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A Cozy Mountain Cottage AirBnB in Saluda, North Carolina: A Home Tour

A Cozy Mountain Cottage AirBnB in Saluda, North Carolina: A Home Tour | CosmosMariners.com

Since I made the jump into AirBnB rentals on our trip to Ireland (where my husband and I stayed in some incredible spaces--including an Irish castle!), the home rental site is now my go-to when starting to plan a trip.

In fact, I've talked so much about the AirBnB properties that I've stayed in that my mom asked if I could help her find one for the trip to Saluda, North Carolina, that we had planned in early fall. With all of the fun, funky, and beautiful spots in the greater Asheville area, I knew that the perfect mountain getaway had to be waiting for us.

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Here in the South Carolina Lowcountry, we don't have much of a fall. And by that, I mean that the trees stubbornly hold onto their leaves well into November, only to give a great sigh around Thanksgiving and discard crumbling, brown bits on the ground around Thanksgiving without any of the colorful pomp and circumstance found elsewhere in the country.

We don't have real pumpkin patches, but rather ones where the pumpkins are shipped in and sold rapidly before they start to mold in the 80 degree weather.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com

While Fall doesn't arrive in earnest here in the South until late October or early November (I've sweated in my Halloween costume on more than one occasion!), it's never too early to think about heading to the mountains. One of my favorite things to do in the cooler months is head to the adorable towns that dot the North Carolina mountains.

They're an hour and a half from Charlotte, and just under 4 hours from Raleigh. From Charleston, South Carolina, most of these are only about a 3 hour drive, all of which are completely doable for a weekend getaway.

I went to school at Clemson University, which is situated in the top corner of South Carolina, and perfectly located for quick Saturday trips to the NC mountains. I also lived just a few miles from the SC/NC border in that same corner for several years when I was in elementary school. Between my time living in those areas, and my desire to explore as much of the surrounding states as I can, I've had the chance to ramble many of the areas of the North Carolina mountains.

Check these out, and start planning your fall getaway immediately.

Landon and I had the pleasure of visiting tiny Balsam when we stayed at the Balsam Mountain Inn a few years back. The Inn is the only thing really in Balsam, but it's worth a side trip to see the completely restored 1908 inn and its 100 foot porches. We loved this place so much that we gave my parents a weekend away there for their anniversary this year!

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
The porches at the Balsam Mountain Inn
If you're in the mood for tubing (and you're willing to brave the chilly mountain water!), nearby Sylva offers tubes for rent along the Tuckasegee River.

About 15 minutes from Balsam is Waynesville, a small town with a walkable main street. On our most recent trip, we loved the coffee and sandwiches at the City Bakery at 18 North Main. Check the calendar before you go because Waynesville has many different festivals and street parties during the fall months.

Asheville has made a million must-see lists lately--and for good reason. Not only is it super quirky and artsy, the main street area is filled with craft breweries, small bakeries, and unique shops. Wandering downtown can easily last a day, so make sure to allot plenty of time to soak in the ambiance. Book lovers shouldn't miss a tour of Thomas Wolfe's house, where you can see just how much of his novel Look Homeward, Angel came from his real-life experiences.

While you're there, don't forget to stop by America's largest private home, the Biltmore House. I've been several times, and I never fail to be amazed at the sheer size and opulence of the place. The Grove Park Inn is great for a dinner with a view of Asheville and the surrounding mountains. Don't forget to curl up by the 14-foot fireplaces in the lobby!

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
The view from the Grove Park Inn's back porch

With just over 1600 residents, Tryon is a classic North Carolina mountain town. Browse the gift shops, linger over your lunch at one of the main cafes, and then spend all afternoon browsing through the four seriously good bookstores. Landon and my parents had to pull me out of The Village Book Shoppe during our last visit.

In what has become a family tradition, we head to Saluda once each fall for the crisp air, gorgeous views, and a little bit of relaxation. Although I use the term "downtown" loosely to describe the main area of Saluda, the handful of shops and restaurants are precious. Antique lovers will love the handful of shops that are just begging to be explored. Stop by the Green River Barbeque for lunch, and then take your special someone for live music and creative dishes at the Purple Onion.

A visit to Flat Rock is a must-stop on any tour through the North Carolina mountains. The Flat Rock Playhouse consistently puts on productions that draw viewers from Asheville, Hendersonville, and the surrounding areas. Browse through the clothes and housewares at The Wrinkled Egg, then order some of the super thin crust pizza at the Flat Rock Village Bakery in the back.

Another fall favorite in the Flat Rock area is the Sky Top Orchard. Take a spin on the hayride, get an apple cider (frozen or hot), and select a few bags of fresh apples to take home (the Pink Lady variety is my favorite). Whatever you do, you must try the cinnamon apple cider doughnuts.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com

Fourteen miles out of Flat Rock is the Carl Sandburg House, another book lover's paradise. Check out his floor-to-ceiling bookcases, purchase some of his poetry collections in the gift shop, and say hello to the on-site goats. (Just be careful, as they will try to eat the books that you just bought. True story.)

Head over to Lake Lure for the Dirty Dancing Festival (usually held in mid- to late August) and gorgeous mountain views. There's plenty of hiking in the area, a zip line, and boating rentals. Just up the road is the not-to-be-missed Chimney Rock State Park and Chimney Rock Village.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
Lake Lure from the top of Chimney Rock

Many Carolinians (both North and South) consider the start of Fall to be when Hendersonville hosts its annual North Carolina Apple Festival. You can load up on caramel apples, shop at the arts and crafts tents, and listen to local bands. If you can't make the festival, the town's charm is still evident every other day. There are lots of antique shops: make sure to explore all three floors of the Village Green Antique Mall--there are some incredible stained glass pieces and home decor fixtures (salvaged from local homes) in the basement. Stop for a snack at the McFarlan Bakery, whose expansive offerings will keep your sweet tooth happy.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
Downtown Hendersonville
If you're looking for somewhere that combines a historic railroad, black diamond skiing, and stunning back road drives, Boone is your spot. I can remember visiting Grandfather Mountain as a very small child and loving it. There are also places to cut your own Christmas trees during the winter. Take in a football game at Appalachian State or go antiquing.

On one of my first ever school field trips, I went to Cherokee. I remember touring the Cherokee Museum and really loving all of the history. (I was totally that kid.) The Museum is still there, as is the Oconaluftee Indian Village for those who are interested in learning more about the Native Americans who call this gorgeous part of the world home. Take a picnic to Mingo Falls before hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Highlands was a favorite little getaway of mine and my sister's when we were at Clemson. Snack on some fudge from Kilwin's as you browse the gift and antique shops in downtown. You can find your own gems at the Jackson Hole Gem Mine, or see the mountains from a different perspective on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Nearby Cashiers is also worth a stop.

All of these locations are easily accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which cannot be missed on any trip to the North Carolina Mountains. Drive a short stretch, or organize your entire trip around the 469-mile route.

Visiting the North Carolina Mountains: Your Guide on What to See and Where to Go | CosmosMariners.com
The Blue Ridge Parkway near Balsam, North Carolina

It goes without saying that all of these places are gorgeous year-round, so if you can't make it during the autumn, keep a few on the calendar for next year's travels!

Have you visited the North Carolina mountains? What were your favorite spots?

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A Mountain Getaway, 1910s-style: Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Back in June 2012, I came back from a three-week trip to the United Kingdom with the family whom I was homeschooling at the time. I saw some incredible things, but spending 21 days straight (including sharing a bathroom with them!) with four kids ranging in age from 5 to 11 wore me out.

After returning to America, I proceeded to flop on our couch and stare blankly up to the ceiling for several days. Alarmed, my husband decided that I needed to get away from Charleston for a few days for some quiet and recuperation after my action-packed kid time. (Note: this was looong before my daughter made her arrival, so I was completely unused to the constant dull roar that accompanies small humans.)

I perked up when he mentioned that there was a sweet deal on Groupon Getaways for this little mountain hideaway in North Carolina. I couldn't think of anything better at that moment than relaxing among the cool, peaceful trees on a wide porch, so I told him to book it. 

And just two days later, we were on our way to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. You've got to love an impromptu road trip!

After we ooohed and aaaahhhed over the beautiful views on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we made our way to Balsam, where our hotel room awaited. When the GPS told us to turn since we were nearly at our destination, we looked around and wondered if the GPS even knew what it was talking about since all we saw was a railroad track and a general store that hadn't sold anything since at least the 1950s.

(Seriously, that's all that there is to Balsam. If you want quaint, this should be your first stop.)

And then we both looked back over the railroad tracks and up the hill to see this (only without Landon posing on it, of course):

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

When we arrived, we wandered in awe around the lobby and grounds since our room wasn't quite ready. I couldn't believe that I'd never heard of this place before then--it was beautiful and gigantic. Having lived in South Carolina my entire life (including nearly a decade in the upstate), I've heard of most of the quaint inns and hotels. But somehow, Balsam Mountain Inn hadn't hit my radar, which was a complete shame. 

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

I found out later that the Inn had undergone a complete restoration after it had slowly deteriorated for a decade in between owners. Originally opened in 1908, the inn was carefully placed near the railroad station (fun fact: Balsam's station was the highest in the eastern U.S.).
The inn and some of its summer residents, 1910

The owners built the hallways larger than usual to provide ample space for visitors' bulky trunks.

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

After struggling for some time, the inn finally closed its doors in the 1980s. But then, it found a second life when current owner Merrily Teasley had a chance encounter with the crumbling hotel in the early 1990s. She and a team of dedicated workers refinished the entire 42,000 square foot inn--sometimes by hand!

She also added the left wing which now houses the dining area. And let's talk about that dining area, shall we?

All you need to know is that you should go. Immediately. As a part of our Groupon, we had breakfast tickets for the two mornings we were staying there. I'm not a morning person, but after digging into the breakfast offerings here, I was glad I'd managed to rouse myself.

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

It's a set price breakfast with one rotating daily item (so on Mondays, they might serve french toast, while on Tuesdays, you can have pancakes), fresh fruit, toast, cereal, and other yummy stuff. We both stuffed ourselves so much that we basically skipped lunch and didn't eat again either day until mid-afternoon. Because of our funky eating schedule, we never did make it to Balsam's dinner, but I've also heard amazing things about that, too. I loved that they use locally sourced food whenever possible!

Although we had other fun things on our trip (including a tubing trip, an afternoon by the river, and some mountain shopping), we most enjoyed our time around the inn, just sitting on the wide porches and enjoying the views.

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Being the chatty folk that we are, Landon and I made some new friends one night when we were all sitting outside reading. There was a nice couple staying there, and they were killing some time before dinner. Balsam's just that kind of place, where you can sit in the rockers, chat with other visitors, and take in the mountain air. 
Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

One final thing that I loved about the inn was that there are no televisions or phones in the rooms. They've got a free lending library, board games, and plenty of places to chat with fellow guests, so you're pretty much guaranteed some serious one-on-one time with whomever you're traveling. 

Know before you go
  • When booking, make sure to request a shower or tub room. Because of the way that the modern plumbing had to be installed in the inn, rooms don't have both.  
  • There's no air condition. Don't panic, though! We were there at the end of June, and we didn't have a need for it. Because the inn is located so high up in Blue Ridge mountains, there's this gorgeous breeze all summer. All you've got to do is lower the glass divider at the top of your door for some bona fide throwback A/C, and let the breezes from the hallways cool your room. 
  • If you've got kids, choose the first floor. The second and third floors are made of creaky old hardwood, so if you stay on either of those with a kid that likes to run and jump, the entire hotel will know. 
  • You can't book through Expedia, Travelocity, or even the hotel's website. It's a phone call or nothing!

What's the best place that you've ever stayed? Have you been on a mountain retreat lately?

I was in no way compensated for my stay at Balsam Mountain Inn or Groupon or anything else I mentioned in this article. We just loved our visit!