Prohibition made participating in the public enjoyment of alcohol illegal from 1920 to 1933. Regardless, the art of the cocktail thrived during this time, as underground establishments known as “Speakeasies” continued to operate. The South gets a lot of credit for being innovators in modern era cocktail creation. From New Orleans to North Carolina, mixology is alive and well. And Asheville is no stranger to the adult beverage.
Asheville is known for beer. You can’t walk two blocks downtown without hitting a popular watering hole or local brewery’s tasting room. There is no better destination in the Southeast for beer enthusiasts. The Thirsty Monk is one such destination. Locals and tourists alike have been enjoying craft and hard to find beers there since 2008. Last fall, the Monk embarked on the new, yet old, cocktail trail.
Top of the Monk specializes in cocktails and they’re doing it old school. There are no mixes or blenders. Everything is homemade, fresh squeezed and a work of art. From the Bloody Mary to Bourbon based and Gin with Absinthe, there is an element of mad science in the execution. The recipes are true to a bygone era, but with a signature all their own; the drink list is impressive but the women behind the bar are not limited to it.
As if the drinks weren’t enough, the establishment is a beautiful piece of nostalgia, complete with roof-top seating offering both urban and mountain views. The skyline of downtown Asheville hasn’t changed all that much in the last hundred years. Top of the Monk is a welcomed piece of Americana that reaffirms a time when drinks were hand made and patrons appreciated the process.
The weather is getting nice and everyone is eagerly awaiting the outdoor festival season here in western North Carolina. Last year, Rhythm & Brews was introduced as a new summer festival in Hendersonville. Combining great music and great local beer from breweries such as Southern Appalachian and Sierra Nevada, Rhythm and Brews was a great hit. Back by popular demand, I give you the 2nd annual Rhythm and Brews 2014.
The venue is located between 3rd and 4th Avenues one block east of Main Street and starts at 5:00 pm. A stage featuring regional rock and bluegrass music provides the free entertainment, while tickets can be purchased for some delicious craft beer and wine. Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and Sycamore Cycles will again be offering a “bike corral”, which provides free valet parking for people who wish to ride their bicycles and not worry about leaving them unattended. Dancing is encouraged and if this year’s event is anything like last year, there will be no shortage of participants.
The current music lineup is as follows:
- May 15 – The Broadcast
- June 19 – Balsam Range
- July 17 – The Fritz
- August 21 – Sol Drive Train
- September 18 – Blue Dogs
For more information and/or any changes, visit http://downtownhendersonville.org and https://www.facebook.com/RhythmAndBrewsHendersonville
The beginning of March has brought us great weather. And so, for the second weekend in a row, we have found ourselves hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trees are still bare, so the views are better, looking down into the valleys.
Our intention was to hike a trail called Graveyard Fields, south of Mount Pisgah near marker 418. Unfortunately, the road was closed several miles north of the trail. We should have visited the Blue Ridge Parkway real-time road closures website for current information.
The great thing about the Parkway is there are trails everywhere. Improvising, we pulled over around mile marker 395 where a lot of cars lined the road – a certain indication of trails. We found both a forest road for hiking, biking and horse back riding; and a more challenging trail going up the mountain which we discovered is part of the Mountain to Sea trail.
Mountain to Sea is a project that will connect over 900 miles of North Carolina trails from the mountains in the western part of the state to the eastern coast. Of course the Asheville area is lucky enough to have local access to these trails!
The trail climbed up the mountain and followed a ridge which is the natural border between the National Park land and North Carolina game lands. The trail is well maintained and has views in all directions. Here are some pictures we took along the way.
There’s a saying in the mountains of North Carolina. If you don’t like the weather here, wait 15 minutes; it will change. We do have four distinct seasons, and sometimes two in the same month. This February lives up to that reputation. A week ago, there was several inches of snow on the ground.
Today, motorcycles and bicycles were everywhere. The sky was blue. Children and dogs roamed the trails and water flowed. The temperature was in the mid 60s. We hiked the trails near Craven Gap along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This trail has the notoriety of having been trekked by the President and the First Lady on one of their recent trips to Asheville.
By mid-week, those same trails will be slick and icicles will form once again. The only thing you can count on is rapid weather changes, sometimes without notice. Nevertheless, outdoor activities thrive even in the winter in North Carolina. Come see what makes the Asheville area such a wonderful place to live. For more information on local hiking trails, go to http://www.exploreasheville.com/things-to-do/hiking-trails/craven-gap/
Have you even been home hunting and ignore a home because the adjacent homes are in clear view? Or perhaps you find a home that has everything you like but you step onto the back deck and see the neighbors waving? There are some low cost, fast growing solutions for adding a little separation between you and those living around you.
Now, I’m not trying to sound unsociable, but sometimes you just want a little “me time” and that doesn’t include the neighbors. And let’s face it, some of us have at least one neighbor we don’t care to see at all. So what to do? Fences can be expensive and detract from an otherwise beautiful yard. Border trees can sometimes take a decade or more before they provide any real privacy. Let me introduce you to a few options that grow well in North Carolina and are hardy through even the harshest winters for our climate.
A popular option is the Leyland Cypress. These attractive, fast growing evergreen trees provide year-round privacy. They grow several feet per year and can be shaped and pruned. Planting 4 to 6 feet apart, they will grow together much like a hedge. They are very hardy in even poor soil types. I have found them quite effective.
Another option, more compatible with larger properties is bamboo. Bamboo works well as a natural border where sound dampening is required and is one of the fastest growing plants; it grows well in North Carolina – sometimes beyond the expectation of the homeowner. It is important to note that once planted, it is not easily eradicated, so it is only recommended as a permanent divider. It is also important to maintain it from encroaching into your neighbor’s yard.
So the next time you are house hunting, envision the possibilities of increased privacy on the property before you reject it. As with any changes to landscaping, always consult local zoning and home owners association regulations.
It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of the Biltmore House. A brief synopsis: Built around the turn of the century by George Vanderbilt, the Biltmore House is 250 rooms, 175,000 sq. feet. with magnificent grounds and impeccable gardens. It is still owned by the family and is opened to the public as a popular tourist destination.
Wine drinkers are also familiar with Biltmore brand of wines distributed through the Southeast and beyond. Vineyards on the estate are harvested and grapes are processed and aged in the estate’s own winery. There is also a large wine tasting room for visitors touring the facility.
What most people don’t know, however, is how many other things there are to do without tasting wine or stepping foot into the magnificent home. The estate has truly become a vacation destination for tourists, and a relaxing hangout for locals with season passes.
This weekend, we took advantage of a special deal and purchased season passes with the explorer package. Basically this gives guests unlimited access to most things on the Biltmore Estate property, and discounts on the rest. If you think the house is big, consider the property it sits on is 8,000 acres! There are miles of hiking, biking and horse trails. I took advantage of those trails, biking over 15 miles. Some trails are paved, flat with little elevation change that meander through the grounds. For mountain bike enthusiasts, single track trails can be found at both ends of the estate.
Bird watchers will appreciate the bodies of water on including a bass pond, lagoon and the French Broad river where fly fishing is permitted. At dusk, it is common to see deer roaming the grounds. We were lucky enough to encounter a few with a very young fawn. There are places where you can simply park, set out a few lawn chairs and have a picnic or sit by the river and watch kayakers go by.
One appealing aspect of Biltmore Estate is that guests staying at the Inn never have to leave. In addition to the many activities, there are several great restaurants, Cedric’s Tavern and shops at Antler Hill Village. You can also rent bicycles, go on a Segway tour or go offroading with the Land Rover Experience. Summer concerts draw big names
While I highly recommend touring the Biltmore House, an informed guest could spend an entire day of fun activities and never get to the house at all.
Living in Henderson County, we are spoiled by all the great trails running through both Federal and State forest land. Hiking, biking and horse back riding is in full swing right now as the weather has been conducive to outdoor activities. Dupont State Forest is probably the best known area for such activities. Bent Creek in Buncombe County is also a haven for bike trails. But the less known North Mills River trails are our favorite.
This winter, we purchased multi-use bikes for riding paved and gravel trails in warmer places like Hilton Head. Spring came early, and we have enjoyed riding through Hendersonville and the wonderful trails provided by the parks department. Hendersonville is becoming a very bike friendly community, as is Asheville, and it’s not uncommon to see groups of bicyclist on the roads and trails.
The last month has given us some great weekend weather to experience some of the more advanced trails (for us beginners). The guys at Sycamore Cycles have gently reminded us that when we purchased our bikes, we said we were going to stay on mostly paved, gentle roads. But the mountain biking bug has bitten, so we have been pushing our bikes to their limits.
This weekend, we literally pushed our bikes a few times as we conquered the Trace Ridge Trail – or it may have conquered us. Whatever the case, it was a lot of fun. The vertical climbs are a real challenge, but the fast downhills are both treacherous and exhilarating. Roots, rocks and stumps were frequent obstacles and navigation was pretty tricky at times. One of the wonderful things about the harder trails, however, is encountering other riders is rare, and nature is only disturbed by the narrow trail.
If Trace Ridge sounds a little advanced, rest assured that North Mills River has many easier trails. Many are gravel forest roads closed by gates to motor vehicles, and perfect for bikers and hikers. We purchased the Western North Carolina Trail Guide South Pisgah Ranger District map, which is a necessity on some of these trails, and money well spent for us.
If you live in Western North Carolina and haven’t ridden the trails at North Mills River, then you need to get your bike up there! Don’t have a bike? The guys at Sycamore Cycles have been a great help to us in both sales and keeping our bikes tuned up. If you are thinking about visiting, they rent bikes too, so what are you waiting for?