North Carolina’s Yad­kin Val­ley of­fers au­then­tic peek at yes­ter­year

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Travel - BY MYSCHA THE­RI­AULT Tri­bune News Ser­vice

As the birth­place of the Round Peak sound prized by as­pir­ing artists from around the world, Yad­kin Val­ley has been on the travel radar of old-time mu­sic lovers for quite some time. Fac­tor in a tra­di­tion of stringed in­stru­ment pro­duc­tion and a lo­cal luthier with skills so sought af­ter he once put Eric Clapton him­self on a three-year wait­ing list for a gui­tar, and it’s safe to say the mu­sic her­itage of this place runs deep.

Then of course, there’s the moon­shine. The ridge-run­ning roots of the area’s dis­till­ing her­itage are alive and kick­ing in the form of mod­ern-day dis­til­leries, spe­cialty food items and more. Pad­dling op­por­tu­ni­ties, hik­ing and bik­ing trails, a wine scene that’s start­ing to find its way and a se­ri­ous farm-to-fork food scene add ex­ten­sively to the des­ti­na­tion’s va­ca­tion value.

Per­haps the most pre­cious place to be­gin your ex­plo­ration of this re­gion is the town of Mount Airy. Child­hood home of Andy Grif­fith and in­spi­ra­tion for the clas­sic fic­tional tele­vi­sion town May­berry, this place is the quin­tes­sen­tial ex­am­ple of au­then­tic Amer­i­cana and chock full of charm. Spend­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate amount of time on Main Street is a must. His­toric build­ings, wagon rides, moun­tain mu­sic piped into the streets and more are sure to make you feel im­mersed in the ex­pe­ri­ence.

If you hap­pen to be there on a Satur­day, head over to the his­toric Earle The­ater. Home to the Old-Time Mu­sic Her­itage Hall, the the­ater also hosts live ra­dio broad­casts of tra­di­tional area tunes ev­ery Satur­day. Open to the pub­lic for $8 per per­son, the en­try ticket also grants ac­cess to the Andy Grif­fith Mu­seum. An­other clas­sic Mount Airy ex­pe­ri­ence comes in the form of squad car tours. For $40 a car­load of five folks or less, vis­i­tors get a guided drive past area land­marks in re­fur­bished vin­tage au­to­mo­biles in the same model of squad cars used in the orig­i­nal show. Tour­may­ has con­tact in­for­ma­tion to book reser­va­tions. Also of note is the town’s re­gional his­tory mu­seum, which of­fers an in­ter­est­ing af­ter­noon dis­trac­tion at $6 per ticket.

A cou­ple of ca­sual lunch op­tions ex­ist on Main Street. Walker’s Soda Foun­tain has vin­tage fur­ni­ture and of­fers hand-mixed soda fla­vors such as water­melon and cherry vanilla in the $2 range, along with ba­sic burg­ers and fries. Mam’s Eatery is an­other choice, of­fer­ing home­spun food to eat in or to go. This same part of town of­fers a note­wor­thy din­ner splurge as well. Old North State Win­ery’s chef’s ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ence is worth the throw down if you’re in the mood for an up­scale meal. A weekly ro­tat­ing spe­cial menu served with higher- end out­side wines from their se­lec­tion, each creative course fea­tures a guided pair­ing with their in-house som­me­lier.

When it comes to sweet treats how­ever, there’s only one thing to do. Go see Miss An­gel. Owner of Heav­enly Pies on Main Street and the farm where all the fruit for said good­ies is grown, this sparkly lit­tle en­ergy tor­nado whips up pies, baked goods and other yum­mies you can or­der served with a side of moon­shine ice cream cre­ated at her cream­ery next door. She’s also a rec­om­mended stop on Surry County’s sonker trail. A dessert so unique to this area there’s an en­tire driv­ing trail de­voted to show­cas­ing places that of­fer it, sonker is a fun way to ex­pe­ri­ence the ac­tual fla­vor of the val­ley while vis­it­ing the var­i­ous towns within it.

While busi­ness-style chain ho­tels are read­ily avail­able through­out the val­ley, peo­ple with the time to plan ahead may want to ex­plore a par­tic­u­larly unique ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tion while in the town of Mount Airy. Andy Grif­fith’s ac­tual child­hood home can be booked on a nightly ba­sis, pro­vid­ing a mem­o­rable May­berry ex­pe­ri­ence for fans of the show. Dec­o­rated with antiques and mem­o­ra­bilia re­lated to Mr. Grif­fith, reser­va­tions can be made through the Mount Airy Hamp­ton Inn. Ameni­ties in­clude maid ser­vice and use of fa­cil­i­ties at the main ho­tel, as well as their daily con­ti­nen­tal break­fast.

Re­gard­ing rec­om­mended day trips from Mount Airy proper, there a cou­ple worth your time. JOLO win­ery in the town of Pi­lot Moun­tain of­fers some of the best wine in the area, along with live mu­sic on Sun­days through mid-Novem­ber. With their view of the moun­tain and out­side seat­ing area, it’s a great place to en­joy a high­end pour and groove out to lo­cal tunes. They oc­ca­sion­ally do ver­ti­cal tast­ings with gourmet food pair­ings that are also worth the splurge if your travel tim­ing is right. Dobson is a scenic day drive and home to Rock­ford Gen­eral Store, an au­then­tic vin­tage market with home­made canned goods, retro candy and a fun vibe. They are also on the sonker trail, and of­fer in­door and out­door seat­ing. Open Wed­nes­day through Sun­day, it makes a great pre­lim­i­nary stop to an early din­ner at Har­vest Grill restau­rant lo­cated at Shel­ton Vine­yards, which is also in Dobson. Their glassed-in din­ing room with fire­place over­looks the vines and of­fers de­lec­ta­ble higher-end fare with plenty of at­mos­phere. Menu items ro­tate sea­son­ally.

When you are ready to start ex­plor­ing the other end of the val­ley, switch­ing your base camp to the Wilkes­boro area makes a heck of a lot of sense. Home to Mer­leFest, the Blue Ridge Mu­sic Hall of Fame and the W. Kerr Scott Reser­voir pop­u­lar with out­door recre­ation en­thu­si­asts, this mid­sized town with re­cently re­fur­bished com­mu­nity ameni­ties is strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned for a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion of this por­tion of the area. Also, while the dis­till­ing tra­di­tions of Yad­kin Val­ley are preva­lent in the other towns you’ll visit, this is where the white light­ning her­itage re­ally starts get­ting se­ri­ous.

Call Fam­ily Dis­tillers puts seven gen­er­a­tions of ex­pe­ri­ence into their moon­shine, with fa­cil­ity tast­ing tours in­clud­ing a peek at some of the orig­i­nal souped-up shine-run­ning cars from back in the day. This fam­ily’s her­itage in­cludes not only the fa­mously un­catch­able Wil­lie Clay Call, but also the Rev­erend Dan Call, who taught the trade to Mr. Jack Daniels him­self. Hard spir­its fans will also want to stop at Cop­per Bar­rel. Lo­cated in an old fur­ni­ture plant, their mas­ter moon­shine dis­tiller is a plain­speak­ing, over­all-wear­ing bit of liv­ing his­tory by the name of Buck Nance. Not only is he a hoot and a half to chat with, his life­long ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­dus­try pro­duces some se­ri­ously sen­sa­tional hooch.

Those ready for a bit of driv­ing ad­ven­ture will want to make their way to Mo­ra­vian Falls to search out the Hol­man Dis­tillery. De­part­ing from the lo­cal moon­shine scene in fa­vor of a freez­ing method known as jack­ing, which dates back to the colo­nial days, this ru­ral fa­cil­ity is a nifty day trip for trav­el­ers who like ex­plor­ing the back roads.

Wine scene more your speed? Make your way to Raf­fal­dini Vine­yards. A spec­tac­u­lar view, Ital­ianstyle villa and pic­turesque walk­ing trails all serve as the back­drop for sip­ping some se­ri­ous wines. As a fan of big reds, my fa­vorite is the 2016 Il Falco, but their 2015 Grande Ris­erva is nice as well. They also have out­door seat­ing and pic­nic sup­plies avail­able if you want to come with friends and en­joy a pour while tak­ing in the coun­try­side. New­comer Pic­cione Vine­yards is lo­cated just down the hill, and a pleas­ant ad­di­tional stop if you hap­pen to be in the area.

In ad­di­tion to the ba­sic bar­gain break­fasts fa­vored by lo­cals at a diner called The 50s and $3 hand­crafted ice cream deals at Brushy Moun­tain Smoke­house and Cream­ery, a cou­ple din­ing op­tions of note are avail­able to you here. North Wilkes­boro’s Else­where on 10th of­fers creative farm-to-fork fare to suit a va­ri­ety of pal­ettes, in­clud­ing their over-the-top veg­gie burger and gi­ant fish sand­wich. Their potato salad is also worth the calo­ries, if you are so in­clined. Doo­ley’s has a fun com­mu­nity bar at­mos­phere and of­fers oc­ca­sional live mu­sic along with burg­ers they grind in-house, an ex­ten­sive re­gional beer list and killer home­made fries.

If you hap­pen to be swing­ing by Doo­ley’s dur­ing the day, make time for a few of the other down­town spots, in­clud­ing an old-fash­ioned candy store called Sweet Smiles, the Wilkes Her­itage Mu­seum and Wag­gles pet bou­tique lo­cated near the out­door splash pad and com­mu­nity con­cert area. Per­haps the most unique down­town shop­ping op­tion is the Blue Ridge Ar­ti­san Cen­ter. Lo­cated in an el­e­gant 1915 build­ing, it fea­tures ju­ried art­works avail­able for pur­chase and reg­u­lar $5 tra­di­tional dance events al­low­ing vis­i­tors a crack at af­ford­able hoo­te­nanny fun in a high-end at­mos­phere. A gourmet cof­fee shop called the Ar­ti­san Cafe is on the op­po­site side of the build­ing. Priced to please with $3 lat­tes and $2 lemon­ades, it show­cases orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments in a mod­ern way.

Got an extra bit of time on your way in or out of Wilkes­boro? The lit­tle town of Elkin is de­serv­ing of an af­ter­noon or overnight. With plenty of hik­ing trails, an in­ter­est­ing re­fur­bished live-per­for­mance venue, a craft beer scene and his­toric down­town that’s seen some re­cent up­grades, it’s a pleas­ant place to spend a lit­tle time. South­ern on Main is a fun place to grab great grub with an artsy flair. Also on the sonker trail, it of­fers ev­ery­thing from a fried green tomato BLT to el­e­vated shrimp and grits. Per­son­ally, I love their $5 black-eyed pea cakes and $4 com­fort soups. The Novem­ber Room is also a neat stop, and sells lo­cal art along with great cof­fee and baked goods.

Eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble via In­ter­states 77 and 44, Yad­kin Val­ley’s unique blend of moon­shine, mu­sic and Mother Na­ture of­fers a truly au­then­tic travel ex­pe­ri­ence. Few places in the United States have pre­served the clas­sic Amer­i­can tra­di­tion as faith­fully as this one. If you’re look­ing for a road trip des­ti­na­tion with home­spun fun, fab food and a her­itage still ev­i­dent in its day-to-day ex­pe­ri­ences, this one is wor­thy of putting on your short list.

Whether you are look­ing for a place to spend a full two-week va­ca­tion or a fa­vored spot to head for long week­ends, you’ll find plenty here to keep you en­ter­tained.


Per­form­ers at Mer­leFest en­ter­tain with au­then­tic, toe-tap­ping tunes. The fes­ti­val in Wilkes­boro, N.C., is just one rea­son to visit the Yad­kin Val­ley.


Bik­ers cross a sus­pen­sion bridge in the Yad­kin Val­ley, which of­fers many trails for hik­ing and bik­ing, as well as pad­dling op­por­tu­ni­ties for va­ca­tion­ers who want to get out­doors.


Down­town Wilkes­boro’s gath­er­ing ar­eas of­fer charm and easy ac­cess to the North Carolina com­mu­nity’s ameni­ties.


Vin­tage ve­hi­cles abound in Mount Airy, N.C., child­hood home of Andy Grif­fith and in­spi­ra­tion for the tele­vi­sion town of May­berry.

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