Cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, lower prices. Ah, the pleasures of fall travel. Whether you burned all your vacation lifelines over the summer and can only take a weekend off or you saved a few days for a longer fall break, here are some places to go and things to do as the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to change.
Balsam Mountain High
For a mountain getaway that goes above and beyond Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, drive 100 miles east of Knoxville to the North Carolina side of the Smokies. Check in at the Balsam Mountain Inn, a beautifully restored 1908 railroad hotel that sits at an elevation of 3,500 feet. The inn serves as the perfect home base for exploring the scenic wonders, fine restaurants, and artisan communities of surrounding Jackson County. There are 50 rooms in the inn, all with private bath. Of these, eight are suites, 16 are bed/sitting rooms, and 26 are regular rooms. All rooms feature beaded board walls painted in pale pastels and tasteful country furnishings and linens that differ from room to room. There’s also a spacious dining room with piano, living room with fireplaces, library, game room, guest refrigerator, and wonderful wide porches that offer outstanding views of the pine-covered 26-acre property. Rates range from $115-$150 for suites; $100-$115 for bed/sitting rooms; and $90-$100 for regular rooms. A cooked-to-order breakfast is included in the room rate. The inn also serves dinner nightly and lunch on Sunday.
You can spend time hiking the trails around the inn or head over to the charming artisan community of Dillsboro and hike through dozens of fine craft shops. You can also take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railway here. If the scenery along the rail route, which takes passengers up to the tiny town of Bryson City and back, looks familiar it’s because the harrowing train wreck sequence in the film The Fugitive was shot on location here. Nearby attractions also include the beautiful waterfalls in and around Cashiers, N.C., and Biltmore Estate, just 35 miles away in Asheville, N.C. For more on Balsam Mountain Inn, call 800-224-9498 or go to http://www.balsaminn.com.
For information on Jackson County, call 800-962-1911 or go to http://www.nc-mountains.com.
Rock-N-Soul in Memphis
Memphis was miffed when Cleveland got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. But the home of Elvis, Sun Records, and Stax gets sweet revenge with its own Rock-N-Soul Museum. Located in the Gibson Guitar Factory near Beale Street, the museum examines the history of Memphis music and its impact on American culture in six galleries filled with memorabilia and recorded music. The free audio tape tour features 300 minutes of information, music, and new interviews with rock, blues, and soul legends. The first-class exhibition was organized by the Smithsonian Institution. For more on the museum, call 901-543-0800 or go to http://www.rocknsoulmuseum.com
After absorbing the cool music at the museum and along Beale Street, check into a cool room at the Talbot Heirs Guesthouse, just around the corner from the swanky Peabody Hotelbut light years away in hip style. The Talbot has nine suites, all with full kitchens and contemporary decorating twists. One room features all white furnishings and cherry red walls; another sports a retro look with black-and-white tile floors, purple walls, and a black leather sofa. All rooms have direct satellite TV, complimentary in-room beverages, coffee, and breakfast muffins and scones. Rates range from $150-$250. For more on the inn, call 901-527-9772 or go to http://www.talbothouse.com.
Golf on the Gulf
Your idea of the perfect long weekend is all golf, all the time; hers is lots of sun and sand. Solution: Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, a 2,400-acre property 8 miles east of Destin, Fla., that borders the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Choctawhatchee Bay on the other. Golfers can play on four different courses on the property, including the new Raven course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, that weaves its way through wetlands, marshes, and thick stands of pines. For sun and surf fans, Sandestin has its own 8-mile stretch of sugar-white sand on the Gulf, as well as several swimming pools. Accommodations range from condominiums to the 175-room Bayside Inn. Tennis, bicycling, sailing, working out at the health club and spa, and upscale shopping are just a few of the many activity options at Sandestin. Fine dining is available at Elephant Walk, a casually elegant restaurant overlooking the Gulf that’s received the DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) award for the past two years. Another dining option is the resort’s Sunset Bay Café with breakfast and seafood buffets and prime rib dinner specials. There are a number of packages available this fall, including the Raven Golf Package, with Bayside Inn accommodations or a two-bedroom villa, plus daily rounds of golf on the Raven course. Price per day for two is $320. There’s also a Daily Golf Package, with Bayside Inn or villa accommodations and golf at the Links or Baytowne courses. Price per day for two is $237. For more on Sandestin, call 800-277-0800 or go to http://www.sandestin.com.
The Maine Event
Southwest Airlines can fly you from Nashville to Manchester, N.H., in just a few hours. But don’t stop there. After the non-stop flight, grab a rental car and hit the road to the Maine coast, a 90-minute drive away from the Manchester airport. Check into a room at the Inn at St. John in Portland and prepare to explore a town that has been compared to Seattle before it became a boomtown. The 40-room inn was built in 1897 and was completely restored six years ago. Each guest room is unique but all are decorated with a 19th-century Victorian flair. Some have private baths, others share a hall bath with other guest rooms. All rooms have color cable TV, a telephone with free local calls, tourist information, and a basket of treats that includes bottled water, pretzels, chips, and mints. Included in the nightly rate is a continental breakfast of coffee, tea, juices, and bakery treats served in the dining area adjacent to the lobby. Rates range from $50-$135 in the fall and $40-$75 in the winter. The fall foliage months are busy in Maine, and Columbus Day in October is treated as an official three-day holiday weekend, so book early for these times. For more information on the Inn at St. John go to http://www.innatstjohn.com, or call 800-636-9127. Be sure to ask about the inn’s Internet discount.
The inn is also a short walk from Portland’s historic Old Port district on Casco Bay and the new Arts District, which is filled with museums, coffeehouses, pubs, music clubs, and restaurants. Take a cruise to the islands in Casco Bay, stroll along the working harbor, or shop the boutiques and antique stores in Old Port. Dine like a local at Becky’s, a friendly, no-frills diner that serves up massive omelets, blueberry pancakes, and home-fried potatoes from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. After 11 a.m. (noon on weekends) try the excellent fish chowder and fried haddock with French fries.
Head north of Portland and you’ll find the village of Freeport, famous for its upscale outlet stores and the flagship L.L. Bean store that’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Don’t miss the Mangy Moose, a store where everything from computer mouse pads to men’s underwear has a moose on it. For some quintessential Maine scenery drive out to Orrs and Bailey islands (connected to the mainland by short bridges). Be sure to have lunch at Cook’s Lobster House, where the lobster and other seafood couldn’t be fresher or the service friendlier. The views of the harbor are also outstanding from inside or out. If the weather is fine you can enjoy your lobster or haddock in the crisp salt air on the “Moby Deck.” For more information on Portland, call 877-833-1374 or go to http://www.visitportland.com.
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