The story below is an excerpt from our July/August 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Summer in the mountains is made for overnights and weekends built around fun, play, great dining and quiet rest. Let’s get started.
Let’s hop on horses. Take a train. And survive some stairs of a Georgia gorge. We’ll find the fried eggs of Luray. And wait until the wee hours to see the moonbow of Kentucky.
From Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, here’s a multi-state tour of wonderful weekends and overnight escapes.
Blowing into Blowing Rock, my wife, Mary, wonders about the origin of the North Carolina town’s name. “It’s from a rock where snow has fallen upside down,” I say. “And if you toss your hat in the gorge, it’s supposed to blow right back.”
Here for an overnight getaway, we encounter the legendary wind of the Blowing Rock and the air-conditioned cool of its namesake town.
“People come up just to get out of the heat,” says Blowing Rock candle-maker Caroline Jensen. “Usually we’re in the 70s or low 80s.”
Jensen’s High Country Candles can be found inside the Martin House, a circa-1870 structure that stands on Main Street within sight of the Storie Street Grille. There, for a leisurely late lunch, Mary and I share an appetizer of Storie Street’s duck wings plus a plate of eggplant napoleon, lightly fried and layered with roasted red pepper goat cheese, Roma tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
We stay overnight at The New Public House & Hotel, a collection of quaint quarters that originated in the 1920s. Downstairs, the dining room serves both fried oysters and mountain trout for dinner. Then, for breakfast, we awake with bacon and eggs.
Checking out, we go see what makes this place so famous: the actual “Blowing Rock,” a natural landmark that seemingly defies gravity. Winds from the gorge, below, indeed make objects blow back.
Wrapping up the weekend, we land at Canyons just in time to hear jazz music during the Sunday brunch. We feast on the restaurant’s Appalachian Benedict – a biscuit with home fries, topped with buttermilk-sausage gravy, poached eggs and local country ham. We also find it impossible to turn away from what’s outside our window: a perfection of pointy peaks. Like a guide, the restaurant manager, Steven Beck, stops to note the names and locations of the many mountains and says,
“You’re getting over a 100-mile view.”
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Blowing Rock Tourism: 828-295-4636, blowingrock.com
Canyons Restaurant: 828-295-7661, canyonsbr.com
New Public House & Hotel: 828-295-3487, thenewpublichouse.com
Storie Street Grille: 828-295-7075, storiestreetgrille.com
Landing in Luray, I move into the Mimslyn, a hotel that may be haunted. At least, that’s what I heard. The front-desk clerk says she’s never seen anything or heard anything that she could not explain. But, still, she has heard things. And, apparently, so have others, I find, as I read a detailed account of the hotel history, which includes legends of something spirited floating down the third-floor hallway.
Here for a day, I experience only complete comfort: a heavenly bed, a cool pool and a hot tub. I also scoop up succulent oysters on the half-shell – plus Mahi Mahi – in the hotel’s Speakeasy Bar & Restaurant.
This handsome brick hotel took its name from the Mims family when it was built in 1931. Even today, the front porch provides a grand scan of Luray, a Virginia town almost singularly known for its must-see Luray Caverns.
A caveat: The stalagmites and stalagtites of Luray Caverns can hardly be consumed on the typical one-hour tour. So, even before your first visit, plan to go back. That’s really the only way to breathe in the breathtaking bounty of dripstone and flowstone, the soda straws and, oh, those famous fried eggs.
I saw the eggs on my first tour in 1976. Now, almost 40 years later, the rock formation still appears to appetize. But, here’s the story: What looks like sizzling fried eggs frozen in stone are actually mistakes.
What happened? “There were two stalagmites that were broken off as they were widening the walkway,” says John Shaffer, a Luray Caverns spokesman and longtime tour guide.
That occurred about 90-odd years ago.
Today, beyond the caverns, you can go next door to find antique automobiles – including some 90-year-old vehicles – at the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum. Then, go view the vintage tools and cabinets of the nearby Luray Valley Museum.
Another thing: Come hungry.
For breakfast, I munch on a mushroom-and-Swiss cheese quiche at Gathering Grounds on Luray’s Main Street. For lunch, I return downtown for a spicy and juicy pastrami sandwich, served with a side of Yukon Gold Potato Salad at the West Main Market Delicatessen. Later, I stop again on Main Street for a trout, grilled vegetables and a milkshake at Uncle Buck’s.
In between, I taste both red and white wine at Wisteria Farm and Vineyard as well as some whiskey at River Hill Wine and Spirits. I even walk on a small, sandy beach at Lake Arrowhead, a popular fishing-and-swimming spot on the outskirts of town.
“There’s a lot of activity in this area,” says Lisa Cubbage, owner of the Jordan Hollow Stables, a site in Stanley, where I take a horseback ride on a Monday morning.
“And, I tell you,” Cubbage says, “one of the most beautiful drives you can ever take is from Luray to Stanley. These mountains, all the way down U.S. 340, are phenomenal.”
For an hour, I follow Cubbage’s lead through a grassy meadow and across Hawksbill Creek. Our horses pass through a patch of pines and cedar. Then, like a dream, we come into the shadows of the Shenandoah National Park and what Cubbage calls “God’s umbrella.”
I leave Jordan Hollow refreshed – and determined to turn every page in Page County. I go watch model trains at Luray’s restored railroad station, and I gaze at wildlife paintings in the Warehouse Art Gallery. I also take a few steps on the Luray Hawksbill Greenway, a footpath that overlooks a milldam and some deep-green, grassy pastures that remain forever in my mind.
Jordan Hollow Stables: 800-419-0599, jordanhollowstables.com
Luray Caverns: 540-743-6551, luraycaverns.com
Luray-Page Chamber of Commerce: 540-743-3915, luraypage.com
Mimslyn Inn: 800-296-5105, mimslyninn.com
River Hill Wine and Spirits: 540-843-0890, riverhilldistillery.com
Wisteria Farm and Vineyard: 540-742-1489, wisteriavineyard.com