The story below is an excerpt from our Nov./Dec. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Photos credits, clockwise from top left: Chetola Resort, Grandfather Mountain, Biltmore House and Matthew Morse.
Winter Getaways: Where to Cut, Ski, Hike, See the Lights and More
Clockwise from top left: The Festival of Lights at Chetola Resort, the mile-high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain, the Biltmore House Candlelight Christmas Evenings and Cataloochee Ski Area.
Whether you’re ready to brave the cold to cut a tree or a path, or prefer to stay warm with a visit to A home tour or a SIP OF A unique winter brew, we’ve got the places and the specifics.
Cut Your Own Tree
Trekking to the North Carolina High Country to discover the perfect Fraser Fir to take home and decorate has been a family tradition since my two teenagers were babies. Combining this habit with a winter getaway makes sense because tree hunting puts us in the neighborhood of some of our all-time favorite places: Chetola Resort, Moses Cone Memorial Park and Grandfather Mountain State Park.
Chetola is the Cherokee word for “haven of rest” and Chetola Resort (chetola.com) carefully maintains the peaceful atmosphere the Indians once appreciated. The Blowing Rock resort has a mix of elegant, upscale accommodations from the 42-room Chetola Lodge to the eight rooms in the Bob Timberlake Inn to a myriad of condominiums featuring one, two, three and four bedrooms.
Rest and relaxation comes easy when we stay in one of the well-appointed three-bedroom condos at Chetola. It’s fun to curl up by the fire, spend time in the heated pool and hot tub, and admire the spectacular lights display around Chetola Lake in the front of the 87-acre resort.
The Festival of Lights at Chetola kicks off at dusk on Friday, November 28 this year and features a variety of illuminated displays including glittering ice skaters, a nativity scene and Rudolph catching a “big fish.” The lights stay through January 25, 2015, which is the date of the annual polar plunge when participants don costumes, carry plungers, and jump into the freezing lake.
We also make time to visit the quaint shops in downtown Blowing Rock for some unique gift ideas as well as hitting the trails for some winter hiking around Moses Cone and Grandfather Mountain before heading back to Asheville with a tree strapped to the roof of the car.
And it just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t stop at Famous Louise’s Rockhouse Restaurant on the way back to sip hot chocolate and eat a slice of their extraordinary pie. This restaurant straddles the lines of three N.C. counties; Burke, Avery and McDowell and is located just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway at the junction of U.S. 221 and N.C. 183.
While North Carolina ranks second in the nation for the number of harvested trees, there are choose-and-cut-farms throughout the region. To find one near you (or one to travel to), visit the following links:
North Carolina: ncchristmastrees.com
West Virginia: wvchristmastreegrowers.com
South Carolina: scchristmastrees.org
To witness a really big tree making its grand entrance for the holiday season, head over to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. on November 5. That’s when a massive Fraser Fir (around 40 feet tall) is brought to the front door by wagon and then hoisted by a team of men to standing position in the banquet hall. biltmore.com
Hiking in Crisp Mountain Air
As I write this article, I’m sitting on the patio of a condo in a building named “Cumberland” at Chetola Resort. I have an unobstructed view of Flat Top Manor, the mansion Moses and Bertha Cone built. Cone amassed his wealth in textiles and was known as the “The Denim King.” With 20 rooms and more than 13,000 square feet of living space, the Cone’s home continues to turn heads. Today, it contains the Parkway Craft Center, which is one of five shops of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Flat Top Manor and the Craft Center close at the end of November each year and reopen in March.
A leisurely hike from the condo to Flat Top Manor takes about three hours round-trip. We follow Bass Lake Road to the edge of Chetola’s property and cross over to a path that circuits Bass Lake. Instead of following the edge of the lake, we turn right on a path that takes us to the Cone mansion. The wide, gravel swath through the woods sees frequent horse riders as well as walkers exploring the area.
Hiking in the winter months can afford even more beautiful vistas because of bare branches. At Grandfather Mountain State Park, in Linville, N.C. they have a “Secret Season Pass,” to give frequent visitors a discount from November 1 to April 30. It’s open year-round weather permitting, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
There are 11 trails at Grandfather ranging from an easy path to rigorous backcountry treks that take hikers over trails that use ladders and cables. If you have a group of at least four hikers, you can arrange for an interpretive ranger to lead you on a guided hike. There is an additional charge for these hikes to MacRae Peak, Attic Window and Calloway Peak. Download a Grandfather Mountain Trail Map here: grandfather.com/wp-con tent/uploads/2012/09/Trail-map.pdf.