Our trip wasn’t all about ice cream, but a mid-day ice cream break was the one thing we did every day without fail. And it wasn’t your ordinary Dairy Queen or Wendy’s Frosty, but rather Ultimate ice cream, made by the self-proclaimed “micro-brewery of ice cream” found only in Asheville, NC. Some flavors you have heard of, but some you haven’t: Coffee heath bar, black mocha stout, flaked coconut, goat cheese and bing cherry, molasses gingerbread, South Carolina peach, and my favorite rum raisin, to name just a few.
But it wasn’t just Ultimate ice cream that brought us to Asheville, NC, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Brother Ted and his wife, Carol (Carol F), and Sister Sadie and her husband, Ray, joined Carol (Carol J) and me at Mama Gertie’s Hideaway Campground to experience Asheville and some of the “best of the Blue Ridge.”
Michael, our driver and Asheville tour guide on the Gray Line Trolley (and professional story teller on his off hours) entertained us with continuous chatter about the history, culture, backstories and gossip associated with the rich and famous, and not so rich and famous, of Asheville and how they built the beautiful Victorian mansions and the one-of-a-kind Omni Grove Park Hotel and Grounds. When stopped in downtown traffic he would lapse seamlessly into stories of drunken rattlesnakes and three-legged sheep and make it all sound relevant and true. On the way he pointed out “12 Bones BBQ” which became our post-tour luncheon target; Carol F will vouch for dem’bones–yum.
Except during the dead of winter, Asheville is a color palate of botanical delights. It is renowned for fall foliage colors when the mountains explode with all shades of red, yellow, green and brown, but the summer flowers and landscape designs in the Biltmore Estate Gardens saturated our senses all the same.
The Biltmore Estate is a large private estate built by George Washington Vanderbilt
between 1889 and 1895. Vanderbilt’s idea was to replicate the working estates of Europe. The main house is a Chateauesque-styled mansion that stands today as one of the most prominent examples of the Gilded Age. It takes well more than a day to experience the house, hotel, gardens, winery, village, museum, and grounds; we did our best and covered about half of it. Of course, the winery was a priority, and I am enjoying a glass of Biltmore Merlot while I write this.
A year ago, we three sibs and our mates climbed (mostly drove) up Mt. Washington (6,289 feet) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Given its north latitude, the last couple of hundred feet of elevation resemble arctic tundra with the very top wind-blown granite. None-the-less it is not the highest mountain in the East. That would be Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina at 6684 feet. Despite its higher elevation, its more southerly latitude made for an easy drive and short hike to the summit. Looking over the tops of Fraser fir trees that cap the summit are endless ridges of the Blue Ridge in all directions.
Mt. Mitchell is accessed from the Blue ridge Parkway which runs 469 miles from south of the Smoky Mountains to central Virginia where it connects to the Skyline Drive that runs another 109 miles through Shenandoah National Park ending near Washington DC. Our 75 miles traveled included Mt. Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, the Folk Art Center, the Parkway Visitor’s Center, and the Mt. Pisgah Inn where we enjoyed a great lunch as well as a gorgeous view.
There is no way one can visit this part of the country without enjoying at least one waterfall, of which there are at least a dozen to choose from. Our pick was Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway. The falls is an 85-foot plunge named for nearby Looking Glass Rock (mountain) in the center of the Pisgah National Forest.
There are so many breweries in Asheville (22) it would take most of us three weeks to sample them all (you could do it in way less time). After all our heavy duty hiking visiting waterfalls, we treated ourselves to a sample of all the fare at the French Broad Brewing Co. All their beers were great, but we couldn’t convince our brother that any were as good as Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The beer may not have been as good as some old favorites, but Ultimate ice cream of Asheville got the vote from all of us. As you might expect, a final visit to Ultimate was the last, official activity of the trip. I can’t speak for the girls in the photo, but after some experimentation I dropped back to my favorite flavor (Rum Raison) for the final treat. Whatever the chosen flavor, they appear to be pretty happy with their choice.