The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
“Big cities” like Roanoke, Asheville and Harrisonburg, mid-sized towns like Boone, Charlottesville and Staunton have only one thing on tiny mountain towns like Lewisburg, Blowing Rock and Floyd: Just a little bit more mass in terms of the friendly, welcoming vibe that defines all nine of our reader-voted happiest towns.
1. Asheville, North Carolina.
If you happen to see an open-air purple and gold tour bus threading its way through crowded city streets, trailed by a bearded nun madly peddling a bicycle, well, just wave, shout hello and play along with the game.
It’s the LaZoom Tour bus, a rollicking cabaret on wheels with whacky motor-mouth emcees like Augusta Wind, Buster Guy the Tour Bus Guide, and Bud Insky, all of them looking for a chance to grab the microphone and mercilessly tease any pedestrian within earshot.
Asheville has been tagged a major beer city, a top retirement locale, and an artists’ colony par excellence, but the main attraction for visitors is a sense of fun. People come to escape the ordinary, shed their inhibitions, and laugh.
“Why is Asheville the happiest place?” muses Bud Insky during a break. “Asheville’s magic is organic. It’s right here waiting for you like a wide-eyed puppy. If you are an omnivorous jump-roping German yodeler, in Asheville you will find another to join you. People find themselves here as if their souls had called ahead and made reservations.”
For nearly two centuries, Asheville’s setting and its fairy-tale architecture have provided the backdrop for Southern hospitality both gracious and informal. Nineteenth century inns gave way to grand hotels in the Roaring Twenties and today the skyline is dotted with sleek new accommodations.
Where to Stay: Walking distance to downtown Asheville’s many attractions, the intimate Princess Anne Hotel serves gourmet breakfast and afternoon tea in elegant high-ceiling rooms; 828-258-0986 or princess
2. Roanoke, Virginia
Twenty years ago some concerned citizens of Roanoke decided to hurry up and slow down the pace of life. With gradual implementation of a greenway network, residents and visitors alike have been able to get out of their cars and quickly get up close with nature.
Today some 30 miles of greenways—with their walking and biking paths—meander along the gentle banks of the Roanoke River, past sports fields, across the central city, and out into surrounding countryside. Even a governor of Virginia has donned bike helmet and pedaled for the cause. That kind of support for the Roanoke Valley Greenways has bolstered huge volunteer efforts to expand and maintain the system.
Bringing nature closer to the historic railroad hub of Roanoke, once called Big Lick, means people can spot eagles, hawks, and herons, in addition to countless smaller bird species, as they stretch their legs along countless trails, including the scenic Appalachian Trail stretch called Virginia’s Triple Crown.
And as Roanoke’s craft brewery industry grows, the greenways help customers work up a thirst. Be sure to take advantage of several year-round craft brewery tours that escort aficionados behind the scenes.
Where to Stay: Roanoke’s “Grand Old Lady,” the Roanoke Hotel & Conference Center, holds pride of place in the central city and in the hearts of many Roanokers. Almost 135 years old, the complex has stayed up with the times in style; 540-985-5900 or hotelroanoke.com.
3. Harrisonburg, Virginia
The Civil War raged white hot around Harrisonburg. Today, the community pulls together and the world is beating a path to The Burg, as locals affectionately call their friendly town.
The calendar is crammed with ways for families and neighbors to stay warm, keep cool, and celebrate their good fortune. An annual free Soul Food Dinner highlights Harrisonburg’s African American connections and the town’s location in the midst of rich farmland. There’s a strawberry festival, a tomato festival, and a colorful food truck rally. On the artistic side, the Super Gr8 Film Festival marries old technology with fresh ways to see things.
Kids are the luckiest ones of all, with town-sponsored events like ice cream socials, “cabin fever” movie nights and summertime movies under the stars, mother-son superhero parties, mid-winter disc golf, and a lighthearted dog swim during the dog days of summer. Precious childhood memories are made of this.
The whole town has grown closer in recent years as the historic downtown—anchored by the massive old Rockingham County Courthouse—has been revitalized and begun winning awards.
The pioneering spirit of the old Wilderness Road is alive and well.
Where to Stay: Revel in the quiet of the Shenandoah countryside—comfortably—just minutes from Harrisonburg’s vital downtown district. A top bed-and-breakfast establishment, By the Side of the Road Inn & Cottages offers a variety of lodging options; 540-801-0430 or bythesideoftheroad.com.
... The story above is an excerpt from our May/June 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!