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10 Great Islands You've Never Heard Of!

June 4, 2005
0509_islands
Tourism Australia
You escape to an island for that splendid sense of isolation. The problem is, lots of other travelers have the exact same idea. These days, getting away from it all requires some creativity

What you'll find in this story: Island escapes, secluded vacations, unique vacation ideas, island getaways, islands in Australia, Panama, Scotland, the Azores, France, Mexico, Fiji, Croatia, Brazil and Japan

Australia, Kangaroo Island

When white men first set foot on the 1,738-square-mile island off the south coast of Australia, they were able to stroll up to kangaroos and club them for food (hence the island's name). Because there were no natural predators, the kangaroos didn't have the instinct to flee. Today, Kangaroo Island remains free of foxes and dingoes and serves as a sanctuary for hundreds of species of animals and birds. Koalas, kangaroos, sea lions, penguins, and wallabies can all be seen at close range. The wildlife is so spectacular that the unspoiled beaches, craggy rock formations, and eucalyptus forests get second billing.

Kangaroo Island is a 30-minute flight from Adelaide (011-61/2-6393-5550, regionalexpress.com.au, $90 round trip), or 45 minutes by ferry from Cape Jervis (011-61/8-8202-8688, sealink.com.au, $41). Rather than booking transportation and exploring on your own, it's smarter to buy a package that includes lodging and a tour. Many animal habitats aren't marked, and even from a moving vehicle a good guide can point out echidnas--small porcupine-like creatures--and other animals that you'd probably never see. Adventure Charters, one of the best operators, charges $610 for air from Adelaide, a full day of touring, one night and dinner at a top B&B, and a classic "barbie in the bush," with grilled fish under a canopy (011-61/8-8553-9119, adventurecharters.com.au). Or try the Wayward Bus, which is geared more to backpackers and includes one night in a motel, meals, and two days of touring for $234 (011-61/8-8410-8833, waywardbus.com.au). --Margaret Borden

Panama, Isla Bastimentos

Blissfully lost in the Bocas del Toro region of northwestern Panama, Bastimentos comprises almost everything that's not underwater in a 51-square-mile marine preserve speckled with reefs. Just off adjacent Zapatilla Cay, ribbons of light ripple over 30-foot walls of coral. The four-mile stretch of Playa Larga serves as a critical nesting site for four species of sea turtles. Monkeys gambol in the rain forest, to a sound track of toucans and oropendolas. The region is particularly known for the tiny scarlet-vested poison dart frogs that hop around the forest floor. (They're harmless as long as you don't ingest the venom or allow it to enter an open wound.)

Daily one-hour flights from Panama City land in Bocas, a funky seaside town that blends Caribe creole with Afro-Cuban patois (Aeroperlas, 011-507/315-7500, aeroperlas.com, from $60 each way). From there, grab a water taxi ($5) for the 10-minute trip to Bastimentos. Beaches and snorkeling sites are everywhere, and boatmen will take you to countless reefs for a couple of hours for around $15. Or negotiate for a ride to the Ngobe village, where curious children swarm visitors, local artisans sell tribal carvings, and guides lead hikes through the forest. At the end of the island opposite the pier is the ecoresort Al Natural, where a boat ride transfer, three meals a day, use of kayaks and snorkel gear, and a private cabana start at $75 a night per person (011-507/757-9004, bocas.com/alnatura.htm, no credit cards). On a tiny island just off of Bastimentos, Coral Cay Cabins offers a similar package but with two meals a day and use of a wooden canoe (011-507/626-1919, bocas.com/coralcay.htm, from $75 per person). --Jeff Hull

Scotland, Isle of Harris

The isles of Harris and Lewis--one landmass divided by a narrow isthmus and the vagaries of clan history--sit on the edge of the Atlantic abyss. Tip to tip, the land measures 60 miles, but driving from one end to the other on its twisting one-lane roads while dodging wayward sheep can take the better part of a day. The rugged granite ridges, humped green mountains, fishing villages, mysterious ancient ruins, and serene lochs are all somewhat de rigueur in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. It's Harris's sparkling sands and a sea as cobalt as the Caribbean that come as a brilliant surprise.

The ferry ride from Skye takes about two hours (Caledonian MacBrayne, calmac.co.uk, round trip from $30, $148 with a car). Five miles south of the port at Tarbert, the Sandview House B&B stands above a long crescent of soft, sandy beach (6 Scarista, 011-44/1859-550212, from $96 double). The hosts' first language is Gaelic, as it is for most people in the area. All bedrooms have a view of the sea, and corncrakes--among the world's rarest, most secretive birds--occasionally strut by the window during breakfast. Wrap yourself in thick tweed and make way to the south of Harris, where the mountains and empty moorlands invite hikers. Stop in for tea, a plate of risotto, or a crock of scallops at the luxurious Rodel Hotel, built at land's end in the shadows of the 500-year-old St. Clement's Church (011-44/1859-520210, rodelhotel.co.uk, rooms from $200, full meals about $50). Over on Lewis, the Standing Stones of Callanish--huge slabs arranged in the shape of a cross--would probably be as famous as Stonehenge if they were on the mainland. --J.H.

The Azores, Faial

For hundreds of years, ships have stopped in Horta, the main port of Faial, on their way between the New and Old Worlds. The seafarers left their mark, creating a giant collage of inscriptions and colorful paintings on the walls and sidewalks of the marina's jetty. (Bad luck reputedly follows any sailor who doesn't leave a mark in the port.) Yachts and fishing boats still pull into Faial regularly, but the nine islands of the Azores--an autonomous region of Portugal, in a warm climate 900 miles west of the mainland--also bring in Europeans attracted to the volcanic landscapes, black sand beaches, and peaceful vibe.

Simple rooms with marina views and air-conditioning are usually less than $100 a night at Residencial São Francisco in Horta (Rua Conselheiro Medeiros, 011-351/292-200-980, residencialsaofrancisco.com). SATA International flies direct from Boston to the island of São Miguel in the Azores, with continuing flights to Horta (800/762-9995, azores-express.com, from $908). The Peter Café Sport, serving sailors since 1918, is big on nautical memorabilia (Rua Tenente Valadim, 011-351/292-292-327, grilled ham, cheese, and pineapple sandwich $2). The cafe's museum houses a fascinating scrimshaw collection ($2). Faial's western end is a moonscape formed by a volcano eruption in the 1950s, where roofs still peek out from mounds of ash. The nearby Forest Park of Capelo is a nice swath of green with tables and chairs made of volcanic stone. It's perfect for picnics.

After exploring Faial, try neighboring isles Pico and São Jorge, connected by ferries; they're known for their wine and cheese respectively (transmacor.pt, $4--$17 each way). --Jeanine Barone

France, Ile de la Barthelasse

When Avignon's medieval popes needed a break from the hubbub of their walled city, they crossed a bridge to a bucolic retreat in the middle of the Rhone River. Centuries later, Ile de la Barthelasse and adjoining Ile de Piot--whose vineyards, vegetable gardens, and pear, apple, and cherry orchards cover more than half of their nearly three total square miles--still make for a wonderful getaway. The two river islands are crisscrossed by cobbled walkways, woodsy hiking trails, and rambling country roads. An old path along the river provides spectacular views of Avignon's ramparts and the St. Bénézet Bridge, both the subjects of Impressionist paintings.

To reach the islands, pedal across the Daladier Bridge on a rental from Provence Bike (011-33/4-90-27-92-61, provence-bike.com, from $13.50 per day) or hop on the free bus from Avignon's Porte de l'Oulle. Once there, you'll feel truly out in the country by mounting a horse at Centre Equestre d'Avignon (011-33/4-90-85-83-48, cheval-avignon.com, from $3 per hour, reservations required). While away the hours in the riverfront bar/cafés or on the leafy terrace at Le Bercail (Chemin des Canotiers, 011-33/4-90-82-20-22, pizzas from $6), which looks straight across to Avignon's bluffs. Bed down in elegance at Auberge de la Treille (011-33/4-90-16-46-20, latreille.net, rooms from $104), an 18th-century mansion. Splurge on the evening menu for the full glory of Provençal cuisine--foie gras, fish, cheeses, truffles, fresh fruit, and chocolates (prix fixe from $30). --David Lyon

Mexico, Isla Holbox

Less than 100 miles north of the giant resorts and rowdy revelers in Cancún lies an island that feels like it's on another continent. On Isla Holbox, the village square, or El Parque, consists of a basketball court where locals play pickup games and a few basic stores that would never be considered boutiques. Instead of cars, golf cart taxis quietly motor along sandy streets. The island has no nightclubs, high-rise hotels, cell phone service, or ATMs (bring pesos). The lack of distractions leaves you with plenty of time for walking on the beach, feasting on the freshest seviche, taking siestas, swimming in calm waters, and collecting seashells. Peek into the doorway of a sand-floored home and you're likely to catch someone napping in a hammock. It's hard not to succumb to the slow life.

In the afternoons, amble over to the beachside cantina Discoteca Carioca's (no address or phone; like everything else on the island, it's easy to find) for guacamole and a michelada--a specialty that mixes lots of lime with beer and a shot of chili sauce. A kiosk in the square serves a perfectly crisp chicken torta (sandwich) for about $1.50. If you're feeling ambitious, rent a sea kayak or try to reel in a few yellowtail or bonitos on a deep-sea fishing excursion. There aren't outfitters per se, so arrange an outing through your hotel, or simply head down to the waterfront and haggle. During the summer months, a local skipper can also take you out to swim with 50-foot whale sharks. It may sound dangerous, but the sharks are actually harmless and friendly.

To get to Holbox from the port of Chiquila, catch the 9 Hermanos Ferry for the half-hour ride (travelyucatan.com, $4). Depending on the season, $80 to $130 scores a thatched-roof palapa, with beds made of rough-hewn logs, and a breakfast of eggs and fresh fruit, at the Xaloc Resort (011-52/984-87-52160, holbox-xalocresort.com). --Melinda Page

Fiji, Ovalau

From 1852 to 1882, Levuka, a rowdy outpost for sailors and traders on the island of Ovalau, served as Fiji's capital. Today, the Fijian government and most tourists do their business on Viti Levu, leaving Ovalau quiet and empty. The clapboard storefronts along Levuka's main drag have survived largely intact from the colonial days. Instead of the rollicking saloons of yesteryear, they now house quiet dry-goods stores and a few restaurants, such as Whale's Tale (011-679/344-0235, fresh fish or pasta entrées $6). Another relic is the Royal Hotel, which opened in 1852 and is Fiji's oldest hotel (011-679/344-0024, royal@connect.com.fj, doubles from $18). The old South Pacific comes to life in the lounge, which has creaking rattan furniture, a snooker table, and giant tortoise shells hanging on the walls. Rooms are furnished simply, with a couple of cots, toilet, and shower. The four guest rooms at Levuka Homestay offer better accommodations, including air-conditioning, a shady deck, and a full breakfast (011-679/344-0777, levukahomestay.com, doubles from $65). Round trips from Suva, on Viti Levu, to Levuka start at $72 (Air Fiji, 011-679/331-3666, airfiji.net).

Ovalau lacks good swimming beaches, but the soft corals surrounding the island make for fine diving. Ovalau Watersports runs daily dives, as well as tours to Caqalai, a speck of an island with coral sand beaches 40 minutes away (011-679/344-0166, owlfiji.com, two-tank dive $75, Caqalai tour $40). --M.B.

Croatia, Korcula

A jewel box that juts like a thumb from the main body of the island, Korcula's Old Town owes much of its architectural heritage to the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was part of the prosperous Republic of Venice. Narrow streets lined with medieval white-stone buildings spread out from the spire of St. Mark's Cathedral at the center of town. Encircling the densely packed city is a 14th-century wall; sapphire-blue waters surround the entire isle.

Korcula is connected by ferry to the more popular towns of Split and Dubrovnik (Jadrolinija Ferries, jadrolinija.hr, from $5). The boat drops you off in Vela Luka, on Korcula's western end. Buses bump along the spine of the island eastbound to Korcula Town, dipping past black cypress trees and terraced olive groves, with some hairpin turns along the way. On the harbor in Old Town is the Hotel Korcula, a Venetian palace with a loggia where you can have breakfast and look across the bay to the hills of the mainland (011-385/20-711-078, doubles from $67). A 10-minute bus ride away, the small fishing village of Lumbarda has the only sandy beaches on the island--at the end of a red dirt path that winds through vineyards that produce a crisp white wine called Grk. Enjoy a glass and dig into fresh grilled fish and octopus back in Korcula Town at Konoba Adio Mare (011-385/20-711-253, dinner for two $35). After dinner, go for a stroll through romantically lit Old Town. Pass by the city walls on the way to the harbor to watch the sky glow and slowly darken over the channel and the hillsides. --Sunshine Flint

Brazil, Ilha Grande

Rio's beaches sizzle, but when Brazilians want the escape that only an island can offer, they go to Ilha Grande. The 119-square-mile slice of paradise is home to 106 beaches, 500 full-time residents, and no cars (they're banned). Bring good walking shoes or be prepared to paddle a kayak, which are the only ways to find some of the best beaches and coves. Surfers are wowed by the waves at Lopes Mendes and other beaches, divers love the caverns and crystal clear waters in every direction, and hikers keep busy with scores of trails, such as the one that ascends 3,200 feet to the island's best lookout, Pico do Papagaio (Parrot's Peak).

Until a decade ago, the only visitors to the island came in shackles. Ilha Grande served as a penal colony until 1994, so tourism is relatively new; there's little chance of finding resort chains renting wave runners. Abraão, the main hub, consists of a few souvenir shops and cafés. Ilhagrande.com.br lists places to stay and covers the basics, including how to get to Angra dos Reis or Mangaratiba, the mainland ports that connect to Ilha Grande by two-hour ferry. The island's edges are dotted with inns, or pousadas--most quite inexpensive thanks to the strong U.S. dollar. The nine suites at Sagu Resort are decorated simply, with exposed wooden beams and white walls, and outside each guest room there's a porch with a hammock (011-55/24-3361-5660, saguresort.com, doubles from $80). The property overlooks the beach, and up a stone path you can kick back in the dreamy ofuro (hot tub). Abraão is a 15-minute walk away, but most everything you want is right at the resort, including kayak rentals, caipirinhas, fresh-caught fish, and tropical fruit picked from the garden. --Jessica Shaw

Japan, Miyajima

The Japanese say that their country has three most scenic spots: Amanohashidate, a sandbar that snakes across Miyazu Bay in the northern Kyoto Prefecture; Matsushima Bay, which is dotted with 260 tiny, pine-covered islands; and Miyajima, or "shrine island"--12 square miles dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o-no-Mikoto, the Shinto god of the oceans. The island is so sacred that no one is supposed to give birth or die here; there are no maternity wards or cemeteries. Cutting trees is forbidden, and the forest provides sanctuary for dozens of bird species, as well as deer, which roam all over, and monkeys, which live atop 1,740-foot Mount Misen (reached by a two-hour hike from the pier or a 30-minute cable car ride).

After a 10-minute ferry ride departing near Hiroshima, you're greeted by a 50-foot-tall red Torii gate that soars out of the water majestically, signifying entrance to the spiritual realm. Taira-no-Kiyomori, a 12th-century warlord, funded the construction of the main Itsukushima shrine--a collection of buildings on stilts over a cove--to provide repose for the souls of the war dead. A five-story pagoda, folklore museum, and aquarium are all minutes from the docks. Stop at a shop for momiji-manju--sponge cakes filled with sweet red bean paste, custard, or chocolate--or sit down at a restaurant for eel, oysters, or okonomiyaki, a vegetable and meat pancake. The island has several fine small inns, such as the Miyajima Hotel Makoto, where most rooms are equipped with tatami mats and futons (011-81/829-44-0070, makato@gambo-ad.com, from $125). Or make Miyajima a day trip and stay in Hiroshima at the World Friendship Center, a B&B that arranges tours of the peace park and interviews with A-bomb survivors (8-10 Higashi Kannon-machi, 011-81/82-503-3191, from $34 per person). --Jeanette Hurt

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Asheville: The Top 25

What you'll find in this story: Asheville, North Carolina travel, Asheville favorites, Asheville restaurants, local Asheville secrets 1. Candy by the bucket Who said the five-and-dime is extinct? There are seven Mast General Stores in North and South Carolina, where under one roof you can find coonskin caps, birdhouses, Radio Flyer wagons, and grape Nehis in glass bottles. The highlight is plucking peanut clusters and Atomic FireBalls out of barrels to fill up a one-pound bucket of mixed candy ($5.50). Built in 1882, the original Mast Store is two hours north of Asheville in Valle Crucis. It's right out of Little House on the Prairie, with sloping floors, creaky stairs, and a monstrous potbellied stove. A location opened in downtown Asheville five years ago. Hwy. 194, Valle Crucis, 828/963-6511; 15 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, 828/232-1883. 2. Transplants and wanderers Asheville is full of characters who stopped by for a visit--while taking a road trip, perhaps, or hiking the Appalachian Trail--and liked the place so much that they never left. This explains the scarcity of southern accents: The city is in--but doesn't seem entirely of--the South. It's become a gathering place for outdoorsy, community-minded folks who love the quick access to nature but aren't willing to give up movie theaters, quality restaurants, and other trappings of a small city. 3. "The Beer Guy" The newspaper of record--the Asheville Citizen-Times--has a regular column devoted to ales, stouts, and porters. "You can't make a bad beer and expect to sell it in this town," says columnist Tony Kiss, also the paper's entertainment editor, who started covering the beer scene when the Highland Brewing Company, the first of the city's four breweries, opened 10 years ago. "A lot of people are interested in something more than a six-pack of Bud." Highland Brewing Company, 42 Biltmore Ave., 828/255-8240, tours available. 4. Lincoln Log sleepover The Pines Cottages, an old-fashioned motor court of 15 one- and two-bedroom cabins, is in a woodsy area just 10 minutes from downtown. Dating to the 1940s, the cabins were renovated when new owners took over in 2001. Most have kitchens and porches, and a few even have fireplaces, which can come in handy on chilly mountain nights. 346 Weaverville Hwy., 828/645-9661, ashevillepines.com, from $80. 5. Knowing where the sausage is from Down-home favorites at the Early Girl Eatery include eggs with country ham, fried catfish, and biscuits positively drenched in gravy. If that's a little too southern for you, there are also plenty of healthier options, like multigrain pancakes and sesame tofu salad. The Early Girl makes its own breakfast breads, gravy, and sausage, and whatever wasn't made from scratch on-site probably came from a local farm or river. Simple wooden tables and chairs line a long row of second-story windows overlooking downtown's Pritchard Park. The coffee mugs are big, and the young, bright-eyed waitstaff keeps them full. 8 Wall St., 828/259-9292, biscuits with gravy $2.25. 6. The banned-book list at Malaprop's In addition to titles of gay, lesbian, and transgender interest--and separate sections for graphic novels and local writers and poets--this very independent bookstore has several shelves of books currently banned by schools and libraries around the country. Gone With the Wind, Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a few of the Harry Potter titles are all on someone's no-no list. Several times a week, the bookstore-and-café hosts author readings and live music. The bulletin board where locals post events, jobs, and solicitations is absolutely worth a look. One recent flyer read: 2chix lawn care--support the women's movement. 55 Haywood St., 828/254-6734. 7. Nobody wears a tie Instead, there are lots of baggy shorts, fleece vests, cargo pants, Birkenstocks, and sundresses. Everything is casual--including the typical career path. Jobs take a backseat to leisure, not vice versa. 8. Thanksgiving dinner every Thursday Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and all the other trimmings are served weekly at Asheville's favorite spot for home cooking, Picnics Restaurant and Bake Shop. The mom-and-son operation--owned and run by Ron Smith and his mother, Minnie--has a menu that changes only a little from day to day: wood-roasted chicken, collard greens, cucumber salad, mac-and-cheese. "I'll just never understand restaurants that don't use real butter," Ron says. There are a couple tables for sit-down meals, but the shop brings in a mostly to-go crowd ($27 buys a picnic basket for four with drinks, utensils, plates, and a tablecloth). It's impossible to escape without scooping up a slice of death-by-chocolate cake or blackberry cobbler from the dessert counter by the door. 371 Merrimon Ave., 828/258-2858. 9. Hazy days and quiet nights on the parkway The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes up, around, and over the Appalachians for 469 miles, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks. On the parkway, at 5,000 feet above sea level and 20 minutes south of Asheville, is the Pisgah Inn, where all of the 51 units look out over miles and miles of hazy mountain peaks. 828/235-8228, pisgahinn.com, doubles from $80. 10. Cloggers, hippies, and more There's a drum circle, political rally, or concert happening somewhere all the time. The City/County Plaza is popular, as is Pritchard Park, in the center of town. It doesn't have flowers or grass. What it does have is gatherings--lots of them. Skinny dudes with dreadlocks and camouflage cutoffs mill about playing the bongos or reading poetry. In summer, the park hosts a series of old silent movies accompanied by live music. 11. Jugs that smile The Appalachian Craft Center showcases work from dozens of regional artists. Particularly popular are the collectible "face jugs" (sculpted and glazed with quirky faces, $45 to $300), as well as brooms with specially carved and finished handles ($25 to $65). Kids, meanwhile, will love the simple wooden folk toys that were popular in Civil War times--and their parents will appreciate that they cost less than $5. 10 N. Spruce St., 828/253-8499. 12. Sliding Rock First-timers worry about bruising their behinds on the natural 60-foot water slide that drops into a six-foot-deep pool. A more worthy concern: The water--runoff from the mountains in the Pisgah National Forest--usually hovers around 55 degrees. Once reachable only by a trail, Sliding Rock now has a parking lot and changing house, a metal railing to help people climb up, and even a lifeguard in summer. The ride doesn't hurt a bit--or maybe the frigid waters simply numb your nether regions. Pisgah Ranger District Information Center, 828/877-3265, visitwaterfalls.com, $1. 13. Too-cute Main Streets With its large Victorian homes, concrete and art deco office buildings, quaint storefronts built in the World War II era, and even a modern, all-glass high-rise, Asheville's architecture is a mix of old and new that doesn't always jell. Within a half hour of the city, however, are a handful of small towns with historic districts--Black Mountain, Hendersonville, and Brevard, to name three--where buildings and the cast of characters seem little changed in half a century. In Brevard, Rocky's Grill & Soda Shop is covered in 1950s memorabilia and serves up standards like milk shakes, floats, hot dogs, and hamburgers. 36 S. Broad St., 828/877-5375, malt $3.80. 14. Fruit that sticks to the pit Open seven days a week, the 36-acre Western North Carolina Farmers Market has a café, bakery, and ice cream parlor; a store stocked with crafts and preserves; a greenhouse with plants, trees, and a 45-foot-high waterfall; and, as you'd expect, an enormous selection of fresh produce. There's even an area set aside just for melons and peaches--the latter coming in clingstone (fruit sticks to the pit) and freestone (fruit separates easily from the seed) varieties. 570 Brevard Rd., 828/253-1691. 15. When your name gets called at Tupelo Honey An Asheville institution right across from Pritchard Park, the Tupelo Honey Café certainly is eccentric. It doesn't take reservations, the hours are weird, and the line usually stretches out the door. The food is southern-with-a-twist, appealing to both sophisticates (spiced tuna with a rémoulade sauce) and classicists (peanut butter and banana on toast). Most dishes are $5 to $8, and everything oozes butter and spice. Closing time on Fridays and Saturdays doesn't come until midnight, and up to the last minute the place hops with folks treating themselves to late-night snacks of sweet potato pancakes, fried green tomatoes, and raspberry French toast. 12 College St., 828/255-4863. 16. The bowling alley in the basement The mountains of North Carolina have embraced tourism for years--in fact, the local Minor League Baseball club is the Asheville Tourists. (Fanny packs and cameras are not part of the uniform.) The city's most famous attraction, the lavish Biltmore Estate, was designed as a primary residence but used mostly for escapes to the country by the Vanderbilt family. Styled after a French château, the 250-room Biltmore House opened on Christmas Eve 1895 with its own bowling alley, countless art treasures from Europe and Asia, and a banquet hall that has 70-foot ceilings. Many visitors make a day of checking out the main house as well as the 8,000-acre estate's expansive gardens, walking paths, and winery, with serene Smoky Mountain views all around. Self-guided rafting trips booked through the Biltmore are a reasonable $20. Reserve your ride for the day after you explore the estate--that way, your admission is valid for two full days. 1 Approach Rd., 877/324-5866, biltmore.com, $39. 17. The great barbecue debate In these parts, barbecue means one thing: meat, usually pork, that's slowly smoked and seasoned over a fire, pulled off in shreds, placed in a bun, and served with coleslaw and deep-fried nuggets of cornmeal called hush puppies. But while chefs in the eastern Carolinas use a vinegar-based sauce, the prime ingredient in Asheville and the western Carolinas is tomato sauce. Naturally, both regions claim superiority. At the local mini-chain Little Pigs B-B-Q, you can order your barbecue either way. 1578 Hendersonville Rd., 828/277-7188. 18. The four-state view An asphalt road twists up most of Mount Mitchell--at 6,684 feet, the highest peak east of the Mississippi--before ending in a parking lot that's a quarter-mile walk from the top. Hikers climb a lookout tower for views of four states (Tennessee, Virginia, and both Carolinas) and a look at the tomb of the mountain's namesake, Dr. Elisha Mitchell. A scientist and preacher, he died here from a fall in 1857. Mount Mitchell State Park, 2388 Hwy. 128, Burnsville, 828/675-4611, ncsparks.net. 19. 70,000 square feet of junk In an industrial area between downtown and the Biltmore, the Antiques Tobacco Barn (the crop used to be processed here) hosts more than 70 vendors selling hand-carved headboards, rocking chairs, stained-glass windows, dining room sets, you name it. For that matter, the entire region is crazed for collectibles: There are 53 entries in the Asheville Yellow Pages under antiques--dealers. Downtown, secondhand stores around the corner of Walnut and Rankin Streets are filled with dusty old finds. Antiques Tobacco Barn, 75 Swannanoa River Rd., 828/252-7291. 20. Sons of Ralph Asheville digs all kinds of music, and has more than two dozen venues for live tunes. No band is more beloved around here than Sons of Ralph. The lead vocalist, mandolin player, and inspiration for the band's name is 76-year-old Ralph Lewis, who's been playing "mountain music" in the region for seven decades. Ralph is accompanied by sons Marty (guitar) and Don (fiddle, banjo) and two "adopted children," Gary Wiley (bass) and Richard Foulk (drums). Their free-flowing mix of bluegrass, rock, and Cajun, with influences ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Hank Williams, has earned them best-band honors in an annual poll for four years running. "We don't rehearse, and we never have a set list," Ralph says with pride. They draw a good crowd for a regular gig at the Jack of the Wood, a smoke-free pub downtown. "I don't know if it's the acoustics, the audience, or what," Ralph says, "but whenever we play there, it's magic." 95 Patton Ave., 828/252-5445. 21. The hillbilly in the sky Tunnel Road, looping through the outskirts of downtown, has a Red Lobster, Blockbuster, Applebee's, and a holdout from another time: the Mountaineer Inn. The welcome sign--which includes a giant neon bumpkin in overalls and a floppy cowboy hat, plus several letters in the motel name written backward--has been a city fixture for more than 50 years. There's a nine-foot-deep pool, and the low-maintenance clientele doesn't seem to mind that it's surrounded by blacktop and looks out over the traffic on Tunnel Road. Rooms are bigger than you'd expect for the price, a decent breakfast is included, the people are friendly, and guests are always welcome to grab a hot cup of coffee in the office. 155 Tunnel Rd., 800/255-4080, mtinnasheville.homestead.com, doubles from $40. 22. The really green grocers Asheville's 70,000 residents are health-conscious enough to support two organic grocery stores--not tiny boutiques, but sprawling, where's-the-milk supermarkets, each taking up more than 20,000 square feet. Originally opened in a little storefront in 1980, Earth Fare now occupies a sizable chunk of strip mall in west Asheville, and it even has a sit-down buffet and a community room for health seminars and book signings. (A second Earth Fare debuted in Charleston, S.C., in 1997, and there are now about a dozen stores in the Southeast.) Greenlife Grocery, an all-natural supermarket from Chattanooga, Tenn., quickly gained a loyal following after opening a location last July in a former A&P just north of downtown Asheville. Earth Fare, 66 Westgate Pkwy., 828/253-7656; Greenlife Grocery, 70 Merrimon Ave., 828/254-5440. 24. Scenery made for the movies Gorgeous Lake Lure, 30 miles to the southeast of Asheville, subbed in for the Catskills in Dirty Dancing. A few miles away from the lake is Chimney Rock, a towering spire with 75-mile views. For The Last of the Mohicans, Daniel Day-Lewis was filmed running through the surrounding park for the dramatic finale. Chimney Rock Park, 800/277-9611, chimneyrockpark.com, $14. 24. 100-year-old home base A Bed of Roses, a B&B built in the late 1800s, sits on a quiet street in the Montford historic district, a 10-minute walk north of downtown. The innkeepers have decorated the five guest rooms with antiques they've been collecting for years. 135 Cumberland Ave., 828/258-8700, abedofroses.com, doubles from $119. 25. A pilgrimage to Pretty Place Five miles off of Highway 276, near the South Carolina border, there's a YMCA camp with a chapel that even nonbelievers can appreciate. The Fred W. Symmes Chapel, an open-air building better known as Pretty Place, sits atop a rock ledge so that the congregation can find divine inspiration in a sweeping panorama of the green valley below, home to Jones Gap State Park. The chapel is sometimes rented out for weddings and other special events, but most weekdays anyone can drive up to admire the astounding view or say a prayer. "All kinds of folks come up here to reflect and enjoy the scenery," says Doug Gregory, associate executive director of the camp. "And every year it seems a couple of people who went to the camp years ago come back and get engaged at sunrise." YMCA Camp Greenville, Cedar Mountain, 864/836-3291, campgreenville.org.

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