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High country heaven: Blowing Rock, N.C., is the gem of the Ridge Mountains.

Whether you're seeking spring blooms, summertime farmer's markets, fiery fall foliage, or a winter hideaway, Blowing Rock will beckon you into the outdoors to come enjoy the Appalachian air,

A geological wonder, the "rock" of Blowing Rock is an immense granite outcropping over a deep green river gorge. This unique formation, coupled with strong mountain winds, creates an updraft so powerful that it lifts light objects--and has even inspired an ancient American Indian love story. According to legend (and Wikipedia), the Blowing Rock area was claimed by both the Cherokee and the Catawba when a brave and a maiden, one from each tribe, fell in love. When the brave learned that he had been called to fight against his lover's people, he threw himself off the rock in despair. The maiden prayed for his return and, in answer, a great gust lifted him back up into her arms. Even now, the area continues to draw visitors back season after season for a Blue Ridge blend of hospitality and beauty.

On the way into the town of Blowing Rock, stop by the rock itself (theblowingrock.com). Ripley's Believe It or Not quips that Blowing Rock is "the only place in the world where snow falls upside down." This oddity of nature is a sight to behold and so too are the panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the undulating forests along the Johns River Gorge. Through old-timey viewfinders, take a gander at Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and its nearby neighbor, the craggy dome of Grandfather Mountain. Before leaving, take a free local map from the gift shop. The village covers only three square miles, but the streets are as winding as rhododendron roots, and the cell service is spotty.

WHERE TO STAY

Westglow Resort and Spa offers such a delightful experience--six sumptuous rooms, the fine Rowland's restaurant, and an award-winning spa--that guests really do leave glowing (westglowresortandspa.com). The owners, Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer, who have been a couple for 21 years, have restored the Greek Revival mansion and 42-acre estate to the impeccable standards of Relais & Chateaux. When I was there, feminine touches such as two pairs of women's slippers, a "makeup" washcloth for each of us, and a nightly box of chocolate truffles left with flowers on both of our pillows made my partner and me feel entirely welcome.

"Fog likely" is a local saying that warns visitors about the ever-changing mountain weather. If clouds descend, there is no better place to be than the Westglow Spa. Voted one of the best boutique destination spas in the country, Westglow lives up to its promise to guests: "Come to the top of the mountain, leave on top of the world." At the spa, you can take advantage of an array of luxurious, rejuvenating body services, including a Grandfather Stone Massage and Blue Ridge Body Wrap, as well as facial, salon, wellness, and fitness services. The quiet relaxation room at the spa, with a fireplace, hot ginger tea, floor-to-ceiling windows, and lush lounge furniture, will have you floating on cloud nine in no time.

WHERE TO GO

Greet the day with Westglow's generous complimentary breakfast. Each morning, there are surprise specials to try, including fresh fruit smoothies, warm-from-the-oven muffins, and other seasonally inspired dishes from either the indulgent menu or the spa menu.

Afterward, join the ladies of the spa for a guided group hike. If you need to pick up some hiking gear (as I did, coming from New York), stop by Footsloggers Outdoor and Travel Outfitters (footsloggers.com). Trail shoes and a raincoat are a good idea, as is a local guide for solo hikes. While you're at Footsloggers, run upstairs for a cup of organic coffee from the local favorite, Bald Guy Brew (baldguybrew.com).

Westglow is situated just moments away from the many walking trails in Moses Ff. Cone Memorial Park (blueridgeheritage.com). Twenty-five miles of sloping carriage roads wind through the 3,500-acre country estate. On a clear day, the Watch Tower Trail offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountaintops. The ambling 2.5-mile path winds through wildflower fields and white pine, oak, and hemlock forests. On the way down, follow the signs to Flat Top Manor.

Flat Top Manor was once the home of Moses Cone, a textile industrialist known as the Denim King. The view of the horizon, all soft blues and a hazy navy where the ridge meets the sky, is spectacular. The manor now houses the Parkway Craft Center, which is full of Appalachian artisan handicrafts (southernhighlandguild.org). For a working studio nearby, visit Bolick Pottery, currently showcasing traditional clayware made by the fifth generation of family potters (traditionspottery.com).

Meander along Blowing Rock's Main Street, strolling through boutiques, galleries, and a turn-of-the-century treasure trove, the Martin Ffouse (1098 Main Street). Kilwins Chocolates SC Ice Cream is a delicious treat (kilwins.com). However, if you're in the mood for something merrier, veer off onto Sunset Drive and make your way to the Inn at Ragged Gardens (raggedgardens.com). Boasting the area's best wine cellar, and beers from the village's first microbrewery, Ragged Gardens invites one and all to enjoy live music on the lawn on Fridays at 5:30 p.m., weather permitting.

We were fortunate to visit during a sunny spell, making it possible to enjoy these outdoor festivities in the evening and then rise the next morning for an unforgettable hike in Julian Price Memorial Park. Susceptible to flooding, the Boone Fork Loop Trail was--for once in a blue moon--passable. The invigorating 5-mile hike is part of the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail and it was well worth its challenges (ncmst.org). Mist-shrouded forests above, mossy rhododendron roots below, boulders ahead, mountain creeks alongside, with every step it was a pleasure to join nature at play.

WHERE TO EAT

Blowing Rock is a stone's throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rippling for 250 miles through North Carolina, the parkway is full of dazzling overlooks and vista trails. Head south toward the Linn Cove Viaduct (Milepost 304). This breathtaking bridge was built around the highest peak in the chain, Grandfather Mountain, to preserve its environmentally fragile terrain. Driving at 35 mph over this feat of engineering feels similar to riding round the bend of a roller coaster. Don't speed; tickets start at $250.

For lunch, exit the parkway and zigzag toward Spruce Pine. The farm-to-table eatery Knife & Fork merits the 30-mile meander (knifeandforknc.com). Chef Nathan Allen serves up inspired dishes from locally grown produce and fowl. The seasonal menu changes daily, but the Buttermilk Fried Chicken is not to be missed--nor is dessert. Heading back on the parkway, stop at Milepost 316 for a 1-mile leg stretcher to lovely Linville Falls.

For dinner in town, the landmark Bistro Roca and Antlers Bar on Wonderland Trail delights locals and visitors alike with its robust American fare (bistroroca.com). Start with the Antlers' wood-fired flatbread and finish with a piece of homemade buttermilk pie. The Habi Burger, with all the fixins basted in homemade habanero sauce, and the Mountain Trout with pistachio pesto are excellent choices in between. Make a reservation for the three-season back porch and hope for a thunderstorm.

But no one would blame you if you went no farther than Westglow's own world-class restaurant. Rowland's proudly serves hearty steaks, seafood, and game meats alongside fresh-from-the-farmer's market fare. In the Library Bar, be sure to have a nightcap of regional wine or southern whisky. As you enjoy the cordial company, you'll find yourself surrounded by floor-to-ceiling portraits of Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer as they welcome to Westglow such esteemed guests as k.d. lang, Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem. In this deeply red state, the Shaefers provide a wellspring of true-blue hospitality.

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Title Annotation:FEATURES/TRAVEL
Author:Deneson, Amy
Publication:Curve
Article Type:City overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2014
Words:1311
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