Touring Scenic Eastern Tennessee in August
By Jo Ann Holt On October 17, 2012 @ 8:58 pm In Travel | No Comments
Spending time in the state of Tennessee, with its beautiful scenery, great music scene, and fine Southern cooking has been at the top of my Dream Vacation List for some time. So it was with great anticipation that my husband and I recently planned an end-of-summer trip to drive across the state, flying into Nashville on a Sunday and leaving one week later.
It was 106 degrees in August in Dallas, Texas, when we boarded an American Airlines flight at DFW and a blissfully cooler 80+ degrees when we landed a few hours later in Nashville, Tenn. Picking up an Infiniti FX 35 at the airport, we headed east on IH 40, a three and a half hour drive to our headquarters in Marriott’s Fairfield Inn in Sevierville, (named for a former Governor of the state) at the foot of the Smoky Mountains.
For three days, we were treated to lots of green scenery, some rain, and wonderfully cooler temperatures in the 60s and 70s, in Eastern Tennessee. Sheer bliss!
Sunday night we dined at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant where their legendary apple fritters, fresh veggies, chicken and dumplings, and desserts were so delicious and the service so friendly we felt like long-lost relatives. Sevierville’s Applewood Farms celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2012 and have become a favorite destination for locals as well as tourists to the area. We will definitely go back again!
The next day we visited Country Music icon Dolly Parton’s intensely personal Pigeon Forge theme park, Dollywood, where we were delighted to catch an outdoor concert (Dolly’s Family Reunion) by some of Dolly’s relatives in a band that included an uncle, aunt, niece, and several cousins. We also discovered the food in Dollywood was head and shoulders above that of most theme parks, especially the lunch buffet at Aunt Granny’s Café.
My husband was so enthralled with the pinto beans, boiled cabbage, and chicken and dumplings at that establishment, he insisted on visiting the kitchen to personally thank the cooks. I’m afraid I was too busy sampling the bread pudding to join him.
Other Dollywood highlights included the 1960s themed Dreamland Drive-In stage show, the Kingdom Heirs Gospel Group, and a visit to Dolly’s Attic, tour bus, and Dolly’s Closet. While we didn’t have time to experience any of the rides, the new Wild Eagle roller coaster ride was drawing raves (and lots of screams) from those brave souls who tried it.
That evening we visited local favorite, The Shiny Diner, where my husband was thrilled to find Bison and Elk burgers on the menu, along with various other specialties. I tried a deluxe “Cadillac DeVille” version with avocado, bacon, blue cheese, and Bison meat that was one of the best burgers I ever tasted. Owners Howard and Susan Kingsbury turned out to be friendly refugees from Texas, and we had a great visit with them (taking a few slices of Susan’s delicious homemade coconut cream and lemon pies with us as we left).
The new Smoky Mountain Opry show was our next stop, where we enjoyed terrific music from the 1940s through today. A talented ensemble performed everything from country to Crosby, Sinatra, Elvis, and even Michael Jackson. Production values of this multimedia show rivaled Broadway. The new band cart has over 10,000 LED lights that move and change color, and two step-out sections allow the performers to be above the audience. We were most impressed by the flying fiddlers, who showed their virtuosity by playing terrific music while dangling from overhead wires.
The next day we drove through rain showers to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), established in the 1930s and now (with over 9 million visitors annually) the most visited national park in the United States, where 100 species of native trees attain record or near-record dimensions. Some 150 trails totaling over 800 miles and lots of campsites are available in the park, and bear sightings are rumored to be quite frequent. Unlike most national parks, the GSMNP does not charge a fee.
That evening we attended the 5 p.m. Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show, where rival clans compete primarily by name-calling and fiddle playing rather than shooting each other. There was some shouting and shooting (blanks) and barn burning, but other than that, everyone was brought together thanks to Granny McCoy’s platters of fried chicken, pulled pork BBQ, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, pinto beans, slaw, and cornbread and biscuits with sweet tea while watching the onstage action.
I had been eager to see this show after being totally mesmerized by the History Channel’s recent mini-series on the Hatfields and McCoys starring Kevin Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield, Bill Paxton as Randal McCoy, and Powers Booth as Wall Hatfield. While the dinner show was more of a fun-filled spoof of the feud, highlights included the phenomenal cloggers whose dancing alone was worth the price of admission.
Wednesday morning we said farewell to Eastern Tennessee and the Fairfield Inn, where we had enjoyed great Southern hospitality that included free Wi-Fi and an expanded continental breakfast every morning. As we headed back to Nashville and Memphis to experience some of the great country, rock, and blues music those towns are famed for, we vowed to return as soon as time permits to explore more of scenic Eastern Tennessee.
Jo Ann Holt is a journalist based in Dallas, Texas.
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