Why North Carolina Beats South Carolina for Summer Travel
Many Canadians hit the beaches of South Carolina as a spring break getaway. But as Best Health’s editor-in-chief discovered, North Carolina is where it’s at come summer.
Discover North Carolina with Best Health
North Carolina license plates say First in Flight, but they could just as easily say First in Fun. Long a playground of America’s rich and famous — think the Vanderbilts, Margaret Mitchell, Alex Haley, Harry Houdini and F. Scott Fitzgerald — this state has flown under the radar for many Canadians who are more familiar with its sunny sister, South Carolina. But North Carolina plays second fiddle to no one, especially during the summer months when much of the western portion of the state enjoys a temperate climate thanks to the Appalachian Mountains. Translation? It never gets quite as hot and sticky as the states that surround it (Kentucky, Atlanta and South Carolina).
Whether you want to hike and bike through the mountainous region, or eat and shop your way through its urban landscapes, this state makes for a great getaway for all types of travellers.
North Carolina hotspot: Highlands
Nestled on a plateau in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Highlands has been a favourite vacation destination since the late 1800s. Its high altitude (about 4,100 ft.) guarantees a comfortable summer temperature of around 24°C. The Nantahala National Park showcases a number of breathtaking waterfalls, many of which can be viewed from a variety of hiking and biking trails. While the area does draw world-class athletes thanks to its challenging terrain and high altitude, there are lots of options for fair-to-middlin’ athletes — trust me. Additionally, if you’re not into hiking, there are also river rapids to enjoy and fly-fishing, too.
Where to stay
The Old Edwards Inn and Spa lives up to its Relaix and Chateaux accreditation. Upon arrival, you’re greeted with a glass of bubbly, while a courteous staffer takes you on a walking tour of the massive property. You don’t want to miss an inch of this place. Not only is there the usual pool, fitness centre and spa, but Old Edwards also boasts several retail outlets and restaurants, each catering to your different moods. Bonus: The main property sits on the corner of the town’s main street, so there are lots of additional shopping and eating options available. As a guest of the hotel, you have access to the Old Edwards Golf Course, a stunning course carved out of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fun fact: A few holes offer a three-state view.
Where to spa
Rain day? No worries. You can easily while away your time at the Old Edwards Spa. The menu offers a range of services from facials (try the Vitamin A Facial Infusion) to acupuncture to foot treatments (Hot Soufflé Pedicure, anyone?) that you can bookend with lunch at the Spa Café and on-site saunas, whirlpools and steam rooms.
Where to eat
Venture down Main Street and you’ll find a plethora of eating options including Wild Thyme Gourmet, offering Asian-inspired American fare; Bistro on Main for a selection of fresh salads and Mountain Fresh Grocery, famous for their wood-burning, gluten-free pizzas.
North Carolina hotspot: Asheville
A few hours drive from Highlands, but still in the western part of the state, Asheville is a charming city pulsing with an artisanal vibe. Its DNA is spliced with sustainability and you’ll find authentic offerings in everything from food to clothing to foraging. Plan on spending three to four days here to make the most of it.
Where to stay
Immerse yourself in the city experience by staying in the heart of it, at newly-renovated boutique Hotel Windsor. Each of the 14 suites here is uniquely designed, but all include Sferra bedding, a cozy living room and a full kitchen. It’s a bit like staying in an art gallery, with locally created pieces adorning walls and tables — all for sale, should one strike your fancy.
Where to eat
Start with the homemade biscuits, but don’t stop there! Built on a farm-to-table ethos, this husband-and-wife-owned eatery offers a variety of fresh breakfast dish options including customizable omelettes and breakfast burritos. My favourite? South of the Border Hash — chorizo sautéed with onions and home fries, topped with guajillo chile sauce, avocado and cilantro.
Lunch: Green Sage
This award-winning resto (for healthy food and environmental commitments) makes for a great midday nosh stop. You’ll find a variety of soup, salad and wrap options, but I fell hard for the rice bowls including the Buddha and Yogi Bowls.
Farm to table, check. Good service, check. Ambience, check. But what you’ll long remember is the way the food is plated. Their Insta-worthy dishes confirm the hunch: These folks are passionate about all things food. The menu changes frequently, so I hate to tease you with my delish dinner, but I will: a baked chicken, grilled just at the end to crisp the skin, served with roasted carrots and fennel in a cider jus.
Dessert: French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Sustainability doesn’t end with supper, as this bonbon bistro can attest. Bean-to-bar offerings and everything in between — cakes, cookies, drinks — are created locally by a husband-and-wife duo, who are as committed to chocolate as they are sweet endings.
Where to spa
No time for a full spa? Then nip into Wake Foot Sanctuary. They have the coolest concept: While you’re getting comfy on one of the many plush couches, they’re preparing a large copper tub with warm water and essential oils. You can simply soak in that for a few minutes or add on a quick massage. I opted for a head, neck and shoulder kneading before getting on my way. It was the perfect respite — short and sweet.
Where to stop
If you like tours, you’ve come to the right place. Asheville is keen to make its many offerings accessible to visitors. You can tour the famous Biltmore House, tour the Asheville Cheese Trail or, my favourite, take a foraging tour with No Taste Like Home. If you’re short on time, opt for Wild Food Stroll on the grounds of The Omni Grove Park Inn, which is 90 minutes long and culminates with your finds being turned into an appetizer by the chefs at the historic Grove Park Inn. Believe me, henceforth you’ll have an entirely new perspective on the weeds you regularly curse in your garden.