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12 Dazzling Daytrips and Weekend Destinations

By Sucheta Rawal Email By Sucheta Rawal
May 2015
12 Dazzling Daytrips and Weekend Destinations

Whether you are new to the area or a seasoned pro of the region, these 12 day enticing getaways from Atlanta are sure to uncover some hidden gems. This lineup from award-winning travel blogger SUCHETA RAWAL offers something for everyone—lush green valleys, blue shaded mountains, white sandy beaches, crystal clear lakes, ornate small towns with history and character, sumptuous regional cuisine, and even the occasional Indian restaurant on route.

Forget Venice or Paris. Forget the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal. Forget Patagonia or Machu Pichu. Undoubtedly, the globe is packed with destinations that are each more compelling than the other in their own way. Yet, I promise, when you are done reading this list of regional gems, you will have an urge to fill up your tank rather than exercise your frequent flyer miles.

When I arrived in Atlanta back in 1997, I was a college student with very little resources but a dream of seeing new places. There was a vast country before me waiting to be discovered, but with my limited budget and time, drivable weekend getaways were the best option to explore my surroundings.

Here’s a list of my 12 recommendations, one for each month of the year. While most are great year-round destinations, I have associated them with a particular month to highlight at least one thing that makes the destination particularly appealing that time of the year. Many of the places still remain largely undiscovered by mass tourism and retain their Southern charm.

January: Ski and Skate in the Snow-Capped Mountains

Having grown up in India, I had never seen snow in real life until I came to the US. I still recall my sense of wonder when I took my first road trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee after a New Year break. Along with a group of friends from Atlanta, I packed my car with food, drinks, and games, and rented a cozy chalet for the weekend. As we drove through winding roads leading into the Great Smoky Mountains, there was fluffy white powder as far as my eyes could see, covering every inch of the ground. A creek flowed parallel to the road as pine trees sparkled with the glistening snow, creating the perfect scenic backdrop for pictures.

Nestled at the entrance of the park was the charming hill town, Gatlinburg. Walking along Downtown Parkway, there was much to please the eye and delight the senses. Antique stories, art galleries, photo parlors, museums, restaurants, candy shops—it was time to discover a true American mountain resort.

We dressed up in costumes from the old West, posed as cowboys, saloon girls, bank robbers, hillbillies, and got our black and white photo souvenirs. The younger ones in the group got busy exploring the Guinness World Records Museum, Amazing Mirror Maze, Ripley’s Super Fun Zone, and Penguin Playhouse.

At Ober Gatlinburg, I tried to ice skate and take a ski lesson (classes started at only $19, significantly cheaper than other ski destinations). As this was my first time, I fell a few times. Imagine my chagrin when a 6-year-old girl offered me a helping hand, and then sped away on her skates! After a few tries, I retired to savor a hot chocolate and watch the kids snow tube and snowboard.

Another fun attraction in the area is the Westgate Wild Bear Falls, a 60,000 square foot indoor waterpark, open year round. This is a perfect place to take off the wintery layers and go down slides and tubes through the lazy river, soak in hot tubs, and swim in a heated pool.

In the evening, we headed back to our wooden chalet where we cooked dinner together, played rummy by the fireplace, and chatted late into the night.

What makes Gatlinburg a great year-round destination is that it is impossible to exhaust the wealth of offerings in the area in one trip, or even in a dozen. Summers are great for white-water rafting and hiking. For the latter, you can choose from dozens of excellent trails, from an easy one that even seniors and children can handle, to more rigorous hikes. Into shows, rodeos, and rides? Hop over to neighboring Pigeon Forge, just a ten-minute drive, where the entire main street is lined up, end-to-end, with all kinds of amusement parks and shows. Pigeon Forge is also the home of the famous Dollywood theme park.

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 (Left) Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: Hard to believe this pristine forest, untouched by any signs of human conquest, exists just minutes from the bustling parkway of Gatlinburg with its razzle, dazzle, and noise. (Photo: visitmysmokies.com)

The surrounding Smoky Mountains—in which Gatlinburg is nestled—give a prime example of what justifies the great American love affair with the road. Two exceptional motoring trails are the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, right behind Gatlinburg (where there is a high probability of spotting bears), and the Cades Cove Loop Road, at a distance of 27 miles.

No wonder this thoroughly delightful destination is a perennial weekend attraction from Atlanta (oh, and did I mention, Gatlinburg is also considered one of the nation’s top honeymoon destinations?).

February: Camp at a Naturally Pristine Private Island

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(Left) Cumberland Island is a great “getting away from it all” destination. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

Cumberland Island is a unique getaway—a strategic piece of land that was occupied by the French, Spanish, and British before it became a part of the US. There are only two ways to get to the protected, remote barrier island—take a ferry from St Mary’s, Georgia or from Fernandina Beach, Florida.

St. Mary’s, a historic town by the St. Mary’s River in southeast Georgia, with its charming Victorian homes, picket fences, friendly neighbors, historic societies, and fried shrimp, is the Georgia gateway to Cumberland Island. It is also best known as the second-oldest town in the United States.

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(Left) The Dungeness Ruins – what’s left of the four-story tabby home built in 1884 by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

In 1777, the Royal British Government named Camden County, which includes Cumberland Island, after Charles Pratt, Earl of Camden. Although there are not many attractions here, a Land and Legacies Tour of Cumberland Island is a must. The daylong tour takes a limited number of guests 16 miles each way, stopping at places like the First African Baptist Church, where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married. Plum Orchard, a mansion with 106 rooms built in 1898 by the famous Carnegie family, is also covered.

Reservations are required as the numbers of visitors to the island are limited to 300 per day.

The 18-mile long Barrier Island is largely natural with feral horses running on the beaches—they don’t interfere with the other wildlife. In 1972, Congress designated Cumberland Island a National Seashore to protect the area from development. Since there is nothing commercial on Cumberland Island, the only choices for overnight stay are the magnificent colonial style home of the Carnegie family, now turned into a hotel called Greyfield Inn, or one of the well-kept campgrounds. Bring all your camping gear and food supplies, as there are no stores on the island. Families come to bond, be one with nature, and enjoy the quietness of a private island.

I decided to stay at a cozy bed and breakfast at St Mary’s, the Spencer House Inn, run by an elderly couple. Once home to captains, sailors, and plantation owners, the 1872 Victorian home is decorated with elegant furniture, a piano room, and library. Every morning, Mary and Mike personally prepare and serve a delicious breakfast of homemade breads and egg casseroles in their dining room, while telling stories of the home’s historic past.

Other ways to learn about the area include kayaking on the river with Up The Creek Xpeditions, taking a historic trolley tour downtown, or visiting the Orange Hall House Museum and St. Mary’s Submarine Museum.

March: Wine Country in Our Own Backyard​

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(Left) Napa Valley ambiance without the cross-country flight! $40 buys you access to 18 wineries over two weekends, during the Spring Wine Highway Weekend. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

 

Who knew rolling hills, open grasslands, and beautiful vineyards exist right here in the South, in Georgia! A two-hour drive from metro Atlanta landed me in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains, home to some of Georgia’s finest winegrowers. Sure, the Georgia wines may not be as famous as the West coast ones, but that doesn’t make the experience less attractive. For an instant, thanks to the rolling hills and vistas, it felt like Napa Valley, but I had only driven a few miles on highway 400 North on a crisp clear spring morning to get here.

Over the weekends, a number of family-run wineries open up their doors and patios to visitors who can spread out a picnic blanket overlooking the vineyards, while sipping on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat grapes. Each year in March, the Winegrowers Association of Georgia holds an Annual Spring Wine Highway Weekend that rivals any wine tasting event in the world. For only $40 admission, you can get a souvenir glass and access to 18 wineries over two weekends. Spring is the per-fect season to visit, when the air is crisp and the land- scape is vibrant with color.

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(Left) The picturesque town of Helen. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

Georgia’s wine country makes for both a nice daytrip as well as a quick weekend escape. Many bed and breakfasts and country inns in the area offer Southern hospitality at its best. Combine a visit to nearby towns—Helen and Dahlonega offer old world charm, historic squares, antique shopping, and plenty of dining options. My favorite stopover is Hofer’s of Helen, a German bakery, for European-style home-made cakes and pastries. Make sure to bring back Black Forest cakes and apple strudels for your neighbors in Atlanta.

 

April: A Luxurious Private Estate in the Smokies

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(Left) Take in the bounty of nature at Blackberry Farm. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

 

Share the bounties of spring at a luxurious family home in East Tennessee called Blackberry Farm. This 4,200-acre private estate in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains is surrounded by lush green scenery, with unparalleled luxury, Southern hospitality, and gourmet cuisine.

When I first drove into the farm, resident llamas, sheep, horses, and truffle-sniffing dogs welcomed me to a pristine farmland with individual cottages. I was encouraged to explore the walking trails, spa, restaurants, lounge, chapel, and farmhouse. There was an Easter egg hunt and a parade of farm animals.

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(Left) Connect with your inner self with some yoga and meditation. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

In the morning, we set out for a guided hike along the woodlands backing up to the Smoky Mountains, ending in an outdoor yoga and meditation class. It was a refreshing change to fill my lungs with fresh mountain air while listening to the sounds of a light breeze tossing through pale green leaves and pink blossoms, as opposed to the daily drudge of downtown rush-hour traffic. After class, I entered the Wellness Center for rejuvenating fresh juice and spa treatments.

The restaurant at Blackberry Farm gets rave reviews. You will understand why once you taste the organic farm ingredients prepared by Chef Joseph Lenn, 2013 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Southeast. Although Chef Lenn specializes in Foothills Cuisine, i.e. refined Southern fare, he can address any diet restrictions and create healthy vegetarian or vegan dishes. The bakery, butchery, dairy, creamery, salumeria, honey house, and preservation kitchen make even something as simple as breakfast taste heavenly.

Popular with the rich and famous and special occasion travelers, the luxury resort has won accolades from Bon Appetit (#1 Resort for Food Lovers), Travel+Leisure (#1 Resort in the Continental U.S. and Canada), and Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report (#1 Food & Wine Resort in the World), among many others. A weekend getaway here may set you back a couple of thousand dollars but it’s well worth the pampering.

May: Wake Up and Smell the Roses

When I want to escape the city’s smog alerts, I pack a few stuffed aloo parathas and head to the North Georgia mountains to see the blossoming foliage. Two destinations beckon in particular:

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Gibbs Gardens

(Left) Gibbs Gardens: Picture-perfect beauty when horticulture combines with nature. (Photo: Gibbs Gardens)

Thirty-five minutes from Alpharetta is Gibbs Gardens, 220 acres featuring thousands of varieties of flowers, ferns, and trees in a neatly landscaped setting of 16 gardens, 24 ponds, and 19 waterfalls.

Jim Gibbs, owner and designer of the gardens, is retired President and founder of the famous Gibbs Landscape Company. He lives on the premises, making it one of the nation’s largest estate gardens. While the gardens are great to visit any time of the year, it is especially magical in May when the rhododendrons, roses, hydrangeas, and water lilies are in full bloom. Young and old enjoy walking around, taking photos, and picnicking under the shade of a tree. I open my basket to bite into perfectly ripe mangoes purchased earlier at the farmers market; their aroma and rich sweetness take me back to warm summer days in India….

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Barnsley Resort

(Left) Barnsley Resort: your go-to destination for a romantic getaway, corporate retreat, fairytale wedding, or family fun. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

Over 150 varieties of heirloom roses burst into blossom in May at the Barnsley Resort in Adairsville. Located only an hour north of Atlanta, Barnsley is your go-to destination for a romantic getaway, corporate retreat, fairytale wedding, or family fun.

Clent Coker, the historian, museum director, and author of Barnsley Gardens at Woodlands gives personal tours of the property. Coker’s great-grandmother was born here and his family was friends with the Barnsleys, so he has personal accounts of every family member. He tells me that by the mid-1850’s the Woodlands gardens were completed from the manuals of the renowned landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing (aka the father of American landscape architecture). Downing is famous for his cottage-style residences surrounded by symmetrical gardens. As we walked out of the ruins into the Woodlands gardens, I got a beautiful view of rows of shrubs, trees, and flowers strategically placed to create the impression of an English village.

Self-guided tours are only $10 per person and day visitors can enjoy the gardens and museum, and activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, clay shooting, golfing, horseback riding, and wine tasting. Pack a picnic from home or taste garden-grown produce at one of the three restaurants. Overnight guests can book one of the beautiful English country cottages on fairytale streets.

Mothers are honored in May with elaborate brunch and lunch buffets, spa and weekend specials. Meanwhile, an Explorers Club program engages kids from ages 5-12 in history, outdoor adventures, games, crafts, and lessons on sustainable gardening, horseshoe making, fishing, target shooting, and more.

After surviving a tornado, the Civil War, a murder, and a few owners, the 2,000-acre resort stands as one of the most beautiful places to visit in the South.

June: Georgia’s Highest Point and the Charms of the Chattahoochee National Forest

Driving to Blairsville in North Georgia, my husband and I are nostalgic for the winding roads that lead to the hill stations of Himachal. The quaint little town, nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest has all the unpretentious charm of a small mountain village. With lots of outdoor activities, country stores, antique shops, and local restaurants, you can be as active or relaxed as you like.

Friday evening is the perfect time to kayak on Lake Nottely, when the crowd has thinned out, the air is cool, and the sun is ready to set into the horizon. It is quiet and peaceful. We paddle leisurely, covering a distance of about three miles in less than two hours. Frank, a local resident, guides us across the lake and shares his stories of moving from Massachusetts to Georgia many years ago.

We stop at Logan Turnpike Mill to purchase freshly stone-ground grits made by a couple using an antique mill. Their whole grain version is healthier than the whitened variety found at most grocery stores. Later I cook them like upma with mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, green chillies, and ginger. At night, we retreat to our cozy log cabin, where we sit on the balc ny enjoying the cool breeze, a glass of wine, and home cooked food.

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(Left) At the Visitors Center on top of Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest point. (Photo: Union County Chamber of Commerce)

In the morning, after a drive up the mountain, we start a steep uphill hike towards Georgia’s highest point, the top of Brasstown Bald. At 4,784 feet, you could see downtown Atlanta (on a clear day) as well as the Carolinas from the observation deck. We spend the afternoon hiking through Vogel State Park, the oldest and most popular state park in Georgia and drive down the Richard Russell Scenic Byway on our way back, stopping to take photos of lakes, waterfalls, and mountain vistas.

July: Hilton Head is more than just one of the world’s top golf resorts

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(Left) Picture-perfect golf: Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes.

 

A mere 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, Hilton Head Island has come to be known as one of the world’s top golf resorts (according to Golf Digest). Enthusiasts may choose to stay at one of the many brand name golf resorts that offer everything from extended stay condos and townhouses to beachfront villas. Besides taking your beach gear and bikes for a summer holiday, pack your spice racks. The island is large enough to keep you busy, but too small to offer desi dining options.

Hilton Head is family-friendly, with biking, hiking, and tennis. Once finished with land activities, people gather at the beach, swim in the Atlantic Ocean, go kayaking, paddle boarding, or parasailing. Dinner includes low country cuisine—Gullah rice, gumbo, fried okra, and peach cobbler.

If you love to explore, head to the Sea Pines Forest Preserve for a 4,000-year-old Indian village where nomadic Indians hunted, gathered shells, performed traditional ceremonies, and grew crops. There are insightful tours to understand the Sea Turtle Protection Project. Hatchlings can be seen crawling on the beach towards the ocean during summer nights. Dolphin cruises are also popular.

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(Left) The Harbour Town Lighthouse, seen from Harbour Town Golf Links. (Photo: Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau)

The Harbour Town Lighthouse Museum is an iconic backdrop with its red and white candy cane stripes. A colorful fireworks display takes place every July 4th on various spots around the island. The festivities are marked by free concerts, a 4th of July parade, and kids activities.

A visit to Hilton Head Island can be a lot of fun without hurting the budget. If you have leftover change, consider shopping at the two Tanger outlet malls nearby.

August: Budget Friendly Music City

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(Left) Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame. (Photo: Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.)

 

Nashville, Tennessee is the closest thing to Las Vegas in the South. Nicknamed “Music City,” Nashville is among the top 10 best budget destinations in the world (according to Budget Travel magazine). Not only is there free music everywhere, there are parks, galleries, museums, vineyards, distilleries, and more. Famous landmarks include The Nashville Symphony, Country Music Hall of Fame, Grand Ole Opry, and Nashville Public Library. The centerpiece of Centennial Park is the Parthenon—a full-scale replica of the original in Athens, Greece.

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival, from mid-August to mid-September, offers free performances in Centennial Park with food vendors and preshow entertainment. Chef Chris Rains offers complimentary bites and cooking lessons through his program Chef and I’s After Work Party throughout the year.

Nashville has a population of over 20,000 South Asian doctors, professors, and professionals, so there are many Indian restaurants and festivals. The Sri Ganesha Temple of Nashville was built in 1990 to resemble ancient Chola temple architecture (900AD – 1150AD); Sunday abhishekam is followed by bhajan, alankaram, archana, aarati, and lunch prasadam.

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(Left) The famous Opryland Hotel. (Photo: Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.)

A must-see local attraction as well as a hotel is the Gaylord Opryland. The resort experience falls between a Disney theme park and a cruise ship. Giant glass sculptures and dazzling ceilings embrace a 15-story glass atrium, 2,880 guestrooms, nine acres of botanical gardens, and cascading waterfalls. The interior is home to over 50,000 tropical plants maintained at 72° F year round. A quarter-mile long indoor river offers a boat ride and tour of the property. In the evenings, water fountains dance to a sound and light show, as guests stroll down cobblestone piazzas designed like the streets of Italy. Seventeen restaurants offer everything from British pub (serving Indian dishes), Italian, Mexican, sushi, and contemporary fast food to an upscale steakhouse. The little ones enjoy learning about the plants and walking through the waterfalls, and they can sneak into Shrek’s den and hang out with characters from the movies, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shrek.

With the largest concentration of aspiring count-ry musicians playing at different venues in down- town, Nashville has a soulful vibe. The people are friendly and the city diverse. It is refreshing destination that offers an interesting mix of culture, architecture, food, and nature in a relatively small area.

September: Relax at a Historic Beach Town

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(Left) Saint Simons—when you are looking for a great beach destination that is not overly crowded.

 

Labor Day weekend is the last opportunity to enjoy the beach with the family before fall weather kicks in. After driving down the entire coast of Georgia, I found Saint Simons to be the best beach town, not overly crowded with tourists. The water is warm and clean; the sand is pale white and grainy. For large groups, get a 2- or 3-bedroom cottage at the King and Prince Resort. Each cottage comes with fully equipped kitchen, access to the beach, spa, swimming pool, and all the amenities. King and Prince is a historical property that first opened in 1935 as a private club, and has undergone numerous renovations since then. Tidbits: Clark Howell (editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution) was the first to sign the guest registry in 1941; the hotel was requisitioned by the Navy during World War II.

The serene backdrop is the Atlantic Ocean, with scenery that changes constantly. One morning, you wake up at low tide with a long stretch of moist white sand beach, and at other times the ocean slaps right onto the fences. Large commercial ships and shrimp boats often come within a few feet of the beach.

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(Left) The Delegal Room at the King and Prince Resort.

The food boasts local ingredients such as fresh Georgia shrimp, local cheeses, Savannah Bee honeycomb, and Georgia peaches. The Friday night seafood buffet and the Sunday Southern heritage buffet at the Delegal Dining Room are both lavish feasts serving every imaginable Southern favorite, from fried chicken and shrimp n’ grits to pecan pie and bread pudding.

For seafood, go shrimping aboard Lady Jane, a United States Coast Guard certified vessel in Brunswick, Georgia. The 2-hour cruise is not only a good way to see the marshes in the area, but an opportunity to see how Georgia shrimp is harvested. The fresh catch is cooked and served on board, but you can also purchase shrimps, crabs, and fish from the fishermen in the area and enjoy spicy shrimp curry and steamed basmati rice back at your cottage for dinner.

In 2014, St. Simons Island was voted America’s #1 Favorite Romantic Town as well as America’s #1 Favorite Beach Town by Travel + Leisure magazine.

October: Get a Glimpse of the Old South

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(Left) Forsyth Park, the largest park in the historic district of Savannah.

 

Savannah is considered one of the most charming cities in the world, with its cobblestone streets, trees full of Spanish moss, and historic buildings from the 1800s. The Historic District is perfect for wandering around, admiring mansions, churches, and museums that tell stories of Civil War and Revolutionary eras. River Street runs parallel to the Savannah River and is lined with shops, restaurants, and hotels, where tourists can spend a relaxed afternoon enjoying homemade fudge, ice cream, and other sweet treats. A few blocks away are Pakwan and Taste of India, two of the city’s highly rated Indian restaurants.

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(Left) Riverboat cruises, along with ghost tours, trolley tours, and walking tours are some of the quintessential highlights of Savannah, “one of the most charming cities in the world.”

Two must-do attractions in the area are Ghost Tours and Riverboat Cruises. Guides tell stories of the enchanted past as they take visitors through haunted homes, cemeteries, and battlegrounds on the Old Town Trolley tour. The one-hour sightseeing cruise on the river includes talks about the history of the city, while the evening dinner cruises offer live entertainment, buffet dinner, and views of the sunset.

Savannah and Tybee Island have the closest opening to sea from Atlanta, but the beach is not the only reason to visit. October is the perfect time to go when it’s pleasant during the day and brisk after the sun goes down. The city comes to life with festivals, events, and celebrations, highlights of which include Oktoberfest, Savannah Speed Classic, and Halloween. >> CoverStory The Delegal Room at the King and Prince Resort, where the Friday night seafood buffet and the Sunday Southern heritage buffet are both lavish feasts serving every imaginable Southern favorite, from fried chicken and shrimp n’ grits to pecan pie and bread pudding. Saint Simons—when you are looking for a great beach destination that is not overly crowded. >>

What better place to celebrate Halloween than the city that is known for haunted houses? There are pub-crawls on River Street, midnight showing of the famous movie Rocky Horror Picture Show, tour of a haunted pirate ship, and a Zombie Walk costume contest. For kids, there is trick or treating, a haunted trail, kid’s crafts, a pumpkin decorating contest, and hayrides.

November: The Town of Highlands: an Appalachian Gem

Meandering roads through the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by tall poplar trees, lead into a hill town simply known as Highlands. Highlands, North Carolina, is located at an altitude of 4,118 ft. The air is fresh and waterfalls abound, making this an ideal region for hiking. Many families moved to Highlands in search of a climate that would cure tuberculosis and respiratory disorders.

Main Street has eclectic shops and restaurants. Even though the city has only 600 local residents, there are top class restaurants serving many different cuisines including Japanese, Italian, and German.

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(Left) Chef Nicholas Figel of Cyprus Restaurant, and the Buddhist platter, one of his creations. (Photo: Sucheta Rawal)

If you can inhale the strong aromas of Indian spices on Main Street, chances are Chef Nicholas Figel at Cyprus Restaurant is whipping up a plate of organic bhaji, hot and sour tamarind ribs, or fish in banana leaves. Figel is a globally-inspired chef who creates a theme menu each week in additional to regularly offering international dishes from India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Japan. During my visit, he presented a “Hippy Hampi to Hyderabad” menu that included cauliflower pakoras, saag paneer, sambar and lamb korma. There was even shojin ryori, an entirely vegetarian bento box (thali) based on the principles of Japanese Buddhism and mostly found at temples.

I was drawn to Highlands because of its award winning resort and spa, The Spa at Old Edwards Inn. Named #1 Top Hotel in the South, #4 Top Hotel in the United States, and the #45 Top Hotel in the World by Condé Nast Traveler readers (2015), the European style resort cascades along several blocks filled with amenities, music, dining venues, and individually appointed guestrooms, suites, and cottages.

The Spa at Old Edwards reminded me of the turmeric (haldi) ceremony that takes place before Indian wedding ceremonies to brighten the bride’s complexion, only here I didn’t have hundreds of friends and relatives singing and dancing around me. My treatment was a spice body detox using Epicurean Chai Soy Mud Mask, a rich, aromatic, herbal spice body scrub that contained colloidal clay, calming antioxidants, and the warming spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. After the 1-hour treatment, my skin was soft and luminous.

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(Left) Don’t let its tiny size fool you—Highlands, North Carolina offers top class restaurants serving many different cuisines including Japanese, Italian, and German. (Photo: ashvilleguidebook.com)

November is the best time to escape to the mountains, sit by a cozy fire, and bite into a peppermint soufflé. A unique experience we cannot find in the big city is visiting a Christmas tree farm where you can walk around hundreds of trees growing in open fields against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is simply magical to walk among the live trees whether it is a crisp sunny winter day or there’s snow falling on the ferns. The Tom Sawyer Christmas Tree farm is about 30 minutes from the Old Edwards Inn in downtown Highlands. For the kids, there is the meet and greet with Santa, horse-drawn carriage, and a post office to mail their letters to Santa. Adults and kids can rent elf costumes before they head on back to meet with, guess who, Santa himself!

December: Visit a Christmas Family Home

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(Left) The incomparable Biltmore Estate: the largest “house” in America. (Photo: The Biltmore Company)

 

Growing up as a Catholic in north India, there were not many places to enjoy all the splendor of Christmas except at one’s home or church. While my non-Christian friends admired the small crib and decorated tree branch in my living room, my dream Christmas was more ambitious—a perfectly shaped Fraser fir Christmas tree surrounded by colorful presents with neatly tied bows, placed next to a burning fireplace, while snowflakes fell outside the window and Santa Claus read a storybook to a kid on his lap. At the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, this classic scene is recreated every year between Thanksgiving and New Year holidays.

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(Left) The largest of the dozens of Christmas trees inside the Biltmore Estate is the 35-foot-tall Fraser fir in the majestic Banquet Hall. (Photo: The Biltmore Company)

This largest house in America built by George W. Vanderbilt II comes alive with a 35-foot Christmas tree and miles of festive décor of illuminated trees, garlands, and wreaths, while holiday tunes play on organ music. Vanderbilt opened his Biltmore home to family and friends on Christmas Eve of 1895. Now visitors can enjoy a host of activities—walking tours of the home, story times, shopping, dining, wine tasting, and workshops on making Christmas wreaths. For overnighters, there is an Inn at the resort and several more affordable options nearby.

Downtown Ashville is a hip city with mixed architecture, lots of galleries, coffee shops, live music venues, and eclectic restaurants. Don’t expect Southern cooking. Asheville restaurants run the gamut from Mediterranean to vegetarian, four-star cuisine to down-home cooking. Asheville was named “America’s Best Vegetarian-Friendly Small City” and included in “The 20 greenest spots in the country,” in Vegetarian Times. Organic Style named Asheville to its list of the “10 Greatest Escapes in America.”

All three of Green Sage Café’s locations serve fresh-pressed juices, organic salads, and wraps using local and organic ingredients. Everything on the menu is all-natural. The Laughing Seed Cafe serves organic, seasonal, farm-to-table vegetarian cuisine with an international flair. Vegan, gluten free, wheat free, and even raw entrees are available. Try the kimchi utttapam at Plant, an innovative restaurant serving organic plant-based meals.

Mela is recommended by The New York Times and consistently voted Asheville’s best Indian restaurant. Asheville is also home to the original Chai Pani restaurant (now in Decatur), a must stop for hot chai and street snacks; their sister bar and lounge, MG Road serves contemporary cocktails in a Bollywood-inspired setting.


Sucheta Rawal is an award-winning travel writer and founder of the nonprofit organization Go Eat Give, which raises awareness of different cultures through food, travel, and community service. We would love to hear from you about these destinations and your other favorite day trips and weekend destinations. Please write to sucheta@goeatgive.com or to editor@khabar.com.


 


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