A tad groggy from all the alcohol the previous night, I awoke, performed my usual morning yoga puja and prepared for a zip line adventure at Navitat Canopy Tours of Asheville. My only mistake of the day was to opt for breakfast in the Blue Ridge Dining Room rather than enjoy another sumptuous Executive Club breakfast. The Blue Ridge Dining room offers a buffet option for dining and I wondered what they offered for breakfast. I wanted to eat light but felt I needed more than fruit so I overlooked the omelette station and heavier hot foods and went for one of the only gluten-free options, sausage and grits. I am a Southerner and adore grits but these were the consistency of paste and the sausage smelled so wretched and looked so grey that I left the plate on the buffet table and went for some oatmeal instead thinking it less dangerous. Perchance I was correct in the oatmeal’s minimal danger as a carrier of food bourn illness but it turned out to be glue-like and tasteless despite my efforts to jazz it up with maple syrup , fruit and granola. The tea selection lacked as well and my tea-cup leaked a pomegranate colored puddle all over the white table cloth. A totally unsatisfying breakfast. At $30.00 per person I felt even more unhappy about it. Fortunately, the lackluster meal was far from an indicator of the remainder of the day.
Truly, a trip to Asheville might as well be a trip to any artsy town if you neglect the incredible outdoor opportunities available in the area. There is great hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, rock climbing etc in the area. My hosts opted to take me (and the others in the group) ziplining, something I have done once or twice before on a seriously smaller scale.
At about 9:00am we piled into a car and headed to Navitat Canopy Tours a zip lining outfit about 30 minutes away. Once checked in we were outfitted with harnesses, helmets and gloves and driven uphill to a short path and our training lines. Our guides, Nate, Chris and Will were FABULOUS! I am terrified of heights but they made me feel quite safe and easeful. They were patient, instructive, safety-conscious and encouraging. Nate, who has a voice so warm and resonating that it could melt butter, taught us all about zipline safety and braking before with tried our first little run. We had three trial runs to get us used to braking and zipping then on satisfy my inner Tarzan on 2 miles (I think) worth of ziplines, two rappelling experiences, a few rope bridges to cross and some short distance hiking.
At first I was so concerned about stopping correctly that I barely noticed the passing scenery but once I became more confident this treetop world gave me a whole new perspective on what a bird’s eye view is really all about. It was mentally, physically and spiritually exhilarating in addition to being a surreptitious full body workout. I was truly tired post zipping. To make the experience even better, Will, proved to be an expert in the flora of the area and regaled us with information about wildflowers and plants during our short hikes. Nate pointed out birds including a few neon red Scarlet Tanagers who migrate directly through Asheville from South America to environs further north for the summer. At one point one of our party fell short of a landing platform and Nate calmly went out on the line and pulled her in by flipping around and using his feet to walk upside down the line back to the landing site. It was remarkable to watch. I would recommend this activity and Navitat to anyone who would like to try ziplining or anyone who already enjoys it.
Back at the base station, we ate picnic lunches that had been prepared by the Grove Park Inn’s in-room dining service. Making it as visual an experience as a culinary one, they had creatively packed our lunches in antique looking hanging lanterns very cute! They won me over with a delectable ham and swiss sandwich on huge slices of gluten free bread with thinly sliced cucumbers, a spiced mayo and cilantro served with house made potato chips (yum!) an apple and bottled water. (My mouth is literally watering at the thought of that sandwich- that is how good it was.)
The sun was shining brightly as we returned to the Inn and I decided that a hike around the property would be a good way to spend the afternoon. The concierge provided me with a map and marked out a 2.5 mile trek around the property and into the adorable neighborhood surrounding. I checked out the sports facilities at the bottom of the parking lot just to say I saw it then walked on around some of the most charming houses imaginable. The golf course was busy with weekend golfers and spring flowers were just beginning to pop pinks, whites and yellows amongst the emerald-green grass. I also decided to stop in The Fitzgerald condominiums, a visually pleasing building boasting stunning views next to the Grove Park Inn and part of its real estate holdings.
For between 1 and 1.6 million dollars one can purchase one of these three bedroom, three bath vacation pads and enjoy the convenience of visiting the Grove Park Inn and Asheville without making a reservation. The condo model was nice, well-appointed but nothing to write home about. The living area is all one big open space where kitchen runs into dining area which runs into the living area with gas/wood burning fireplace and big windows that show off the view overlooking the golf course and waves of the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond.
I had just enough time for a quick visit to the silent relaxation area of the spa and a cat nap before venturing with trepidation back down to the Blue Ridge Dining Room for dinner with Tracy, Julia and the other guests in our party. We were seated at a table with a nice view of the sunset and were invited to start buffet service whenever we liked. I was given a tour of the stations to identify the Gluten Free options. Gluten Free and Vegan dishes are marked for easy identification however, I found two mistakes that could be a real problem for someone who has just started a gluten-free lifestyle and is unfamiliar with what contains gluten and what doesn’t. A salad containing blue cheese was marked gf as well as an udon noodle salad. I explained to my host that the mold that gives blue cheese its distinct flavor and texture is produced by inserting wheat grains into the cheese at some point during the cheese making process. He quickly removed the card and had it reprinted, removing the gf brand. I failed to notice the udon noodle salad until a later trip around the buffet and simply prayed that someone else would tell them that though many types of Asian noodles are made with rice, udon noodles are made with wheat flour which is quite glutenous. Aside from that, everything I tasted from the buffet was delicious, with several dishes being quite creative in their taste combinations and textures. There were the standard prime rib carving station, cheese and fruit tray, a seafood station piled with shrimp, oysters and clams and lots of cake like desserts but the real creativity happened around the vegetables which were often a combination of traditional southern treatments and international spices. Green beans with bacon being a more southern choice then (something I never would have thought of) Beets, carrots; honey and thyme. The pork loin with portabella mushrooms, leeks and figs also sounded really good. The service was fastidious and friendly. Overall the experience was quite pleasant, overriding the morning’s dining misery.
After dinner we ventured down to Elaine’s Dueling Piano Bar for a little fun. The place was packed with locals and tourists alike making seating far away from the stage our party’s only possible option. The entertainment at Elaine’s consists of three men playing requested tunes in rotation on two grand pianos. Having three guys allows for breaks and continuous music. Patrons request songs for a fee and the guys sometimes play them as duets and sometimes play solo. Anything from the national anthem to show tunes to any era of rock music is in these guys repertoire. The lounge itself is dated and cave-like but the crowd was loving the entertainment and cocktails.
At about 11:30 and 10 more songs from the ‘70’s than need to hear again in this lifetime, I dragged myself up to my room and decided that to leave without having tried the jet tub would be a sin. Using hotel provided shampoo to make bubbles I soaked up one last relaxing experience at the Grove Park Inn before my 8:00am departure.
To summarize: The spa and ziplining were my two favorite aspects of this trip. I wish I had that zipline course available at home as it would become part of my regular work-out for muscle toning.
Post trip note: During my visit, I was given a sample of some locally produced hair care products called Broo so named because they are made with the unofficial drink of Asheville, beer. The claim is that beer has B vitamins, proteins and minerals that make it a “superdrink” for healthy hair. I was skeptical but after using the shampoo and conditioner one time I noticed that my hair was softer and much more manageable despite the frizz inducing humidity of a rainy spring day in Central Virginia. People even commented on how great my hair looked – surprising as it was in great need of a color touch up so the compliment had to be about the texture and shine. I am looking forward to using this shampoo again and am interested in knowing if other people feel like making a commercial for them after one use as I did. For more information or to order some Broo products click here.