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These seven fall forays all have at least two things in common: A setting for a full leaf-peeping experience; and another setting or two to treat the other senses—things like great dining, a raucous ‘60s musical at a historic playhouse, a beautiful lake, the bustle of a busy town and “fall in a glass.”
As spring turned to summer, Contributing Editor Joe Tennis roamed the mountains of the South in search of great getaways. What follows is a collection of vacation destinations that are prime for all seasons—especially autumn.
Heading into handsome Hendersonville, North Carolina, I am pleasantly arrested by the quaint and colorful downtown. Just south of Asheville, this city boasts about a dozen intriguing, independently-owned restaurants, including the retro-style Mike’s on Main, serving burgers and shakes (828-698-1616), as well as Renzo’s Ristorante, an Italian-lover’s delight (828-551-7766), where the mood on Main Street remains romantic, and the entrees include eggplant parmigiana and handmade lasagna.
“The nice thing about Hendersonville is they do food very well,” says Greg Fortier, the manager of this Tarheel town’s Echo Mountain Inn.
On a Saturday night, my wife and I share the spacious Regal Room—the original master bedroom of the Echo Mountain Inn, a 33-room hotel that originated as a private home in 1896. Today, this getaway (828-693-9626) boasts both a bountiful breakfast buffet and treetop views that simply glow in autumn’s glory.
“It is dramatic in the fall,” Fortier says. “You have the vibrant orange, the yellow, the rustic brown, and you have the green of the pines.”
Echo Mountain Inn sits halfway between Hendersonville’s walkable downtown and the natural vista of the Jump Off Rock, a public park where I scan sunset views with a half-dozen others, anxiously soaking up the nightly meltdown.
Around Hendersonville, the “Jump Off” isn’t the only rock that commands attention. Another is the little town of Flat Rock, home of the 500-seat Flat Rock Playhouse (828-693-0403). Now “The State Theatre of North Carolina,” Flat Rock Playhouse grew from a traveling troupe, which eventually settled at Flat Rock and built the playhouse in 1952. It also stands within walking distance of the Carl Sandburg Home, a National Park Service site that shares the story of a historian, journalist and award-winning poet.
Flat Rock Playhouse features staged productions—including “Beehive, the ‘60s Musical,” running Oct. 13-30. But, you might also get a buzz just from seeing all the fall colors on the four-mile drive from here to Hendersonville.
Enjoy that journey, Fortier says.
“Hendersonville just has beautiful character. And it has it in all seasons—not just in the fall. The character of the town has that, sort-of, tucked-away feel to it, especially in the fall, when you’re driving down through Flat Rock, where the trees are on both sides of the road,” Fortier says. “And it’s just really gorgeous.”
It’s mid-afternoon on a Monday, and I feel at home on Walton’s Mountain.
In reality, Walton’s Mountain is simply Schuyler, Virginia. Just south of Charlottesville, this tiny hamlet served as the real-life inspiration for the late, great writer Earl Hamner, Jr., who created “The Waltons” TV show (1972-1981), set in the 1930s and ‘40s.
In the sunshine, I stand on the front-porch of the Hamner home, where a sign on a rocking chair reads, “Good Night, John-Boy.”
On this day, I interpret that sign as both sweet and sad.
Hamner was the TV show’s real-life John-Boy Walton. He passed away at age 92 on March 24, 2016.
Still, the show goes on—across the street—at the Walton’s Mountain Museum. Inside what was once a school, longtime museum coordinator Leona Roberts stands in that popular museum’s replica of “The Waltons” TV show living room and reveals the date for the museum’s annual homecoming festival: Oct. 15.
Beyond the living room, visitors like gazing at the museum’s moonshine still replica, made to depict what the TV show’s Baldwin sisters would have used to make “The Recipe” during the Great Depression.
Funny thing: “The Recipe” actually fits the modern-day story of real-life Nelson County, Virginia.Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and along Va. 151, Nelson County has become a hotspot for making beer, wine and cider. It’s where you’ll find Afton Mountain Vineyards (540-456-8667) as well as a popular restaurant at Blue Mountain Brewery (540-456-8020), serving veggie pizza and hot wings.
In nearby Nellysford, Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery (434-361-1266) serves Hunter’s Moon, a spiced pumpkin mead. “It is basically fall in a glass,” says Matt Wyant, the assistant wine maker. “You can warm it up—and mix it with coffee or hot tea and make a pumpkin-spice latte. That’s our most popular one – in the fall.”
While along Va. 151, I stay at the 151 Inn (151Inn.com/434-531-9732), a family homestead-turned-rental, where the refrigerator is well-stocked, and the rooms are cozy.
For lunch, I wind into the Wild Wolf Brewing Company (434-361-0088), an enterprise in Nellysford where Chef Chris Jack often experiments with fresh herbs and pork bellies while brewmaster Danny Wolf keeps busy making ale and beer.
“In the fall, this year, we’re going to be making the nut-brown ale again – the Nutty Wolf,” Danny Wolf tells me. “It’s more warming. It seems thicker on the tongue because of the maltiness, and that’s what people start to go for as you get into cold weather: They want something more filling, more warming, more overall hearty.”
Before Wild Wolf, I make a quick stop at Wild Man Dan’s Beer Centric Bed and Breakfast in Afton—a place where owner Terri Tatarka serves Eggs Benedict with local goat cheese, hydroponically-grown tomatoes and fresh ham.
Staying here in autumn, I hear, might equate to hugging a rainbow.
“I have three giant maple trees, and they change colors and drop their leaves every two weeks,” Tatarka says. “It’s like yellow to gold to red. And, it’s kind of like a kaleidoscope.”