Carolina blue skies. The road is mesmerizing as the colorful trees overhang the parkway then breathtaking vistas offer miles of mountain views showing off their autumn foliage. The Parkway offers many Scenic View areas for an easy pull-off to better take in the spectacular mountain vistas and snap some pictures. After enjoying an enchanting scenic drive on the Parkway, we reach the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area. (Only 18 miles from Asheville on the Parkway). Plenty of picnic tables are available offering great views in this hillside picnic area. It is a relaxing picnic lunch near the mountain top.
Now to get up close and personal! It’s hiking the Craggy Garden Pinnacle Trail, a 1.4 mile round-trip hike to the 5,892-ft. to the top. The trail winds through a canopy of rhododendron and various trees as it ascends 600 ft. to a fantastic panoramic 360-degree summit. We have hiked the trail many times and have favorite spots for taking photos of the winding trail as it climbs through the canopy of trees. Each year we take a photo at a special tree on the trail and recently added a photo of a tangled roots from a fallen tree. A volunteer Ranger points out Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River, a few miles away. Today it still fascinates us the scenic beauty along the trail and the fantastic vista at the Pinnacle as the mountains display their brilliant fall colors. On the return along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a must see is the Folk Art Center, a fascinating museum of Appalachian arts and crafts. The craftsmanship and talent are amazing.
Another favorite activity is a round of golf at the legendary 18-hole course at The Omni Grove Park Inn. Arriving early for our 8:15 AM tee time, the weather has an impact with a 2 hour frost delay. Despite having played the course several times in the past, on each visit this 6,400-yard championship course continues to challenge and intrigue us. Selecting the proper tees is imperative to really enjoy this Donald Ross course. The front nine is mainly in the valley and then begins to wind through the hills on the last few holes. The back nine really brings in more holes with elevation changes demanding more accuracy with our club selection. Putting is consistently a challenge on these greens that often prove difficult to read. Be prepared for long uphill fairways to tiered greens, downhill fairways to elevated greens and more nuances to add plenty of challenge for each level of golfer. It is terrific day of golf as we navigate the tree-lined fairways and bent greens with amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains all around and the stately stone structure of the 100+ yr. old Grove Park Inn. Elevated tee boxes on the par-70 course provide perfect sight lines for each drive. Again this fall day is clear blue skies making for even more spectacular scenery.
After golf, we enjoy lunch at the Grove Park Inn. Today it is the Sunset Terrace where we are ready to recharge our batteries. Taking the shuttle from the golf course to the Inn, we are quickly seated on the Sunset Terrace with views of the golf course and Blue Ridge Mountains. On this beautiful clear autumn day, under “Carolina blue skies” we enjoy both the ambiance and lunch with scenic mountains. On many visits, the Blue Ridge Mountains have been hidden by clouds but today with no clouds in the sky we truly see for miles from the Sunset Terrace. Enjoying our drinks of a local beer and a rich Chardonnay we soak in the beauty of the mountains. Opting for sandwiches the “Seared Crab Cake” and the “Smashed Cheeseburger” are tantalizing. Sharing the sandwiches gives us each a chance to enjoy the various flavors. The Crab Cake sandwich had plenty of crab while the Hamburger with the special sauce was so moist and flavorful. Cheers to a great day of golf and scenic lunch.
Shopping is fantastic in Asheville from its variety of upscale stores, unique art studios, crafts shops, and antique emporiums. Each year we find unusual treasures from home décor items to fantastic clothing sales. On our walk through downtown Asheville we visit the numerous shops featuring local artists at the Grove Arcade, then stroll Woolworth Walk – an art gallery and craft emporium. Later we roam through the Kress Emporium featuring regional artists and crafts people along with a selection of fine antiques and collectibles. In Biltmore Village we find an array of specialty shops as well as national chains. We always stroll the New Morning Gallery and the Southern Highland Craft Guild, as we seek unique items for our home. A must visit is the 77,000 sq. ft. Tobacco Barn with its 75 vendors. As we walk each aisle we easily see why it was voted the “Best Place to Buy Antiques in Western North Carolina.” A stroll through the Tobacco Barn is like going back in time. The Dillard’s Clearance Center at the Asheville Outlets offers fantastic bargains with all merchandise 65% off and many selected items with an additional 30% to 50% off.
Asheville is known as “Beer City” so a visit to a local brewery is a must. In 2013 on a Beer Tour, we visited Burial Beer Company, the week it opened. Today it is expanding and recently opened a unique venue in South Asheville. Arriving here we find their new facility called Forestry Camp. Originally Forestry Camp consisted of six buildings on two acres of land built by the U.S. Government shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on April, 5 1933. Burial repurposed these to house a production brewery, corporate offices and multiple barrel-aging facilities. With foresight and painstaking efforts the sixth and final building became the new home of Forestry Camp Bar & Restaurant. The downstairs has the Camp Bar with a communal hall offering a multitude of beverages from coffee, beer, wine and cocktails as well as a varied food menu. Dining on the second floor, we learn that Chef Brian Canipelli (owner of Cucina 24, James Beard nominee) has created an intriguing “sharing menu” utilizing his skill and creativity to a seasonal, Appalachian-raised menu inspired by the traditions and spirit of the Basque Country. The setting upstairs is unique. The original wood of the building has been refurbished while creating a rustic yet upscale dining venue. Our choices are Grilled Olives, the Radicchio Salad and Trout Kokotxa & Collar. Each dish is perfectly prepared and delicious. Additionally, the drink menu is eclectic with more international offerings. We wish the team the best in their new business venture.
A finale for our fall adventure in Asheville is the Friday Night Seafood Buffet at the Omni Grove Park Inn. While the past two days have had picture perfect fall weather tonight is a rainy night. Arriving at the Great Hall of the Grove Park Inn, their huge fireplace warms our spirits. Entering the Blue Ridge Restaurant we are immediately given a tour of the buffet encompassing three rooms. The Friday Night Seafood Buffet is amazing. The challenge is how to best describe this variety of farm-to-table artisanal buffet. One room features desserts including red velvet cupcakes, bourbon pecan pie, lemon pound cake, scrumptious brownies, vanilla cheesecake, key lime tart, chocolate mousse, Crème Brulee, various torts and a Banana Foster Station. That is only a sampling as there are more dessert items to fill your sweet tooth.
The next room has a wide variety of salads including kale salad, bean salad, grilled veggies, multiple cheeses, smoked trout, peppered mackerel, a huge Shrimp Station of fresh shrimp and BBQ shrimp, a Taco Station, oysters Rockefeller, mussels, soups and more. Beware – it would easy to fill up on salads. The Seafood buffet includes a nice range of seafood dishes from fried catfish, fried shrimp, salmon, a flaky wahoo dish as well as other meats for those opting for non-seafood choices. A huge hit was the Crab Leg Station with fresh poached crab legs. Our waiter Stan quickly provides all the essentials for having crab legs (fork, crab leg cracker and drawn butter). Some of the side dishes included dirty rice, green beans, collard greens, hominy casserole, broccoli, and Mac n cheese. Plus there was a Stir Fry Station. The buffet definitely has something for everyone. This is a unique dining venue with its views of the Blue Ridge Mountains even on a rainy night and a wide variety of foods to enjoy. Our strategy is to take small portions and pace ourselves to make the most of this delightful buffet. The waiters are excellent. In our area they quickly recognize birthday and anniversary celebrations. One table had a special seat for the “3-eyed Octopus balloon” made in the Great Hall for the little girl. Our finale for this wonderful buffet dinner was the Bananas Foster – it was fun watching them be made and they were delicious!
As we finish are short visit for our Autumn in Asheville, it is a nice evening in the Great Hall Bar, watching the mesmerizing huge fireplace, listening to the combo band and enjoying an after dinner drink. A wonderful finale to our respite to Asheville in the fall. With the rainy evening, Richard, my Prince Charming tonight, with umbrella in hand retrieves our car from the parking lot. Note: The Inn offers is complimentary 3 hour for outside guests.
If you go:
Asheville Visitor Center
Blue Ridge Parkway
Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail
Forestry Camp, 10 Shady Oak Drive, Asheville, NC 28803
Omni Grove Park Inn, 290 Macon Avenue, Asheville, NC 28804