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Beacon Senior News

Appalachian hospitality and the gems worth visiting

May 15, 2019 03:32PM ● By Melanie Wiseman

As Hurricane Florence barreled down on the east coast last September, my husband and I flew directly towards it for a pre-scheduled Appalachian adventure. We must have been living right because we enjoyed nearly two wonderful weeks exploring eastern Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Smoky Mountain National Park. Hurricane rain finally arrived the day we headed home.

Our goal was to experience back roads and small towns. Finding overly planned itineraries stifling, we chose to travel with a general route in mind but were more inclined to pick the brains of locals for our daily destinations.

Flying in and out of Knoxville, Tennessee and renting a car was the way to go. It allowed us to take a large, lazy loop through three states full of beautiful scenery and memorable interactions.

The hidden gems we found could fill volumes. Here are just a few that are very worth the visit.

Market Square in the heart of downtown Knoxville is loaded with restaurants using tasty and unusual ingredients. The South thrives on the farm-to-table concept, using fresh produce from local farms on their menus. I recommend the pizza at The Tomato Head.

The Museum of Appalachia is a living history treasure nestled off the grid, just 16 miles north of Knoxville. More than 35 authentic pioneer buildings amassed over 50 years include a whiskey still, blacksmith shop, sawmill, school house, chapel, homestead cabins and an underground dairy, complete with live animals and gardens on the 65-acre property. More than 250,000 artifacts including folk art, quilts and musical instruments expose visitors to the colorful mountain folk of southern Appalachia a century ago.

Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is located on the northern border of Tennessee. If you’re looking for a challenging hike to experience Appalachia’s backcountry like we were, six-mile Honey Creek Trail offers limestone bluffs and cliffs, and an abundance of caves and creek crossings. Oneida Appalachian Guest House was a one-of-a-kind experience. We didn’t make lodging reservations in advance so the road less traveled led us to Oneida, Kentucky where we dined on delicious home cooking before settling into our simple but spacious room at the guest house, which was built in 1927. Owners Tom and Vicky Clark know no strangers and showered us with southern hospitality. Vicky taking her tethered trio on daily walks—Tucker the pony and two Irish wolfhounds—was also a sight to see. Berea College in scenic Berea, Kentucky was reminiscent of Mayberry. We enjoyed a free, hour-long, student-guided tour of this upstanding, historic educational institution. Established in 1855, Berea College was the first in the southern U.S. to be coeducational and racially integrated. One in three students are an ethnic minority or international student. The school’s motto is “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” Expectations, values and ethics are its highest standards, with faith as the foundation. The town is also an artistic epicenter for many fledgling and professional artists.

Claiborne Farm, just north of Lexington in Paris, Kentucky, has been a thoroughbred horse farm for over 100 years. Claiborne stallions including 1972 winner, Secretariat, whose time records remain unbeaten, sired six of the 12 Triple Crown winners. The highlight of our guided tour was interacting with War Front, a stud who brings in $200,000 stud fees and is worth $85 million.

Our Mims Retirement Haven was one of the best stops we made. Founder and farm owner Jeanne Mirabito has a passion for restoring the health and spirit of mares doomed to sale and slaughter, or disheartening neglect due to a decline in winning revenues. Horses stay at Mirabito’s nonprofit sanctuary for the rest of their lives. An on-site cemetery is their final resting place. Mirabito shared the racing history and her personal relationship with each horse.

Historic Jonesborough is the oldest city in Tennessee. Known as the “Story Telling Capital of the World,” we were delighted to take in a spur-of-the-moment performance by a live storyteller. We also had a fantastic lunch at Main Street Café.

Rabbit Hollow Cottage just north of Asheville, North Carolina, was our cozy home away from home for the last five nights of our trip. Tucked in seven acres of dense forest, this newly remodeled cottage was built in the late 1800s. Quaint and comfortable, it provided relaxing respite from busy days touring Asheville.

Asheville, North Carolina is alive with eclectic music, a thriving art district and restaurants offering diverse and delicious menu selections. Jump on one the of frequent Gray Line Trolley Tours departing from the Asheville Visitor Center for an entertaining 90-minute experience of the town and it’s interesting characters.

Biltmore Estate is a national treasure in Asheville, officially opened by George Vanderbilt on Christmas Eve, 1895. It remained a family home until 1930 when it was opened to the public. Surrounded by historic gardens, America’s largest home is 175,000 square feet and contains 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, three kitchens, two bowling alleys and an indoor swimming pool. Audio headsets guide you on a tour of this massive piece of history.

Smoky Mountain National Park didn’t disappoint when it came to hiking eight miles on the Appalachian Trail and scenic vistas. Named for the misty clouds that roll like waves in and out of the valleys, it was a different mountain compared to the Rockies.

I encourage you to explore this part of Americana, where front porches are for sitting on and “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” can be the norm in some parts.