Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway
Mile for mile, the winding Blue Ridge Parkway may be the nation's most pulse-quickening stretch of blacktop. And while the speed limit is 45 miles per hour, driving it can feel like living a high-speed car chase. You dive into narrow, oak-lined hairpin turns one moment, and the next you're powering through the clouds on a ridgeline straightaway along a thousand-foot drop. When work started on the parkway in 1935, its designers engineered every mile of road to wring maximum drama from the topography, but the characters you'll find along the way are far more low-key and free of pretension. Here, locavorism is not a lifestyle, it's life, so the region is a hotbed of fresh-food fervor and iconoclastic cooking. And being Appalachia country, this is the birthplace of bluegrass and home to some landmark music venues and festivals. From mile marker zero, 25 miles west of Charlottesville, Virginia, south to Asheville, North Carolina (the "Berkeley of the Blue Ridge"), you'll pack an excellent long-weekend journey of righteous dining and world-class banjo. Here's where to stop.
1. A trip down the parkway wouldn't be complete without a visit to the tasting room at Foggy Ridge Cider, where Diane Flynt pours European-style hard ciders. Her talents are fully apparent in the beautifully tart, crisp Serious Cider, which is served in top restaurants around the country.
2. In his former gig at five-star Blackberry Farm, John Fleer founded "foothills cuisine," Blue Ridge cooking with a refinement nobody had seen before. His new Asheville spot, Rhubarb, finds Fleer more laid-back and having a bit more fun, but with the technique still dialed in, with dishes like Mongolian barbecued lamb ribs and a salad of charred romaine.
3. Before he died in 2008, European billionaire Didier Primat created Primland, an ultraluxury resort that offers a full roster of gentlemanly pursuits: deer hunting, fly-fishing, golfing, and stargazing from the property's observatory, using its Celestron Pro 1400 telescope.
4. A shade west of the parkway's northern entrance, chef Ian Boden's squat redbrick Shack looks like a small-town diner staffed by teenagers. Step inside and you'll find a creative tasting menu that employs the mountains' best ingredients in delicious ways — think rabbit- belly lettuce wraps and ramp-and-chicken-skin hash.
5. What Nashville's Ryman Auditorium is to big-time country, the Rex Theater in tiny Galax, Virginia, is to old-time bluegrass. Friday-night sessions here are legendary and widely broadcast, meaning you may find yourself between two banjo players, one of whom is a woman from down the street and the other a world-renowned picker.