Over the Mountain

Banner Elk offers visitors a locale where rustic meets upscale in the most charming way.

The road to Banner Elk, N.C. is peppered with outdoor adventures like rafting, zip lining, and hiking the scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It ends at majestic ski slopes and a small Main Street anchored by historic Lees-McRae College. It is a place where cozy cabins and charming B&Bs are the perfect counter to our fast paced lives.

On my most recent trip, I discovered it is also a place where world-class meets rustic and an entrepreneurial spirit co-exists alongside Appalachian roots, where top notch chefs collaborate with local artists and farmers to create a fine dining experience worthy of a five-star review.

Here is a road map for elevating your next mountain getaway.

Stay

The Best Western Mountain Lodge is in the most convenient location to everything. No matter what direction we drove, everything felt like a short trip from there. Plus, a hot breakfast is included in your stay. It also has an outdoor pool.


Hit the Trail

The Banner Elk Stables offer a true mountain trail experience on horseback. Don’t expect manicured paths through lush pastures. You will travel along the rocks and cliffs of the mountainside. The one-hour ride gives you a unique view of nature’s wonder.


Play

Take the short trip to Valle Crucis, 10 minutes down the road. The Mast General Store is a true gem filled with the sounds of squeaky wooden floors, an occasional bluegrass jam session, and exclamations of “Look at this!” It’s two stories that will take you back to your childhood. Give yourself time to explore.

Up the road is Apple Hill Farm. You can tour the working alpaca farm and get up close with alpacas, llamas, goats, and chickens. Donkeys guard the property from other animal predators. Owner Lee Rankin first saw an alpaca at the Kentucky State Fair and fell in love with the animals—and the rest is history. The first Saturday in June you can watch the annual sheering of the alpacas.

The Spa at Eseeola Lodge is a luxurious break. You are greeted with a warm neck wrap and sweet hibiscus mint tea or cucumber water with lemonade ice cubes. The hot stone massage was a choreographed dance of purposeful pushing and pulling that left me completely rejuvenated. The back exfoliation treatment, manicure, and pedicure are equally indulgent. It’s no wonder people travel regularly from the Charlotte area to experience it.

The Banner Elk Winery is kid friendly and dog friendly. An outdoor fire pit by a lake, bocce court, outdoor seating, and a house musician add to the funky and fun vibe. The tasting room is anything but stuffy and quiet. Music and conversation fill the gaps between sips of wine. The winery plans to double the size of its tasting room by May. Be sure to try the sangria or a wine pairing with a piece of decadent chocolate from Trosly Farm.


Grab Bag

I’ve been to the mountains numerous times. Yet, so often I drive past stores on the way to something else, never taking the time to really explore. This time I checked out art galleries and antique shops. I even found the Jerky Outpost. It’s full of a surprising amount of flavors for traditional jerky along with exotic options like kangaroo, and alligator.


Dine

The Painted Fish puts a spin on classics like turkey, Cuban, and BLT sandwiches. The Spicy Green Bean fries were gobbled up in a hot minute. Enjoy your lunch on a patio with direct views to the Sugar Mountain slopes.

Chef’s Table at Sorrento’s is hip and casual, yet upscale. The meal is sheer delight from start to finish. Chef Nicole Palazzo grew up in the restaurant business. She remembers learning how to make homemade meatballs when she was just 8 years old with her Grandmother in the family restaurant, Sorrento’s, already a staple of the area food scene. Palazzo skillfully serves up creative farm to table fare utilizing local growers like Wowsa Farm (the only farm on the East Coast to grow Wasabi). The beets from Wowsa are the stars of the best beet salad I’ve ever had.

The next time you head to Banner Elk, take time to enjoy the other side of the mountains. You’ll be glad you did.