Friday, February 13, 2015

Basketball's Southern Conference 2015 in Asheville, NC Again!

North Carolina loves basketball and Asheville loves hosting the Southern Conference (SoCon) Basketball Tournament - yes, back in Asheville again this March 2015, 5th through 9th and remaining in Asheville, at least through the 2017 Season!  Asheville loves calling the SoCon tournament a March tradition - March is truly basketball's grand finale month and Asheville is a wonderful host town.  What a great way to warm up and celebrate a favorite sport in one of America's favorite cities -  and a favorite tournament as a fan for your favorite team ... or just for your favorite sport!!!

Games will be at both the Kimmel Arena on the University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNC-A) campus - and the U.S. Cellular Center in the heart of Downtown Asheville.  Kimmel Arena is located about 2 miles from the U.S. Cellular Center.  The U.S. Cellular is right in the heart of downtown Asheville, steps from restaurants, bars, craft breweries, local artist galleries, chocolatiers, live music,  River Arts District, parks and more.  Other favorite attractions to take in while you are here and all within 5 miles of Downtown Asheville, include the Biltmore Estate (take advantage of winter ticket pricing), North Carolina Arboretum, Blue Ridge Parkway (check for Parkway section closures) and more.

Tickets for SoCon are on sale and begin at $17 for a 2 game ticket and $100 for all session tickets.  VIP tickets range from $40 to $200; tickets may be purchased at the U.S. Cellular Center or online at

The eleven member institutions participating are from the five Southeastern States of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama and include:

Alabama: Samford University
Tennessee: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Georgia: Georgia Southern University
South Carolina: Wofford College, College of Charleston, The Citadel, Furman University
North Carolina:Western Carolina University, Appalachian State University, Elon University

For more information, schedules and more, be sure and visit the SoCon Basketball Tournament 2015 website.  The tournament is for both men and women's teams.  And this year the SoCon Wrestling tournament will be going on concurrently.  Be sure and look for additional events to participate in or watch, including the Buncombe County/Arc of NC 5k and/or the Downtown Dribble.  Partake in theme days (with ticket discounts) such as Hero's Day, Family Day and Pack the House.  And for a more thorough list of activities throughout the SoCon weekend in Asheville, NC, check out the "SoCon Travel Information" page located on Asheville's "ExploreAsheville" website where you will find links to things to do, breweries and taprooms, Hotels and Lodging, Restaurants and dining, along with a SoCon Events link.

If you need a place to stay, consider Asheville's Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, located about 2 miles south of the US Cellular Center on the southern side of downtown Asheville.  Reservation offices: 828 994 2627, online booking:  Have a great SoCon Weekend!!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Wine and Storytelling with David Novak

Wine and Storytelling with David Novak, what a wonderful combination for a Sunday and winter afternoon in Asheville!  Hosted by Metro Wines at 169 Charlotte Street on Sunday February 8th, 2015 at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, taste some wine, listen to the art of storytelling (a western North Carolina and Appalachian tradition) performed by a true national and international master.

This will be a wonderful venue to hear and visit with David Novak a true national and local treasure and resident of Asheville, NC.  David Novak's resume, among other accolades, lists his numerous and telling awards with the storytelling craft, including, Disney Institute Master Storyteller, Oscar winner of Storytelling, National Storytelling Network, Circle of Excellence Award winner and more.  David Novak has taken his craft to an international level as well, bringing creativity to classic myths and folktales worldwide.  His fluid voice and surprising props enhance his storytelling; and his interactive performances are wonderful for all ages.

For the Sunday afternoon storytelling this February 8th at Metro Wine, reservations are recommended as seating is limited at this intimate venue; be sure and get your tickets in advance.  For information and to make your reservations, call 828 658-4151 and/or email:  Tickets are $15 each (cash at the door) and of course, the price includes a glass of wine or beverage.

And if you are visiting Asheville from out of town and need a place to stay, be sure and call Vacation In Asheville and Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, reservation offices, 828 994-2627, online reservations at

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Third Annual Asheville Marathon at the Biltmore Estate

Third Annual Asheville Marathon will once again be at the Biltmore Estate, Sunday March 15th 2015, beginning at 7:30 am. While it is sold out, with 1,400 participants, there is now a wait list and if you don't get in this year, your wait list number will guarantee you a spot in the 2016 Asheville Marathon.

The 26.2 mile course will take you through the 8,000 acres of the grounds of the Biltmore Estate - on carriage roads both surfaced and uneven, across rolling hills, along the French Broad River, through the vast gardens designed by landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, and across the vinyards and farmland of the Estate.  The Asheville Marathon is a certified race course as well as a Boston qualifying race (USATF Sanction #14-13-448 and Certification Code #NC14024DF).  Or, if a shorter race is to your taste, enjoy the Half Marathon at 13.1 miles, for its second year in a row.  In addition, this year the Appalachian Distance Series of races has added the Asheville Marathon to its Southeast series (including Asheville, Knoxville, Townsend, Chatanooga and Oak Ridge).

If you are not running, and want to support and watch as a spectator, be sure and read about all the rules and regulations, as there are some unique and specific procedures for entering the Estate (get an early start) and getting through the gate as the event is not open to the public.  Spectators will need to purchase a day ticket for $20 or be an annual passholder in order to get onto the property.  This will give you access to the grounds only, and you may upgrade your day pass to include the inside of the Estate for an additional $9 ($29 includes entry and tour of the inside of the Biltmore Estate).  Spectator Tickets may be purchased on March 14th at the Race Expo from 9am - 7pm at the Double Tree Hotel, or on Race Day beginning at 6:00 am at the Group Sales Office.  Besides enjoying the beauty of the grounds of the Biltmore Estate, Antler Hill Village, and the Winery, there will be plenty to do throughout the morning and early afternoon including cheering on your favorite runner(s), food and drinks, music and more.

Runners and spectators, do be aware that the race start is located at the Winery and Antler Hill Village - six miles from the entrance. Because of distance and heavy traffic that morning, it will take an additional 20 - 25 minutes to get to the race start once inside the gate.  If you prefer not to drive in, for an extra $10 jump on a shuttle bus at the Doubletree Hotel and you can get a ride right to the start line.  Be sure and check schedules.

If you are in need lodging nearby, call Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast (reservation line: call 9am to 7pm daily, 828 994-2627, for online booking log on to, or email anytime: for a more unique stay, and just one mile from the entrance to the Biltmore Estate.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Winter Lights" at the NC Arboretum Christmas 2014

Winter Lights, new this season at the NC Arboretum. The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC has joined with Jerry Stripling, former designer for Walt Disney World ®'s holiday decorations and special projects for a magnificent and unique Christmas Lights tour.  This is unlike any other light show in Asheville, combining the aesthetics of the landscape with the joy of Christmas Lights! Additionally, enjoy music, food, gifts!!  
Every night from November 22nd 2014 through January 4th 2014, I myself can't wait to go.  Tickets are limited nightly so be sure and make sure there is availability before you go (Sold out Saturday November 29th 2014).

Tickets are $18 each (12 years old and older), &$16 for children, 5-11years.  Children up to 4 years old are free.  Tickets are for specific dates and numbers are limited.  Be sure and call in advance,  800 514-3849 for information and tickets.  You may also book your tickets directly online.

The Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way, Asheville, NC.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Asheville Bread Festival, 2014

The Asheville Bread Festival will again feature Artisan Bread making for two full days days, celebrating local farmers, millers and bakers, and the Artisan Bread Movement in Western North Carolina.  The Asheville Bread Festival is now 10 years old, having had its debut in 2004, and continues to be organized by the founders of the festival, Steve Bardwell and Gail Lunsford.  This year, from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday April 12th and Sunday April 13th join again in the Magnolia Building on Asheville/Buncombe Technical College (AB-Tech) Campus.

Over 15 local artisans will be present on Saturday April 12th.  Stop by to purchase and sample their wares from 10 am to 2pm.  Enjoy lectures and workshops on this day as well from 10am - 4pm.  Taste bread, share ideas, meet growers, millers and bakers!  Be sure and visit the Asheville Bread Festival website to view more about the workshops, to purchase advance workshop tickets, class schedules and more.

On April 13th professional bakers may enroll in the 6 hour "Master Class" bakers intensive, and learn from the featured bakers who will be present all weekend, some of the most respected bakers in the United States:  Lionel Vatinet, Peter Reinhart, Dominique Homo and Harry Peemoeller.  Information about and enrollment into this workshop intensive may be made by emailing

The Artisan Bread Movement is strong here in Western NC and has thankfully brought bread making full circle - from pre-sliced white bread back to the old-world hearty and tasty whole grains!  And who doesn't love the smell and taste of freshly baked bread?  Western North Carolina is going strong with the resurgence of the craft of bread making with over a dozen bakeries making hand crafted loaves and some using locally milled flour.

If you are looking for a place to stay, Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast is about 2 blocks from the AB-Tech campus where the festival will be held.  Give them a call at 828 994 2627, 9am - 7pm daily to make a reservation!  Bread bakers welcome!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blue Ridge Parkway Overview from Mount Mitchell to Mount Pisgah, NC/ Asheville Corridor

Atop Craggy Pinnacle, looking down upon Craggy Visitor Center
If you are looking for day trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, NC, there is a beautiful 60 mile segment from Mount Mitchell, the highest elevation east of the Mississippi River at 6,683' (2037m) above sea level (about 30 miles north of Asheville NC) to Mount Pisgah at 5722' above sealevel (about 30 miles south of Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway).  There is a lot to do along this 60 mile section, which I call the "extended Asheville corridor" of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as it meanders from Mile Post Marker (MPM) 355 to MPM 409, about 30 north of Asheville to about 30 miles south of Asheville.

 The Asheville "commuter section" is right in the middle of this extended corridor from approximately MPM 377 at Craven's Gap and Town Mountain Road access, to MPM 393 at the North Carolina Arboretum and Brevard Road access.  The commuter section rarely if ever closes, but gates will close the Parkway on both ends of this Asheville, Blue Ridge Parkway commuter section.

If your not familiar with the Blue Ridge Parkway, know that it is not a toll interstate that you might find in other states - roads that are also called "parkways."  No, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Park and National Scenic Highway that is extremely rural, slow going and beautiful as it winds over the ridges across the back of the Blue Ridge, Appalachian and Smoky Mountains (all the same southern mountain range with different regional monikers).  It is completely free, i.e., no National Park tolls anywhere, no Eagle Pass needed, with limited access at various points, towns and cities along the 400 mile stretch; and it is the most visited National Park in the USA, with is northern terminus in Front Royal, Virginia and the southern terminus is in Cherokee, North Carolina, after over 400 miles of rolling ridge climbs and descents.

A few bits of information to help you enjoy and find your way along the Blue Ridge Parkway:
Mile Post Marker

  • There is a small mile marker (post) every single mile along the Parkway (MPM), with numbers increasing as you drive south. If you are cycling, you might just find this irritating as you slowly climb one of the many long ascents, praying for the next mile marker to pass you by.  Otherwise, the mile markers are extremely helpful in finding and keeping your way, looking for trailheads, specific attractions and or specific access/ exit points along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • There is limited access at various points and cities along the route and there are frequent road closures due to rock fall and inclement weather, particularly in winter months; be sure and check for road closures (click here) as you plan your trip along the Parkway and know where you would like to enter the parkway and where you might want to exit the parkway, as closures will indeed impact your available choices. 
  • Stores, fuel stops, restaurants, restroom facilities and lodging options are also limited and advertising is prohibited for driving aesthetics, so plan ahead and be sure and fill up your gas tank before getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • Speed limits are restricted to 35 mph and 45 mph, depending on where you are along the Parkway, so besides the fact that you will likely want to pull off at one of the many scenic overlooks, take a long or short hike at one of the many trail heads, know that automobile travel is much slower than one might expect.  A 30 mile drive could easily take one to two hours.
  • The "commuter section" of Asheville, from MPM 377 at Craven's Gap and Town Mountain Road to MPM 393 at the NC Arboretum is open year round and gates at these two MPM will close northern travel and southern travel much of the winter.
  • Weekends in peak seasons (summer and October) the traffic can be especially slow and may even be bumper to bumper.  Weekdays are always much less crowded.
Some of my favorite stops along the "Asheville Expanded Corridor" (my term) begin for me at MPM 355 and the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park, about 35 miles north of Asheville and a wonderful day trip excursion from Asheville.  Once at the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park, there is another 5 mile spur road that will take you almost to the top of Mount Mitchell.  The spur road is entirely paved and there is ample parking at the top.  There is a small concessions building with snacks available and a restroom.  Once up top, a quick, short and paved walk will take you to a scenic overlook structure with amazing views, especially looking northward towards Table Rock and the Linville Gorge.  Believe it or not, the elevation here can mean a big difference in weather.  It is often foggy and quite chilly, even in summer months, so be sure and bring a jacket, no matter the season.  In past years, the Blue Ridge Parkway, along the Asheville and southern side of the Mitchell entrance, has been under repair and often closed, so again, be sure and know if Mount Mitchell State Park is easily accessible and from what access point.

On top of Craggy Pinnacle - what views!
Craggy Gardens Visitor Center is located at MPM 364.  A not to miss hike is just north of the Visitor Center, a short trail about 1/2 mile in length will take you to Craggy Pinnacle - my favorite hike perhaps along the entire Parkway, beginning in a scrubby Mountain Laurel "tunnel," and opening up onto a rock bluff with incredible, incredible views of Western NC.  Parking for this hike is just north of a tunnel.  The Craggy Visitor Center is on the south side of same tunnel.  Restrooms and souvenirs are available at this quaint and historic rock structure, also with fabulous views as it sits on an exposed gap.

The Folk Art Center is right in Asheville at MPM 382 and easy access off of NC Hwy 70. There is an auditorium at the Folk Art Center, gift shop and gallery.  Local and high quality arts and crafts works are displayed and sold at the Folk Art Center.  Classes and speakers as well as onsite demonstrations by local artists are often featured, so be sure and find out about what is going on at the Folk Art Center before you visit - and know that the crafts for sale and on display are always worth viewing and purchasing!  The White Dot Trail or Mountains-to-Sea trail, goes right by the Folk Art Center and traverses along this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Visitor's Center is at MPM 384 just 2 miles south of the Folk Art Center.  Wonderful and abundant information is available here, as well as an award winning 20 minute film about the Blue Ridge Parkway and a large scale interactive map along one of the walls within the Visitor Center.  Ranger programs are often available from here, especially in summer months and often on Thursdays.  Restrooms are available at the Visitor Center.

The North Carolina Arboretum may be accessed directly from the Parkway at MPM 393.  This is a beautiful facility that is a true treasure of North Carolina.  Enjoy gardens, trails, special classes, demonstrations and exhibits year round.  There are classrooms, restrooms and a cafe at the North Carolina Arboretum.  Bent Creek Experimental Forest borders the Arboretum and is also a wonderful area to explore with connecting trails, a small lake with a swimming beach (life guard onsite in summer) and fantastic mountain biking.  The Arboretum is a fee area if parking onsite ($8.00 per car) and if you drive into Bent Creek to the swimming beach at Lake Powatan, there is a $3.00 car fee.  

During much of the winter, from early November to mid-April, the gate at MPM 393 will be closed prohibiting motor travel south to the Mount Pisgah area; Pisgah Inn, the concessions store and
campground will be closed as well.

Atop Mount Pisgah - more great views!
Continuing south to MPM 408 will bring you to the Mount Pisgah area along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah Inn.  There are 11 tunnels along this stretch as you climb out and up from the French Broad River Valley in which Asheville lies.  The Hike to the top of Mount Pisgah is another favorite of mine, about a 1.5 mile hike up hill, with a spectacular view.  Bring your blueberry picking buckets in late summer months of July and August.  The Pisgah Inn is just a mile or so from the Pisgah trail head and picnic area, one of the four Park sponsored Concessions you will find along the entire 400 plus miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.    Enjoy a small gift shop, inn and restaurant.  Fresh trout is one of my favorite lunches or dinners to order.  Large glass windows will offer the diner spectacular views of Looking Glass Rock and the Mountains.

Lots to do on this 60 mile stretch of the Parkway, making Asheville a wonderful home base from which to explore the Parkway.  And if you need convenient Blue Ridge Parkway lodging, call Vacation In Asheville and Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, 9am too 7pm daily for various vacation rentals or an Asheville Bed and Breakfast lodging option;  all are within easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, 828 994 2627.  And staff at our offices are always happy to share information about Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway as we know it!!  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sweet Treats - An easy Recipe to Warm up With - Praline Grahams

Praline Grahams - a sweet and easy treat - this is an extremely SIMPLE and quick recipe for a delightful afternoon "sweet tooth" kind of snack!  Amazingly yummy.

One package of Graham Crackers (one third of a 16oz box)
3/4 cup butter (one and a half sticks)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Ok, maybe we should call these Praline S'mores!

  • Separate the graham crackers into their four perforated sections
  • Arrange them in a jellyroll pan, approximately 15X10X1", with the edges touching.  
  • Fill the pan, even if it requires you to add a few more graham cracker sections from another package. 
  • Melt the butter in a one quart sauce pan  
  • Stir in the sugar and pecans  
  • Bring to a boil and cook three minutes, stirring frequently 
  • Spread the butter, sugar and pecan mixture evenly over the graham crackers
  • Bake at 300 degrees for 12 minutes
  • Remove from the pan and let cool on wax paper or cooling rack
This should yeild three to four dozen Praline Graham sections.  Very easy and very very yummy! You might just find these Praline Grahams served on a weekend afternoon here at Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, in Asheville NC.  For reservations and information at our sweet little inn, just call our offices, 828 994 2627, anytime daily from 9am to 7pm, or visit our website!  In the meantime, enjoy this yumsty recipe.