7/3/2013 - Five days away from it all: Vacationing in Asheville, N.C.
by Sean Phipps
Lauren and I decided to embark on a budget-friendly vacation to the mountains of Asheville, N.C., last week. Our rules were this: No. 1, no TV (with the exception of game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals) and No. 2, appreciate the mountains. Here's a recap of our five days spent away from it all.
Day 1 (Limestone to Asheville)
We started at my family farm in Limestone--a small town in Northeast Tennessee with a few people and cows. My grandparents have a pool, and our intention for the start of the weekend was to sit beside it as much as possible. Our "real" vacation began when we departed from the farm toward Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Lauren has been traveling the parkway with her parents since she was a little girl. I've only recently been introduced to it, but it's become one of my favorite places. We drove from just below the Linn Cove Viaduct to the Folk Art Center near Asheville. Along the way, we stopped at various overlooks, hiked down to Crabtree Falls and ate lunch in Little Switzerland. We also spent some time in a fabulous bookstore called Little Switzerland Books and Beans. I recommend it if you're ever driving through. In Asheville, we checked into the newly remodeled Renaissance Hotel, which was a sort of "lipstick on a pig" kind of place, though our view of the mountains was fantastic. Our dinner (and several beers) occurred at Jack of the Wood, an Irish pub with great beers and interesting food. I had the first goat taco of my life. Later, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. This was a good start to the week.
Day 2 (Asheville/Blue Ridge)
Here's a tip: There's no need to get up early when you're staying in Asheville because nothing opens before 10 a.m. We were planning to make this day our "downtown" day, and we started by eating breakfast at the Early Girl Eatery, a place where the food is organic and everybody is blissfully stoned. I loved this place. My breakfast was a salad with organic blueberries, goat cheese and spinach. Lauren ate some bacon and hashbrowns, and we set out. Much of Day 2 was spent sightseeing (various art museums and walks) and shopping at stores like The Spice and Tea Exchange, Malaprop's Bookstore, Grove Arcade and other shops. We checked into our second hotel just outside of town. Sentimentally, I wanted to visit my old house in Asheville (I lived here from age 2 to 10). Nothing had changed in 20 years except the color. Everything looked so much smaller than I remember it being. We had lunch at Iannucci's Pizzeria, where my dad used to take me as a kid. A lot has changed in my life, but not a damn thing has changed at Iannucci's Pizza. They still have the best breadsticks in life. At the hotel, I smoked a cigar on the porch, and Lauren read a book. We retired early because Day 3 was Biltmore day, and I needed my energy.
Day 3 (Biltmore)
Everybody should visit the Biltmore Estate at least once. It truly is a marvelous place to behold. However, it's also a HUGE tourist trap, and you should expect large crowds and large prices. We spent much of our trip outside the house in what are known as Biltmore Gardens--designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the visionary behind Central Park in New York City. The gardens were gorgeous, but after a couple of hours, I was ready to leave. Unfortunately, a day at Biltmore is a DAY AT BILTMORE. The brochure says to block at least eight hours for the entire visit. There was no way I was going to last that long. We toured the house and then visited the winery for a few hours, but I needed a break. The highlight of my day was discovering a small ice cream operation called Ultimate Ice Cream. They make their ice cream with only local ingredients, and it was the best ice cream I've ever tasted. Try the bleu cheese and caramel swirl. Lauren and I had a few drinks at the hotel that night and retired early.
Day 4 (Brevard)
Day 4 was completely open. We ended up in Brevard, N.C., hiking around three separate waterfalls. This was one of the highlights of the trip. High Falls, in particular, was breathtaking. For lunch, we ate at a little diner in Brevard called Rocky's Grill and Ice Cream Shop. Lauren had a grilled cheese, and I ate a pimento hot dog. After driving around for what seemed like hours after that, we eventually ate ice cream again and had burritos from Papa's and Beer. The next morning, I sentthis tweet about my "issues" the night before. Lauren almost broke up with me because of the smell. I wish I were kidding. She's a keeper. We retired early in hopes we could catch the morning sunrise ...
Day 5 (Asheville to Knoxville)
... but it was raining, so we slept in. Our final destination was Knoxville for a Josh Ritter concert at 8:30 p.m. This gave us almost 12 full hours to mosey. I was struggling with digestive issues (read: burrito flatulence), and Lauren was struggling also with my digestive issues. We ended up driving the duration of the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I drank some coffee at a rooster-themed pancake house, which helped run the course. We did some outlet shopping and spent the early evening in downtown Knoxville. For dinner, we had Tupelo Honey (a review is coming soon), and I am probably not welcome back atMast General Store because of the situation. Josh Ritter and The Milk Carton Kids were incredible. Back in Chattanooga, we slept for a few hours. What a trip!
Sean Phipps is a writer, tobacconist and ghost tour guide living in Chattanooga. Originally from the Tri-Cities, he spends much of his free time smoking cigars, awkwardly embracing his girlfriend and torturing his therapist. He has no criminal record. You can contact him via email and Twitter with comments and questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.