Escape from Paradise with Ingrid Lemme-Chalut: October 2021

Mind-blowing Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

Let me say from the start that we’ve found another destination that really belongs on everyone’s bucket list and that we hope to visit next year once again as there is so much more for us to do and experience in and around the historic, charming, beautiful mountain town of Blowing Rock. The famous Rock, less than two miles from our hotel, that we visited the next morning, is the oldest tourist attraction in North Carolina and features an immense cliff jutting 4,000 feet above sea level. Blowing Rock is a year round destination, but fall is especially beautiful in the mountains when the leaves are turning, and The Blue Ridge Mountains, with Blue Ridge Parkway access right in Blowing Rock, offer one of the most colorful and longest running fall leaf seasons in the world. One of the reasons is the varied elevations that show prime fall colors for over a month. Lucky us, a little of these famous fall colors were already becoming more noticeable around the Blowing Rock area during our visit in mid September.

We arrived in town on a blue-skied early Sunday afternoon and fell instantly in love with its beautiful, blooming Main Street. But, we unfortunately also realized quickly that most of the restaurants on Main Street were packed. Main Street in Blowing Rock is filled with plenty of fine dining options, cool Pubs and quaint Bistros. What did we expect, Sunday afternoon in one of North Carolina’s most scenic mountain towns, located in the midst of some of the High Country’s most popular attractions? Lucky us, Ali Borchardt, the General Manager at the Meadowbrook Inn got us last minute reservations at Bistro Roca where we shared a terrific wood-fired oven pizza ( Think local Prosciutto, caramelized onion, Manchego, sun-dried tomatoes on flat-bread ) and a large, crackling Salada de Casa. Roca’s food and the 11.5 percent Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout put my husband in an uber-pleasant mood, and we were ready to discover the town.

We had reservations at the Meadowbrook Inn, a charming 62-room eco-retreat surrounded by still blooming gardens and located just a block from all these cute shops, restaurants, and galleries on Blowing Rock’s Main Street. A couple of ducks, who demanded the right of way, welcomed us by the main entrance. They seemed to be on the way to the duck pond which is part of the surrounding ‘Certified Wildlife Habitat by National Wildlife Federation’. Our accommodations were located in the annex building, adjoining the pond with a fountain sparkling in the early afternoon light and turned out to be one of the most interesting ones we’ve come across in all our travels. Our spacious two-floor ‘Pool Suite’ featured a private pool with floating mats (and I mean private), a nice living room with a cozy fireplace, a comfortable king-sized bed with luscious bedding and a large jetted bathtub for two. After we unpacked I made us a nice cup of coffee in the mini kitchen that we enjoyed briefly with some chocolates on our balcony. We couldn’t wait to get back to Main Street, join the crowd, do some shopping and listen to the band in the park. I especially liked The Final Touches Home & Garden boutique.

After a whole afternoon of fun up and down Blowing Rock’s historic Main Street and meeting people from all over we were slowly looking for a place for dinner and found it practically right around the corner from our Inn, The Speckled Trout. The Speckled Trout serves North Carolina’s famous trout, grilled, baked, blackened, crusted and/or smoked to one’s liking. I enjoyed the Blackened Speckled Trout served over a ‘country kimchi’ with a side of fries. It’s a happy place with cool people, good food and cool drinks. We decided right then to walk back to town one more time for a little more of the Music in the Park and some of Kilwins’ famous chocolate ice cream. However there was no way we would neglect our private indoor pool; after a whole day of traveling and walking we both were looking forward to it. Neither of us had packed bathing suits, but, hey, we didn’t need them anyway.

We decided to skip the breakfast buffet at the hotel the next morning and stop on the way to ‘The Rock’ at the ‘Sunny Rock Eggs and Things’ where the locals eat instead. Sunny Rock Eggs turned out to be a cozy, warm place with a hot breakfast and perfectly basted eggs! Thanking Amanda Lugenbell from Blowing Rock Tourism, and our friends Denise Hagan, Amy and Joe Lockman and Dick Schambach for all their valuable input.

The Blowing Rock is an immense cliff 4,000 feet above sea level, overhanging Johns River Gorge and is North Carolina’s oldest travel attraction. The Blowing Rock phenomenon gets its name because the rocky walls of the gorge form a flume through which the northwest wind seeps with such force that it returns light objects cast over the void. The current of air flowing upward from the Rock prompted the Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not cartoon about “the only place in the world where snow falls upside down.” Visible from “The Rock” down the gorge to the southwest are Hawksbill Mountain and Table Rock. To the west are Grandfather Mountain (the highest peak in the Blue Ridge chain) and Mount Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Mississippi). Teary-eyed by the legend of The Blowing Rock and the breathtaking views all around,we walked a couple of the self-guided trails, visited the museum by the visitor center and then made our way back to this fantastic town. I still have chills just thinking of this insanely thrilling moment of us both sitting on the very top of The Blowing Rock that draws thousands between April and October every year.

Lunch at Blowing Rock Ale House was insane! My crispy Southern Fried Chicken Burger was to die for and so was Marcus’ burger, locally sourced, free-range mountain beef. My husband had an Amber Ale of 7.1 percent, maybe a little easier to absorb than the 11.5 percent Dragon’s Milk the day before? Our waitress, Niamh pronounced “Neve” was so sweet and she, like many of the young people who work in town, studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, about 20 minutes from Blowing Rock.

After our lunch overload we went back to Meadowbrook for a little nap. To be honest we didn’t get much rest because we were too hyped that we would be visiting the Mile High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain in Linville, about a 30 minute ride from Blowing Rock. Grandfather Mountain is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve due to its 16 ecological communities and 73 rare and endangered species and has many hiking trails and nature walks, wildlife habitats, and a nature museum and restaurant. Amber had told us that the easiest way is to drive up to the visitor center and take the Mile High Swinging Bridge (handicap accessible) over to climb to the highest point. My husband is a little uncomfortable with heights, I thought, but it was me who freaked out, not on the bridge (because I never looked down), but when we started to climb over rocks and boulders to the highest point, my adrenalin was raging. The mountain is estimated to be 300 million years old, with certain rock formations dating back 1.2 billion years. Grandfather Mountain is a place of amazing biodiversity and scenic beauty that towers 5,946 feet above northwest North Carolina. Little will match the exhilarating feeling of being on top of the world while looking out across views of mountain ridges cascading to the horizon. Here we met other free spirits like us.

For our last dinner we’d made plans to dine at Timberlake’s at Chetola Resort, located in the original Manor House building, and featuring a menu inspired by world-renowned North Carolina artist and designer Bob Timberlake’s culinary favorites. I studied the eclectic menu ahead of time and knew that we would be in for a treat. We shared an appetizer of a Fried Green Tomato Napoleon (Cornmeal dusted & fried green tomatoes, layered with wilted spinach, caramelized onions, and brie. Finished with roasted red pepper coulis and 16 year aged balsamic) which was by far one of the most creative and mouth watering versions of this forever Southern staple. My husband’s main course was the Asian Style Duck Breast, (Cast iron seared Peking duck breast, with spiced orange glaze, house-made hoisin, and cucumber salsa). It came à la-minute, and artfully presented. I, the Garlic & Herb Crusted NC Trout (Breaded and pan seared to perfection and then topped with lemon tarragon butter and kale slaw) – superb, is an understatement. Timberlake’s at Chetola Resort is a destination restaurant.

Until next month from another interesting location.

Love, Ingrid

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