carolinas part 1

So, to put it rather crassly, we went retirement town shopping in the Carolinas (and Tennessee).  We’re nowhere near ready to retire yet – at least, I’m not – but it’s looking like the right time to buy something.  The plan is to buy a small house in or near a nice town/small city and install my parents as caretaker-tenants.  We wanted to look at several towns, cities, and areas I’d determined in advance.  We were concentrating on the north central and northwest of North Carolina, the far eastern corner of Tennessee, then the western part of South Carolina.  Criteria included such things as proximity to arts, culture, medical care, shopping, restaurants, a major airport, weather (summer and winter) etc.  Oh, yeah, and “Where’s the local public library?”  ;)

Of course, I spent a massive amount of time researching this.  I found a wiki with icons you can use in Google Maps’ “My Maps” feature.  I had entirely too much fun plotting destinations and adding points of interest in my map of the Carolinas.

We covered about 2,400 miles in 6 days.  About 1,600 of that was driving to and from our starting and ending points, so we did about 800 miles over the other 4 days.  Destination/accommodation/food impressions:

  1. Roanoke, VA: wasn’t initially on the list as we just stayed here overnight to break our trip down, but it looks like a small city having a cool revitalization going on.  We had a fantastic dinner at the Horizon Bar & Grill. We weren’t so thrilled with our accommodation.  From the road, using Expedia, I booked us into the Hotel Roanoke, a Hilton Doubletree property.  We need to make four stays a year at a Hilton hotel (some convoluted membership requirement with Hilton Honors), so we thought “what the heck – let’s stay at a nice hotel …”  Nice looking hotel, but but it was noisy, the TV remote didn’t work, the phone only worked intermittently (and not in the middle of the night with a drunken idiot shouting outside our door, grrr) and the shower was like trying to get clean under a dribbling faucet.  George thought I was having some kind of mental breakdown in there and came to investigate my hysterical laughter.  The air-conditioning sounded like a 747 taking off, so woke us up every time it came on, and then there was the water dripping out of the vent …  NOT recommended!
  2. Statesville, NC: nice little town, but a little too quiet and too small for our tastes.  We stayed in a lovely B&B, The Kerr House, with great and informative hosts Pam & John Algiere.  We actually ended up having (an unplanned but nice) dinner with them as we were all at the same restaurant, Pellegrino’s Trattoria and they invited us to sit with them.  We would definitely stay at this B&B again if we were in the area.  It was clean, comfortable and breakfast was great!
  3. Davidson, NC: Lovely little college town, but a little too small for us.  Very green (in all senses of the word) and very tidy (possibly *too* tidy … vague Stepford Wives overtones to me).
  4. Assorted towns and small cities in Tennessee (including Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson Ciy): very pretty, but a little one-dimensional for our tastes.  Getting to this area included the most hair-raising drive we’ve ever done: 24+ miles of mountain switchbacks with a grand total of about 24 feet of guardrail protecting the unwary from plummeting to their deaths.  Mountain City, TN to Bristol, TN through the Cherokee National Forest and the Appalachians on Route 34/421.  Not for the faint-hearted (or those with motion sickness).  We stayed in Rogersville at the Hale Springs Inn.  It should have been one of the highlights of our trip (it was the most expensive place we stayed).  While absolutely beautiful, the unsettling experience of staying in an unstaffed inn overnight without having been given an after-hours number (The Shining, anyone?), having to track down the source of a loud alarm in the middle of the night (an alarm clock in a room on another floor, as we discovered eventually), and no-one showing up in the morning to do breakfast (we left without breakfast after waiting around 45 minutes waiting to see if someone would show up) spoiled the stay entirely.  NOT recommended.  Management’s offer of a free couples massage in the in-house spa on our next visit to make up for service failure is not adequate and I will be making sure to (fairly but honestly) review our stay everywhere I can.
  5. Asheville, NC: I think I’m in love.  I’d live here in a heartbeat.  Asheville has everything we’re looking for and more.  This was our favourite place from the whole trip.
  6. Hendersonville, NC: a definite second-place contender.  George describes this lovely little town just south of Asheville as “Asheville for old people.”  I loved this place and it definitely warrants another look.
  7. Greenville, SC: we liked this a lot, but not as much as Hendersonville and Asheville.  Stayed in a nice B&B, Pettigru Place.  George thought downtown was a little too tidy – “a little Disney Worldish.”  I am discovering that we like a little vibrancy and maybe even a little grit in our “dream” retirement destination.
  8. Anderson, SC: Lovely town which probably has everything we could want but we think it would be way too hot for way too long in the summer.  Unfortunate – I had high hopes for this one.
  9. Columbia, SC: never really on the list as it was just a convenient place to stay.  It’s also not going to be on the list as it’s reputed to be the hottest place in South Carolina.  A pity really, as we really liked it!  We stayed at a fantastic boutique hotel/inn: The Inn at Claussen’s.  It’s in a renovated bakery and was the perfect combination of relatively cheap and very comfortable.  We had a really fantastic meal right next door at Mr. Friendly’s.
  10. Rock Hill, SC: we stopped here for a great lunch (at Citizen Corners).  Proximity to Charlotte (see point #11) make this worth a second look.
  11. Matthews/Charlotte, NC: This was really only going to be a convenient last port of call before tackling the drive home, but we ended up really liking it and are giving the Charlotte area some serious consideration.  Our stay at 803 Elizabeth Lane B&B was one of the cheapest, most low-key, and most pleasant of the whole trip.  We’ll definitely stay there again.  The hosts, Martha and Will, were perfect and George was completely reinvigorated by roaming around their fabulous 5-acre gardens and yard and talking gardening and climate with Will.  Martha volunteers at the local public library and knits!  :)  We had possibly the best meal of the trip at Sante, tucked away in the main street of historic downtown Matthews.

So, much food for thought.  We are relieved to have found several areas that we really like and are looking forward to making another trip to see them in more detail.  On to further research!