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Respite in the Blue Ridges

Mist rises on the idyllic Highlands Country Club Lake
Mist rises on the idyllic Highlands Country Club Lake
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The mountain village of Highlands, N.C., takes plenty of pride in its colorful downtown, rich cuisine and unlimited access to outdoor wonders.

But it takes equal pride in what it doesn’t have: chain stores, hectic streets and smoggy air.

The only rush-hour traffic you’ll find here is the race to dive in one of the area’s swimming holes, or the quest to find the prime spot for a phenomenal mountain sunset.

— Compiled by staff writer Kate Harrison, kharrison@timesfreepress.com, 423-757-6673

BEST THING TO DO

Ramble, relax and dine like royalty

• Wear yourself out hiking the area’s many trails, riding horseback, rafting or venturing on a llama trek.

• Feel the spray of the area’s waterfalls, including Glen Falls, Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Cullasaja Falls.

• Head into town to shop for antiques or handcrafted jewelry. Catch a play at the Highlands Playhouse or be serenaded at the Highlands Cashiers Chamber Music concerts.

• Sample more than 20 restaurants, including five that have been awarded the revered Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

Source: Highlands Chamber of Commerce

MUST-SEE SPOT

Bask in the art of the Bascom

• The Bascom, the town’s new arts center, covers six acres and showcases rotating exhibits and a collection of regional artists’ work.

• Sign your family, your children or yourself up for one of the Bascom’s art education programs.

• Continue your art appreciation while meandering through rhododendron groves at the center’s sculpture and nature trail.

• Visit during July to participate in the center’s Mountains in Bloom Festival. The multiple-day event features a tour of local mountain gardens and a juried flower show that includes horticulture, flower arrangement and photography divisions.

Source: The Bascom

BEST KEPT SECRET

Slide into summertime

• Little Sliding Rock is a small version of the many area falls, but it’s a big attraction for families with its slippery slope into a refreshing swimming hole.

• Drive down Horse Cove Road to the end of the pavement, then turn left on Whiteside Cove Road.

• Along the way, stop to see the Grimshawe’s “Smallest Post Office in the U.S.,” a tiny former post office that served the area for 50 years in the early 1900s. The building is still maintained by the town.

Source: Highlands Chamber of Commerce

FESTIVALS

Cuisine, Christmas and a chili cook-off

• Culinary Weekend — This much-loved event is held the second weekend in November. Come for wine tastings and gourmet cooking demonstrations by the area’s top chefs.

• Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration — The town closes Main Street to traffic on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Besides the lighting, you’ll find Santa and his elves, hot cocoa and the continuous sound of Christmas carols.

• Chili cook-off — In March, make sure to come on an empty stomach for this community-wide fun time.

Source: Highlands Chamber of Commerce

BEST PLACE TO EAT IN TOWN

Travel the world at your table

• Each night of the week, Cyprus International Cuisine features food from another region of the world. For instance, Wednesday is Caribbean night. There also are Thai night, South American night and more.

• Cyprus’ staff shops ethnic markets weekly in Atlanta, and they grow vegetables in their own plot.

• Watch as your food is prepared in the restaurant’s open kitchen.

Source: Cyprus International Cuisine

FACTBOX

Tease: X marks the spot

• Population: 3,200 year-round, spikes to more than 30,000 in the summer

• Biggest employers: Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, restaurants and accommodations business.

• Number of miles from downtown Chattanooga: 157

• Geographic features: The town is bordered by the Nantahala National Forest and Pisgah National Forest.

• Date founded: 1875

• Historic info: In the 1870s, two Kansas developers took a map of the United States and drew two lines: one from Chicago to Savannah, the other from New Orleans to Baltimore. They predicted that the “X” where the lines intersected would become a great commercial crossroads, and they decided to develop a resort town wherever that spot was. That “X” was Highlands.

• Most famous resident: Bobby Jones, successful amateur golfer in the 1920s and ’30s who co-founded the Masters tournament and helped develop the Highlands Country Club

• Unique characteristics/fun fact: It rains nearly every afternoon in Highlands, located in what’s called a “temperate rain forest,” making a magnet for biological research. The town also has secured two coveted monikers: “Salamander Capital of the World” and “Lichen Capital of the World.”

Source: www.highlandschamber.org