LAKE LURE, NC
Back in 1932, the 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa was the go-to destination for honeymoons (I speak with some authority here. For years, I listened to my parents relive their magical few first days of marriage there.)
What is amazing is that, despite much better roads, more restaurants and artists’ enclaves, and a growing population of part-time and full-time residents, the Lake Lure area has maintained and even enhanced much of its original charm.
So, to plan your trip, let’s pick accommodations.
If you choose the above-mentioned Inn & Spa, ask about staying in the Swayze or Jennifer Grey suites. These are the rooms where those two remarkably talented actors stayed during the filming of Dirty Dancingone of the top romantic films of all time. (There’s also a Dirty Dancing Festival held in the area each August.)
The Esmeralda Inn is another good option, with its rustic, yet modernly beautiful retreat atmosphere. (Their lobby floor is the original wooden floor from the final “Time of My Life” dance scene from the movie. It was salvaged from the gymnasium where the scene was filmed.) The staircase up from the lobby is one amazing sculpture in itself.
Pine Gables Cottages in the town of Lake Lure offers nationally registered historic log cabins as well as honeymoon cabins with hot tubs. Six cabins are pet friendly. And even though they are secluded, free WiFi is available for all the cabins.The Lodge on Lake Lure is perched up above the water. Every afternoon, you’ll enjoy a favorite beverage as you look out over the lake. Originally built as a retreat for highway patrolmen, it’s been completely renovated and reflects a touch of continental style with just a hint of cosmopolitan worldliness. Tree Tops Dining Room adds another plus.
And then there’s Rumbling Bald Resort, a fantastic destination for a weekend getaway, spa day, or longer vacation (or getaway home). With 3,000 beautiful acres around the north end of Lake Lure, it offers two Golf Digest recommended golf courses, a private white sand beach, children’s water park, hiking and biking. Private residences, spacious condominiums, and comfortable villas are available, with mountain or golf course views and abundant amenities and events.
We asked Steve and Sue Gage, residents of Rumbling Bald Resort, why they decided vacationing wasn’t enough time, and moved to the area. “We spent our honeymoon in the western North Carolina mountains, more than 30 years ago,” Mr. Gage explained. “Our friends retired here and for five years, we spent time visiting them and getting to know the folks who live in the resort.” The couple left chilly Chicago and rented a house while they searched for the perfect home. They found it and couldn’t be happier. “We use the resort’s amenities often,” he shared. “My wife could live in a kayak, and I have become a bit obsessed with the cycling here – both mountain and road biking.”
Their two adult children still live in Chicago, but are “surprised and proud we made such a giant leap.” They’ve visited and their son can’t wait to get on the golf course. Their go-to restaurants include the new Legends on the Lake; “My favorite is the blackened flounder sandwich,” says Mr. Gage, “and Victory Kitchen & Restaurant in an old farmhouse – great breakfasts!”
Who knows? Perhaps your road trip will become the catalyst to put down roots. But for now, it’s time to play and there is no better place to begin than at Chimney Rock State Park. You’ll see it looming above the area, and you can easily spend several wonderful hours there.It was privately owned by the Morse family for more than 100 years and acquired by North Carolina in 2007. Named for the actual, 535-million-year-old Chimney Rock, the park features hiking trails for all skill levels. Do start at the top, where you will marvel at a 75-mile panoramic view of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. How to get there? Easiest way is to take the elevator, equivalent of 26 stories that lifts you up in about 45 seconds. It’s included in the price of entry, however, many folks choose to ride up and walk back down, enjoying the forest in a way most folks never experience.
Guests can take an invigorating hike to the top of the “Rock” via the Outcroppings trail that was recently redone. The view from the top will make the trip well worth the effort! The elevator was undergoing repairs at press time and may or may not be finished at this point, and if not, the Park usually offers reduced admission. If you'd rather steer clear of stairs, the views are equally stunning from the base of Chimney Rock. It’s safe to say that the elevator will be back in operation sometime this spring.Stop at the Cliff Dweller’s Gifts to buy a gift for yourself or another. Visit Grady’s Discovery Den and you can meet several of the animals who live in the Park. You can hike the Great Woodland Adventure, which is located in the meadows. (If your visit spans lunch, the Old Rock Café can prepare a Hiker’s lunch for you and yours.) There’s also the Four Seasons Trail, but be forewarned: it’s short, but steep. Other trails include Skyline Trail, which leads to Exclamation Point – amazing! Learn more at www.chimneyrockpark.com
Time to eat.
If you didn’t dine in the meadow, head out to Lake Lure and consider pizza at La Strada. It gets rave reviews from foodies and the view can’t be beat. If you’d like to stay close by, consider Medina’s Village Bistro in Chimney Rock Village. I have it on excellent authority that the roasted red pepper bisque with Gouda cheese is to die for.
What’s next. If you’ve hiked your way around all morning, it might be nice to stroll along the RiverWalk, which lines the Rocky Broad River. Find it behind the Shoppes in Chimney Rock Village. This free (and gorgeous) natural pathway features native boulders – a natural playground for youngsters. And, this might be the perfect opportunity to do a bit of remedial shopping at the Shoppes. Search fashion, and gifts and keep an eye out for antiques, since upscale families have enjoyed the area for generations, and built and furnished cabins down country paths.
A drive around the area is fun for late afternoon. You’ll undoubtedly be tired of walking and maps available at the welcome center will keep you from getting too lost.
Back to your room or cabin and know that there’s gourmet dining to be had in these hills.
First, there’s Larkin’s on the Lake, where you must try the pecan encrusted trout with bourbon sauce. The red smashed potatoes are delightful and the view fabulous. Hint: If you are exhausted from your day, they offer delicious food to take back to your room.
At the Lodge on Lake Lure, the Tree Tops Dining Room creates a rotating, seasonal menu using locally produced vegetables, meats, breads and cheeses sourced from the area’s outstanding farmers and artisans. Favorite menu items include: grilled romaine salad, beef Wellington, rack of lamb, fresh mountain trout, and their famous Meatloaf and scratch made Biscuits and Apple Butter!
If you’re staying at the Lodge, enjoy their international collection of fine wines. No driving required!
Another fabulous option is Legends on the Lake restaurant at Rumbling Bald Resort. Executive Chef Tim Cicia received his training at Cordon Bleu, and has developed a menu that includes house-made salad dressings and sausages, and specialty pizzas with house-made dough. Great views from every table and signature dishes and desserts offer a memorable dining experience.
What’s your pleasure? It seems that many areas of the NC mountains are putting up zip lines, and with good reason. The area is beautiful – especially tree-top height. Boulderline Adventure Programs has a zip lining park in Lake Lure. Be sure to take a ride on their giant swing. Canopy Ridge Farm is another option. Adrenalin junkies will want to try their Zip Zilla course – engineered for speed.
If your idea of a good time is a bit closer to terra firma, enjoy the Granddaddy Fly Fishing Experience, led by owner/operator Michael Yelton, a certified fly fishing instructor and member of the Pro Fly Angling Tour. Cast for bass and bluegill from a flat boat on Lake Lure, or hunt for trout on a wade or float trip down the river. First-timer? No problem. The company caters to beginners and experienced fishing enthusiasts.
Sometime during your visit, find the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, where a bridge closed to vehicles became 155 feet of gardens, plus a pathway at both ends of the three-arch span. With an emphasis on native plants, the “Gateway to Somewhere Beautiful” is a treat, made possible almost entirely by the hands of volunteers.
Keep your strength up. It must be time for lunch. If you didn't try it yesterday, do so today. Medina’s Village Bistro in Chimney Rock offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, with indoor and outdoor dining. A local favorite is Parmesan Encrusted Whitefish, a light and flaky fish coated with parmesan and panko crumbs, then pan seared ‘til crispy and served with house-made red pepper tartar sauce. Hint: leave room for their justifiably famous cinnamon roll for dessert and go ahead and add a scoop of homemade ice cream.
Wind down your road trip with a pontoon boat ride on Lake Lure. The Lake Lure Adventure Company rents out ski boats and pontoon boats and drivers if you want to really kick back. It’s a perfect way to see your surroundings from a waterborne point of view. (This is Lake Lure, after all.)Toast the sun setting behind those magnificent mountains. Enjoy the cool breeze and plan your next vacation to this little piece of paradise.
If your timing is right, you can enjoy wine tasting during an evening cruise on the lake. Rumbling Bald Resort https://www.rumblingbald.com/ has the details.
And one more thought. When Steve and Sue Gage returned to Chicago to visit their children, they stepped off the plane to -9 degrees. Lake Lure has an unusual micro-climate which helps to keep the air a bit cooler in the summer and warmer in winter. They knew they’d made the right decision to visit, then live there.