All posts by Insider

Raffaldini Vineyards

Raffaldini Vineyards

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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.

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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”.

Brushy Mountain Apple Festival


The first Saturday in October brings the masses to North Wilkesboro for the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival. They come to town for what has become one of the largest single day arts and crafts festivals in the Southeast US. Over 160,000 people crowd the downtown streets enjoying a day of food, fellowship and downright fun.

How to get to the Apple Festival.

The festival is held on the streets of downtown North Wilkesboro, so regardless of where you are coming from, just follow the signs once you get into Wilkes County. If you are coming from the east, I would advise you to take the NC Hwy 115 exit and turn right on 115. This will take you to NC 268, turn left on NC 268 and you will run right into the festival.Inflatable Pub

If you are coming from the west on US 421, take “421 Business” into the downtown area. This left turn is the next left after the Taco Bell. Business 421 will take you directly into the down town area. If you are tech savvy, just enter North Wilkesboro into whatever device you have and hit the road.


Like most large events, parking is the challenge. The downtown area is closed off, so parking has to be in the surrounding areas. Many public and private lots are open for paid parking (the closer the parking, the higher the price). In addition, the Festival provides free shuttle service to and from parking at West Park where there is lots of free parking. Visit and click on the parking link for information on this service.

You will find a place to park, so be patient and decide if you want to walk in from paid parking or ride in from free parking. Also, a word to the wise, the neighbors around the festival are wonderful people, but they draw the line when you park in their yard or driveway, so play nice.

Food and Beverage

The Brushy Mountain Apple Festival is famous for its food selection. My wife always shows up early (7am) and enjoys a country ham biscuit or apple pie. Food is available throughout the festival grounds, so be sure to bring your festival map or pick on up the intersection of Main and 9th and do your food research ahead of time. (Nothing worse than eating something at one location only to realize that you missed out on your favorite just a block away)

Prices are reasonable and the food quality is excellent. The variety is expansive and you will find more that you want to eat than you can eat (very frustrating J). Again, research is the key to finding just what you are craving. My favorites are always the ice cream, the homemade apple pies, awesome Carolina pit cooked bar-be-que, anything with grilled peppers and onions and that really greasy slice of pizza. But whatever your personal tastes are, you will find a place to chow down and enjoy.

An honorable mention here, a local water bottling company sets up a location at the Main and 9th intersection and gives a cold, clear drink of mountain water to every festival goer. Kudos to Brushy Mountain Water and Coffee Company!!

Things to do at the Apple Festival.

Every corner brings a surprise and every street a new series of crafts to enjoy. My favorite times at the festival are watching the artisans at work. Blacksmiths, quilters, potters, wood workers and many others are hard at work and you can quietly watch or ask questions as the work their magic. Where else can you watch cane be turned into molasses or hear southern gospel singers while your child is having their face painted? To say the least, diversity reigns supreme. Take your time, get into the crowd and see what each vendor has to offer.

And don’t forget, this is a celebration of the apple harvest on the Brushy Mountains. The orchards produce some of the best apples in the nation and are available for purchase at the end of almost every street. My favorite apple is the Pink Lady, a wonderful combination of sweet and sour that leaves your mouth watering.

The festival has added a Friday night event known as the “Apple Jam” that is centered on local music. It is held in the Festival Park located on the corner of 10th and Main in downtown North Wilkesboro. The Friday night festivities begin at 6 PM, so come early, bring your chairs and enjoy some beautiful mountain music.


1. The crowds are large, but the people are wonderful. If you are opposed to large crowds, show up early or arrive late and you will miss the biggest crowds.

2. Do your homework ahead of time; this will save you time and lots of walking, nothing worse than backtracking at a street festival.

3. Bring something to carry your awesome purchases in. Backpacks or shoulder bags are excellent choices.

4. If you bring children, allow adequate time for them to have a blast in the children’s area. My kids always loved the sand art and face painting.

5. Wear great walking shoes. You are on streets and sidewalks the entire time and some nicely padded walking shoes will seem worth their weight in gold.

6. Dress in layers. You are in the foothills of North Carolina and as Forrest Gump said… “You never know what you’re going to get”.

7. Get a good night’s sleep the night before and bring a big bag of patience. If you get in a hurry, you will miss something pretty special or you will be very frustrated.

8. Get a bag of apples! This festival is still months away and I am already craving one of those wonderful Brushy Mountain apples.

 Leaving the Apple Festival

Because it is an all day festival, leaving is no big deal. There is no mad rush or clogged highways, so take your time, leave when you want to and enjoy the view as you go. Before you go, be sure to stop by the Festival headquarters at the intersection of 9th and Main and get your free bumper sticker. See you there.

Strawberry Fields Forever!



Strawberry Picking in Wilkes

Spring is a wonderful time filled with great weather (kinda rainy), beautiful nature and short sleeve shirts.  But each year as April arrives, the conversation at my house turns to…. Strawberries.  Yep, believe it or not, my wife and I begin to imagine the taste of locally grown, ripe to the center, red, delicious strawberries and strawberry pie.  As they say…. It is the simple things in life.

Zaloo’s Canoes (Canoeing in NC)



Canoeing in NC

The New River is truly a treasure. It has been designated a National Scenic and Wild river and an American Heritage River. Tubing, kayaking or canoeing down the New is the best way to explore this remarkable natural treasure. The water is crystal clear (and cold) and with the exception of a small section of white water here and there, is smooth as glass. This is a great family jumpers for sale

Guide to MerleFest

MerleFest Group

It is difficult to put into words what MerleFest is and what the four days around the last weekend in April are all about, but here goes….

This year we get to enjoy again what many people consider to be the best outdoor Bluegrass/ Americana music festival in the world. Held annually on the campus of Wilkes Community College (Harvard on the Yadkin, as the locals call it), the festival that began on the back of a flatbed truck in 1988 has evolved into a campus wide, multi-stage music extravaganza. The festival is held in honor of Merle Watson, the deceased son of Doc Watson who was killed in a farming accident. Merle was a devoted musician who loved to play the guitar with Doc. For more information on Merle and the history of the festival, please visit

Read more below the break!

Shine to Wine

Shine to Wine

The Shine to Wine festival gets bigger and better each year.  The festival is held in historic downtown North Wilkesboro.  The festival includes regional wines and beer for the tasting, live music and art. The festival lasts from 12 PM – 6 PM and is free to the public.  However, if you plan on sampling the wines, a wristband must be purchased. (Proof of age is required)

Wilkes County was at one time known as the Moonshine Capital of the World and for good reason. Nowadays, the region is becoming known for it”s variety of wines.  Ideally situated with the right precipitation and temperatures, the Yadkin Valley is a perfect region to grow grapes. (Who knew, right?)  So the name, Shine to Wine is a throw-back to the old days with an eye on the future of the wine industry in our community.

Several of the downtown North Wilkesboro restaurants join in the celebration and offer a “Downtown Wine Dinner”.  Be sure to visit 6th and Main and Branciforte’s. Both of establishments offer special entrees paired with signature wines.  Reservations for this special evening is advised, so call ahead and ask them to save you a seat.  The food is always delicious and the prices are reasonable, so enjoy.

The festival always has a great band to listen to while you sample the wines.  Enjoy the distinctive sounds of some of the regions best bands as you walk the streets of North Wilkesboro.  These groups have always provided a great backdrop to the entire event.  Vendor tent hopping and wine tasting to live tunes played with true talent is a great way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

Should you attend?  If you enjoy friendly people, great music and art and a sip of the fruit of the Yadkin Valley Winegrowers, then this is a festival for you.  Check out their website for all the ins and outs and make your s plans now before all the hotel rooms fill up.  Salute!  (

How to get to the Shine to Wine Festival?

The Shine to Wine Festival is located in Historic Downtown North Wilkesboro.  If you are coming from the east, I would advise taking the NC Hwy 115 exit and then turn right on 115. This will take you to NC 268, turn left on NC 268 and you will run right into Downtown North Wilkesboro where festival signs and parking will be easily visible.

If you are coming from the west on US 421, take “421 Business” into the downtown area. This left turn is the next left after the Taco Bell. Business 421 will take you directly into the down town area. If you are tech savvy, just enter North Wilkesboro into whatever device you have and hit the road.

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Appalachian State Football Daytrip

ASU has become a football mecca!

Appalachian State Football One of the best days you can spend in the mountains of North Carolina includes a trip to Appalachian State University to take in an Appalachian State football game. Their victory over Michigan Wolverines propelled them into the national spotlight and winning three back-to-back national championships didn’t hurt either.

Appalachian State Football Staying in Boone on these weekends has become almost impossible; that’s where the Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express in Wilkesboro comes into play. The hotels are just a short 30 minute drive up US Hwy 421 to the ASU campus. Additionally, those choosing to stay in Wilkesboro will save a lot of cash. (and that’s always a good thing)

Appalachian State Football Plan on arriving in Boone early! The crowds are large and the parking is limited. I usually park off campus and hike in or ride the AppalCART bus to campus, depending on the distance. Additionally, betting in your seat early allows you to enjoy the crowd and participate in some per-game fun. If you are a tailgater, there is lots of that going on as well. The smell of BBQ will drive you nuts!

Appalachian State Football The stadium is very nice and the seats are great. You will enjoy the game regardless of where you sit. The people are very welcoming and southern hospitality is on full display (unless you are cheering for the other team). I guarantee a great experience! The great news is that ASU usually wins, so after the game, the folks are feeling great and want to have a fun time.

Appalachian State Football Boone boasts many great restaurants and bars and offers a “fan”tastic game day opportunity to celebrate the win. If you like chains, they offer the standard fare. There are great Main Street food and beverage hometown places. Some of my favorites are Mellow Mushroom, Macado’s, Chili’s and Makados Japanese Steakhouse. But there many others to enjoy, so pick a place and enjoy the food and fellowship.

Appalachian StateThe fall weather is a little unpredictable, so bring something warm to slip on just in case the snowflakes start flying. On the other hand, it might be sunny and hot, so be prepared for anything. After your day of fun, come on back down the mountain to Wilkesboro and have a great nights rest at the Hampton Inn. You can spend the night dreaming about another national championship or just relax and enjoy the night knowing you are saving a fistful of dollars.

Goooo Apppp!

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.

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For more information, visit

Wilkesboro Open Air Market

Wilkesboro Open Air Market

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


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.


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 ( 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.

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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 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….. 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.


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….

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.


  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