Archive for March, 2012

Raffaldini Vineyards

Raffaldini Vineyards

I have heard it said that life is a journey, not a destination and that is true, but in the case of Raffaldini Vineyards, the destination is worth the journey. Getting there is a little challenging, but don’t give up. There are a few lefts and rights, a few dirt and gravel roads, but the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow makes the trip seem fun.

Arriving at the vineyard, I was struck by the setting and the architecture. The Tuscan-style villa sits atop a gentle rolling hill with views in almost every direction. It was a clear day and the mountains were especially beautiful. I parked in the lot adjacent to the winery and took a stroll through the flower gardens that lead to the entrance. Being greeted by roses and seasonal flowers, put me in a great mood before I entered the tasting room. I must admit, leaving the beauty of the setting and the amazing vistas was difficult, but I tore myself away and ventured into the villa.

The winery was no disappointment. While I have not been to Italy or visited a vineyard there, I would imagine that this is a faithful reproduction. I was certainly transported to somewhere other than the foothills of North Carolina. I was greeted with a warm hello and given instruction on how the operation works. I paid my dues and stepped up to the wine bar and was given a list of available wines to taste. I am certainly no wine connoisseur, but I know that if I must taste wine… the sweeter the better. I found a few that tilted towards the sweet side, but even the dry wines were enjoyable.

The experience was excellent and the stories told by the tender filled the time with interest. My problem was focusing on the wine when the view was so incredible. I left the tasting room and found a comfortable chair on the patio outside and just soaked in the setting. I could try to communicate what I saw and how I felt, but I am telling you that you need to go and see and hear and touch the place to fully understand. Several couples purchased bottles and made their way onto the ornate patio and sat together to enjoy the wine and the day.

I was informed that the vineyard had become a wedding destination and that they were booked up nearly a year in advance. I fully understand! What a setting to make a vow to the one you love. The only thing that I can think that would rival the beauty of the setting is a glowing bride on her wedding day. So, if you are making those types of plans, call early and often to book your weekend.

My wife and daughter enjoyed the visit as well and we plan on making a return trip this year. This time, I will know to allow for an afternoon rather than an hour and a picnic basket as well. Enjoy or as they would say “salute”.

Dan’l Boone Inn

Danl Boone Inn

No day trip to the High Country of North Carolina is really complete without a meal

with Dan’l Boone.

The Dan’l Boone Inn doesn’t have rooms to rent, but after eating there, you just might need one. This award winning restaurant is located in the heart of downtown Boone and has served delicious southern cuisine for over 50 years. This near-local restaurant is just a short 30 minute drive from Wilkesboro and well worth the trip. (the drive is worth the drive)

I arrived on a Saturday morning in March at around 9:00 and much to my surprise was taken to a table and within 5 minutes I was drinking my first cup of hot coffee and making decisions about what to eat first. While I am sure this is not the case year round, not having to wait in line was a nice bonus. The waiter was a really nice young man who very quickly became a member of our family. He made sure we had everything we needed before we needed it. We had a window seat and enjoyed the morning sun and the view of a bustling Boone.

We were outfitted with country ham, sausage and bacon. Each cooked just the way I like it. Other folks might prefer the ham fried a little more, this way it was nice and tender. Along with the meats, we were served a basket of biscuits. It was a nice touch to have both regular southern biscuits and some cinnamon biscuits as well. Both were excellent. Of course gravy was an essential ingredient at this morning feast; both red eye and cream. My recommendation is to put a little red eye on the biscuit first and then smother it with the sausage cream gravy. Scrambled eggs, grits, cooked apples, pancakes and Black Cherry Preserves filled the table to capacity.

The more we ate, the more food appeared on the table. It would seem that Dan’l Boone has an endless supply of the southern delicacies and he is not stingy with them. I had skipped the evening meal the night before, planning for the morning outing with my family. Even with the extra space and the early planning, I was easily defeated by this colossal breakfast. Every bite seemed to taste better than the last. I had to be very careful what I said, as my wife (who is amazing cook) was sitting beside me. For sure, the Dan’l Boone Inn serves up a breakfast that is a close second to what my sweetheart can whip up on a Saturday morning.

The restaurant is an old home/ inn that has been lovingly cared for and will make the meal even more enjoyable. There was plenty to look at and lots to talk about with my in-laws. There is a little shop located at the front of the restaurant that is well stocked with High Country souvenirs to take home with you. And while I would recommend that, the better option is to grab a couple of the bags beside the register and pack up some country ham biscuits to eat on while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. They encourage you to take what you don’t eat and we did.

Any way you slice it, the Dan’l Boone Inn is a great place to enjoy some of what the south is famous for; food, family, friends and faith. It is an easy going place and I never felt rushed. We talked and talked and enjoyed our time together over several cups of coffee.  At roughly $10 per person (children less), it seemed like a bargain. Sure, McDonalds is a little cheaper, but seriously….. we are talking apples and oranges. Go, enjoy, and fill up on some of that good southern cooking. Oh yeah, and tell them that the VisitInsider told you about it, maybe next time I am there I will get to eat for free. God bless you.


View Larger Map

For more information, visit www.danlbooneinn.com.

Wilkesboro Open Air Market

Wilkesboro Open Air Market

“Come for the freshness and stay for the fun.”

IMG_5905

Each year the Town of Wilkesboro opens its’ doors to consumers, farmers and artisans to buy and sell at the Wilkesboro Open Air Market. “Fresh from the farm” produce as well as handcrafted products will be available every Friday for some 5 months (depending on the harvest). The market is located on Main Street in downtown Wilkesboro in the parking lot adjacent to the “old Courthouse” which now houses the Wilkes Heritage Museum. Vendors start arriving early and they open for business at 4 pm and stay open until they sell out or 8pm, whichever comes first.

The Open Air Market offers a special event every third Friday…. called “Third Friday” J. During these events, the standard fare is available, but plan on some special things to be available. Additionally, local musicians will perform and there will be children’s activities available. The Heritage Museum will be open for tours during this time as well.

Parking

As with other downtown festivals, parking is somewhat limited, but thankfully is in adequate supply. Take your time and cruise the area and look for the local lots or on-street parking. The crowds are reasonable, so no worries. Enjoy the walk and do a little window shopping while you stroll. There is parking around the museum, beside Nanasan Restaurant, behind the restaurant and of course on the streets throughout the town.

Welcome to Small Town USA

Wilkesboro is the prototype small southern town filled with everything that makes small towns the place to be. The people are the nicest you will ever meet. The food is local “mom and pop” and tastes great. The service is excellent and you will be treated very well. The language is distinctly southern. Everybody will want to talk to you, if you are open to conversation. So enjoy the grits and grins and be sure to join right in. Toto, you are not in Kansas anymore.

My First Impression

I arrived early, maybe too early; many of the vendors were still setting up. The market was not crowded and no one seemed to be in a hurry. Leisurely chats were in order at every booth. I learned about each person, how they farmed or made their product and what they had to offer. I don’t remember any of this at Wal-Mart J. Great looking produce, sweet scented soaps, goat milk cheese, handmade this and that, all waiting to go home with me. I watched a local blacksmith work steel. I had a wonderful coffee from Talia Espresso and sampled several flavors of things that had never been in my mouth before. All very good!

In Closing

If it is Friday afternoon and the Wilkesboro Open Air Market is open and you are looking for a great little outing, drive downtown and enjoy the evening. No stress, no strain, just good friends with wonderful homegrown or homemade items for you to try and buy, if you wish. Wilkes is nationally known for its’ music and the Heritage Museum is home to the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame (www.blueridgemusichalloffame.com). Be sure to check out those that have been enshrined in the Hall for their contributions to this regions music. “Third Friday” will feature some of the area’s finest musicians, many of which will likely one day find themselves remembered in the Hall. So, come on out and enjoy the music, food and fellowship, y’all will be glad you did.

 

 

Stone Mountain

Stone Mtn

Stone Mountain State Park is 14,000 acres of natural beauty. Waterfalls, mountain streams, 17 miles of trout waters, 21 miles of pristine hiking trails and of course a 600 foot tall dome of granite are what awaits the visitor to the park. Words will fall woefully short in describing the setting of this magnificent National Natural Landmark. A few words that begin to paint the picture would be “breathtaking”, “amazing”, “picturesque”, “undisturbed”, oh and did I mention “breathtaking”. Really, the only thing to say is “you have got to come experience this”.

Getting There

Stone Mountain State Park is located in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, six miles southwest of Roaring Gap. From I-77 North, take Exit #83/Hwy 21 North/Sparta/Roaring Gap (you will exit from the left lane). Go north about 13 miles to Traphill Road/ State Road 1002, (you will see a brown state park sign) and turn left. Go about 4 miles to John P Frank Parkway (you will see a brown state park sign) and turn right. Follow the parkway to the park.

From the west, take NC 16 to NC 18 in North Wilkesboro and then turn right onto Hwy 268 East. Go about 3 miles and turn left at Airport Road. Go about 4 miles and turn left this becomes Traphill Rd (SR 1002). Follow Traphill Rd to John P. Frank Parkway about 11 miles and turn left; follow the parkway to the park.


View Larger Map

First Things First

The climb to the top of the Dome is not for the faint of heart, so do some walking ahead of time. In the past few years, a new, much easier path to the top of the Dome has been constructed, but it is still a pretty good hike with lots of elevation change. The old, awesome climb is a challenge to almost everyone, but it is well worth the effort. One word… breathtaking…. In every way!

Water! Pack some cold water in the backpack for the hike. This is a long, time consuming hike that calls for refreshment as you go. I have packed a lunch several times and sat atop the Dome and enjoyed the view while I ate. Also, there are very nice picnic shelters with grills available for use, call ahead to reserve.

Parking

Parking is available at two main lots, each of which is focused on the trail you are choosing. The Upper Trailhead Lot should be used for those that are looking for a more casual hike (still a pretty good hike and I recommend this trail for those that want to bring their dog with them). The Lower Trailhead Lot is to be used by those wanting the full Stone Mountain experience. This lot gives you fairly easy access to the Hutchinson Homestead and the base of Stone Mountain Falls. Additionally, there is parking all along the Parkway where picnicking, creek wading, trail hiking and fly fishing is available. The map at this link is pretty good….. www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/stmo/pics/parkmap.pdf. So, print it out and carry it along for the day. As far as parking goes, I have never visited the park where I could not find a space; however, weekends can be pretty crowded.

Camping

I have never camped at the park as I only live 30 minutes away, but I have talked with people that have and have heard great comments about camping in the park. There are campsites for every type of camper. Hike in, rustic; drive in fairly rustic and drive in with power and water. A total of nearly 100 sites are available for reserving…. This link will take you where you need to go for camping information….  www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/stmo/facilities.php

Food and Beverage

If you want to eat in the Park, bring your own food and beverage. Pack a picnic and enjoy the great setting the park has to offer. One of my favorite memories of Stone Mountain is picnicking beside a stream with my wife and two children, (ages 4 and 7 at the time), watching them play in the stream and make mud pies while I did some fly fishing downstream.

If you don’t want to eat in the park, there is an awesome little country store on the Parkway before you enter the park (on the right side of the road). They have great grill food and plenty of hand dipped ice cream and ice cold drinks. The store is wrapped with a porch and they provide lots of old fashioned rocking chairs to enjoy the mountain breeze while you devour that cone of Cookies and Cream. (this is making me want to go right now) I really love to stop at this little country store and hate that I missed stopping there in the past.

Suggestions

  1. Dress in layers, you are in the mountains of North Carolina and you really don’t know what you are going to get weatherwise. Some days are scorching hot, some are perfect and others are downright chilly.
  2. Wear great hiking shoes. Don’t skimp on this, your feet will yell at you later.
  3. Wear comfortable clothes. Up and down hills, climbing steps and sitting on boulders calls for the right kind of clothing. Dress appropriately.
  4. Take your time. You will not cover this entire park in a day, so slow down and enjoy what you are doing. If there is a bench… sit on it. Someone before you determined that something needed looking at or thinking about, so do both. Getting in a hurry here can cost you more than time.
  5. Stay on the marked trails and off the slick rocks. Needless to say, there is danger at this park for those that choose to explore outside the designated area. Many have fallen to their deaths by stepping into the water at the top of the falls. Common sense is needed, if it looks dangerous, it probably is. Go home safe.
  6. Talk to people. Meet the folks that have come to the park. They are just like you. They love nature and can tell you about special things to watch for or which trail to take to see something. Be part of the Stone Mountain Park community and enjoy time with others.
  7. Stop at the Country Store on the Parkway! Seriously, this is a must! Spent and few minutes and a few bucks and enjoy the ice cream with those you love…. Make a memory that will last a lifetime. (I don’t own the store or even know the folks that do)
  8. Drive the entire loop. Enter on the Parkway and leave by Long Bottom Road. I know you don’t want to get your car dirty, but the drive is worth it.
  9. Watch for trout. I love to hike beside the streams and watch for trout. You will be amazed where you will find them.
  10. Slow down. Enjoy the park. In my opinion, this park is the best thing northwest North Carolina has to offer. Don’t miss this! And don’t leave too early, the deer are in the meadows in the evenings.
  11. Drive slowly, the deer are everywhere.

 

In closing, I want to make this plea to you. If you love nature and the great outdoors, don’t miss this park. “Stunning” is the word that comes to my mind.  Whether you are a serious climber or a recreational hiker, Stone Mountain State Park offers endless days of pure outdoor enjoyment, oh and one more thing… The sunsets are amazing!

Visit the state website at www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/stmo/main.php

Kerr Scott Trails (KST)

Dark Mountain

The name alone conjures up fear; but for the mountain bike enthusiast, Dark Mountain trail at Kerr Scott is the real deal. Fear, for sure, but it is so much more. This series of single track trails is considered by most to be challenging, yet doable. I must admit to carrying my bike on some sections; but as they say “if you ain’t hiking…. you ain’t biking”. J

It is hard to imagine that nearly ten years have passed since I was introduced to the idea of building trails at Kerr Scott. I was approached by a friend (Jim Horton, loving known as the Trail Boss) who was building the trails by hand and was seeking funding for a walk behind grading machine. I encouraged him to seek a grant from the local tourism authority and Brushy Mountain Cyclists Club received $10,000.00 from them and another $2500.00 from the Hampton Inn. The rest is history. Many hours of hard work by local volunteers and Dark Mountain trails were underway.  (Kudos to BMCC and all the volunteers that have made this a reality!!!)

The trails gained national attention and soon the Burn 24 Hour mountain bike race was moved to this location and has remained here ever since. This 24 hour endurance race is held annually in late May and begins at noon and ends at noon and is a crazy workout for those brave enough to tackle it. I have only watched.

Dark Mountain Trails contain 7.5 miles of ups and downs that some have called a free roller coaster ride. The trials are located at the end of Reservoir Road across the Dam. Cross the Dam, turn left and go down the hill to the parking lot, unload your bike, put on your helmet and prepare for the challenge. For your convenience, a free bike wash station is located at the end of your ride. Enjoy.

Dark Mountain Trail Map

Overmountain Victory Trail (OVT)

OVT is 9.5 miles of pure mountain biking pleasure. Generally, this series of trails is doable by most every skill of rider (at least some portions). For me, the most fun is Shiners Loop, a loop trail constructed around a peninsula of land that gives the rider great lake views and absolutely gorgeous wooded scenery. The trail is challenging, but flows like a mountain stream… the downs power the ups and the ups give way to gentle grades that wind through the wooded ridges. It is better than it sounds!

OVT is accessible from the parking lot at the Kerr Scott welcome center located on Reservoir Road. Park in front of the building and the trails are directly across the entrance drive, look for signage. Except for Shiners Loop, OVT is an out and back trail, so watch for oncoming traffic. (I have had more than a few near misses)

Overmountain Victory Trail Map

Warrior Creek

Warrior Creek is the newest of the trail segments and is located north on Hwy 268 some 4 miles from Reservoir Road at the Warrior Creek Campground. Totaling 17 miles and still growing, Warrior Creek offers a day long ride that is challenging enough for any rider. These trails are downright fun! The banks switchbacks are a thrill and the downhill runs are breathtaking.

One cautionary note, I left my left shoulder on these trails, so ride within yourself and let other folks do the same. There are certainly some areas that intermediate riders need to walk J. Rock Gardens are also a challenge on these runs, so be wise and stay safe.

6 Hours of Warrior Creek (6WC) is held here in early April and sold out in 10 hours this year. This event is nationally known and draws the best riders from across the nation. I have had a great time just picking a spot along the trail a just sitting and watching. Of course, as each rider goes by I think…. “That will be me next year”. Not!

Warrior Creek Trail Map

Anyway, with over 35 miles of excellent single track trails, KST offers the best of mountain biking to everyone. From novice to expert, it doesn’t matter; just get on that bike and ride. The trails are calling, are you listening?

Check out the web-based map at this link -

www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=53537d13bcb24046b2dcac790325f800

 

Friend in Town

[slider pausetime="4500" manualplay="false" controlthumbnails="true " directionnav="true"] [/slider]

As the General Manager of the Hampton Inn in Wilkesboro, NC, my goal is to keep our guests informed about what’s happening, not only at the hotel, but also around Wilkesboro. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of operations, I need a reminder of what being Hampton is really all about.

Arriving at the hotel in the mornings, I smell the fresh coffee brewing and the waffles cooking in the breakfast area. I hear the chatter of people getting their morning started. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the day! I like to think of the dining room as the “melting pot” of the hotel. People from everywhere gather together in a warm, cozy room in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, sharing breakfast and preparing for their day.

Are they visiting for an interview to make that next step in their career? Are they calling on a local company, preparing to make the sale that could bring that next big promotion? Maybe they are visiting friends they haven’t seen since high school or exploring the area to enjoy the beauty of the mountains and foothills? Or are they just simply passing through the area on their way to some far off destination? Each person brings with them a different story to tell and I love to hear them all. I get to hear stories of where folks have been or where they are going next. Occasionally, some even need a little direction on how to get there and I am happy to help.

Travelers are often looking for that “friend in town”, the person who has their finger on the pulse of the community. This is where I come in! I make it my business to be in the know about everything going on in the community and I can get them going in the right direction. I can provide you with information about little things, like where to get your laundry dry cleaned, the location of the best Italian food in town, or maybe where to pound the pavement with those running shoes. And when it is time for the big things, I can give you inside information about wedding venues and where to buy that special someone a gift for the birthday that you missed while you were with us. That is what we aspire to be every day; the people that you count on for friendly and knowledgable service. Thanks for letting us serve you. That’s why we are Hampton!

Stop by the front desk and ask for Summer, I can’t wait to hear your story.