Find food, wine, hiking, cycling, and small-town charm in this under-the-radar destination.

By Sheila Callahan
February 12, 2009
Gary Moss/Jupiterimages

Stretching east from the Blue Ridge Parkway, this under-the-radar destination encompasses 1.4 million acres and like Tasmania, offers delicious food, small-town charm, acres of farmland and miles of hiking and backroads cycling. With Winston-Salem as its gateway, the Yadkin Valley, hailed by some as the new Napa, was the first area in North Carolina to receive the American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation. Nearly one-third of the state’s 80 wineries flourish here. The terroir is well suited to winemaking, with hot summer days that elevate sugar content to optimum levels and cool winters that minimize fungus, disease, and insects.

Eat smart: In the town of Elkin, Benjamin Craig Vance, the executive chef at Elkin Creek Vineyard’s restaurant, The Kitchen, buys produce from Sanders Ridge Organic Farm in nearby Boonville to create a seasonal menu that changes weekly. The Kitchen’s handcrafted wood-burning oven turns out pizzas and Italian hearth bread. The Provence pizza comes adorned with caramelized onion, olives, fresh tomato, and Brie.

Be fit: A short distance northeast of Elkin, Pilot Mountain State Park (336-325-2355) rises 1,400 feet above the Piedmont. In spring, bright pink rhododendron bloom in abundance, while the sounds of American toads, chorus frogs, spring peepers, and numerous songbirds fill the woods. Follow the two-mile Ledge Springs loop trail under the mountain ledges along the bottom of 80-foot cliffs. While Tasmania boasts some of Australia’s best rock-climbing, Pilot Mountain State Park provides the easiest access to rock-climbing in the Tar Heel state, and offers more 80 routes. You’ll see plenty of cliffhangers at Three Bears Gully, a short distance down the Ledge Springs loop trail.

Live well: Mount Airy, hometown of television actor Andy Griffith, served as the inspiration for his long-running show, Mayberry, RFD, and is a must-see on any Yadkin Valley visit. One of the last remaining outdoor cinemas in the South, Mount Airy’s Bright Leaf Drive-In, operating since 1955, screens double and sometimes triple features of current releases. If music is more your scene, the Surry Arts Council in Mount Airy features a full schedule of bluegrass musicians. Hear them on Merry-Go-Round, the third-longest live radio broadcast in America, which takes place in the Downtown Cinema Theatre every Saturday.

Where to stay: Frog Holler Cabins, located on Big Elkin Creek, offer efficiency cottages accommodating up to four people, with hot tubs overlooking the water. A nearby pond’s inhabitants inspire the 28-acre property’s name.