If you’ve never been to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you are missing out on seeing one of the most beautiful places in the country. Russell and I have traveled here several times, and we love it as a “short getaway” spot. It takes us about eight hours to get there by car, but the drive is all country and incredibly peaceful, so we don’t mind. We always rent a cabin outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and then enjoy the cheesy tourism that both Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge offer, and the serenity and beauty of the mountains.
My Italian family came to the United States and settled deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in the hills of West Virginia. My blood is Mountaineer, through and through, and visiting the Great Smokies is like coming home. I like to daydream about what it must have been like to settle this wild land, and build a life from the hills. I can’t explain it – I love beautiful beaches and historical cities – but when I’m in the mountains or the woods, I feel like I’m home. It’s all very peaceful and fulfilling to me, a true, deep sense of belonging.
Of course, I’m terrified of bugs, and there’s a scorpion that’s native to Tennessee (I’m not kidding, folks, it’s a species of mother-freaking scorpion), so that peacefulness is sometimes short-lived, but hey, I try. A little goes a long way.
Our last trip to the Smoky Mountains was in the fall of 2013, over my birthday. We took the drive over the ridge into Asheville, North Carolina, because I wanted to visit the historic Biltmore Estate, a gorgeous French-chateau inspired American castle that perfectly captures the royalty of the Gilded Age. My mind can’t comprehend having the amount of wealth that the Vanderbilt’s did, and living in a place like this. It was STUNNING to visit. But my favorite part were the rolling hills. If I could magically live anywhere in the world, I’d build my home on the 125,000 acres that estate originally encompassed.
Asheville, North Carolina, is a day trip from Gatlinburg, and worth doing (or vice-versa). If you’re into mountain folklore, arts, and crafts, Asheville is a hidden gem for tourists. Gatlinburg also holds its own with its Arts and Crafts Community.
The town of Gatlinburg is a royal cheese-fest, like the most kitschy beach boardwalk you’ve ever been to, but right in the heart of the mountains. Explore the town anyways. The Donut Friar in The Village Shops is a treat, and The Pancake Pantry has the best cucumber salad you’ll ever eat. There are some good eats tucked away in hidden corners – grab some takeout, retreat to your cabin, and chow down while overlooking the beautiful scenery. I also love going to Christmas stores while on vacation (we have ornaments from everywhere we’ve ever traveled to together, one of our traditions), and The Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge shames all others.
Although these are my favorite places, I enjoy the quiet of a cabin the most. This year we rented one higher up in the mountains than we’ve been before, and the views of the sunrises and sunsets were wonderful. I woke up at 4 a.m. and stood outside in a bathrobe in twenty degree weather just to see the sun come up. It’s the little moments.
I don’t know the next time we’ll take a trip to Gatlinburg (we jokingly said we’d skip Christmas this year and go to the Smokies instead), but I can’t wait to go back. I’m not usually one for returning to the same vacation spots, but there’s always so much to explore here. Rumor has it that there’s a hiking trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall, and I’d love to find it on our next trip.
Oh! I almost forget the BEST part. Go to the Smoky Mountain Winery and buy a bottle of muscadine wine. You’ll thank me, trust me. It’s the best wine I’ve ever had in my life.