My journey through the Blue Ridge began as a trip to discover Virginia’s emerging wine country. It led to a haunted bed & breakfast, a secret fairy cottage in the forest and the tragic romance of a legendary Cherokee love story.
The Blue Ridge
The section of the Appalachian mountains known as the Blue Ridge runs wild from Georgia to Pennsylvania. On my trip, I only covered a small portion from Roanoke (just south of the Shenandoah Valley) down to the small-but-charming town of Hendersonville, NC (near Asheville).
I chose this section for its rich cultural heritage, its unique paranormal attractions and its pockets of pagan-friendly communities and accommodations.
The booze also makes it attractive.
While the American wine industry enjoys a large reputation on the West Coast, Virginia wines continue to capture the attention of wine enthusiasts looking for vineyards to try before they’re cool.
(In case you missed it, that was a joke for my hipster witches).
I finished my trip in Hendersonville, NC, which frequently ranks in the top regions for micro-breweries.
A Witch’s Path
In some ways, I believe my interest in natural living and witchcraft originated here in Appalachia with the traditions of my ancestors.
My mother’s family descends from these mountains. In my youth, I returned with her every year to visit my grandparents. Many hazy blue summer afternoons I spent trolling the fields for wild mint and berries. My grandmother taught me to string beans on the front porch and sew quilt squares in beautiful, intricate patterns she no doubt learned from her own grandmother.
The peculiar-but-fascinating branch of historical paganism known as Appalachian Granny Witchcraft influenced me greatly early on in my path. I continue to learn from it today, though (sadly, like many others) the art is dying.
As always, I aimed to access a lesser known, off-the-beaten trail itinerary. I love carving out paths for other pagans seeking unique travel experiences and pagan “pilgrimages” to destinations not necessarily “on the map” of most travel guides.
Home to colorful festivals, the hub of Virginia wine country and a cultural center in Appalachia, Roanoke welcomes guests from all over the world to experience the unique historical charms and rustic local artistry.
For me, the draw came in the form of a haunted historical bed & breakfast, where the owner welcomed me as a guest to experience for myself the Legend of Rose Hill.
Nestled on a sleepy street lined with historical homes and oak trees, Rose Hill houses one of Roanoke’s best kept secret haunted houses.
The owner, Wendy, doesn’t advertise that it’s haunted, and you won’t find its story on any other website that I was able to find.
I arrived on a clear, pleasant afternoon, climbing the front porch dotted with charming, iconically Southern wicker rocking chairs. Wendy greeted me at the door, breathless. She spent a good portion of the morning baking for her incoming arrivals.
When I asked her what made her Rose Hill Bed & Breakfast so magical, with an invisible wink, she summed it up this way:
“Come for the wine. Stay for the spirits.”
As I nibbled on my handmade peanut butter fudge, I had to agree. Something silent seemed to echo down the halls here.
When Wendy hinted at the paranormal in our conversation, I pressed her for more, and she promised to tell me her stories at breakfast.
I spent the night in the “Peacock Room,” so named for its indigo-hued touches and feathery theme, wondering what I knew not. 🙂
Haunted Houses & Hash Browns
The next morning, I sat down with Wendy over a delicious, 4-course, fully American South meal of peanut-butter-and-jelly pastries, an egg dish and chilled peach soup.
As I slurped my refreshing soup (chilled peach? how creative on a warm spring day!) she told me the story of this haunted palace.
Wendy says that during her initial renovations of the 100-year-old mansion, she disturbed several spirits, including the one of an especially irritated, formally living occupant. He apparently wandered the hallways, stomping loud footsteps. One night, they echoed so distinctively, she believed a living person might actually have intruded. She nearly fled out the front door, except she noticed something odd:
Her ordinarily alert dog slept undisturbed by the noise. Indeed, upon inspection, no one was upstairs.
Since then she says she discovered some puzzling evidence, including one strange morning after she made the beds in preparation for newly arriving guests. Before they got there, she walked into their bedroom to find an impression in the tightly tucked sheets. She believes them to be the impression of a woman and her dog. She even sent them to me to show you!
(The following images were taken by the Wendy of Rose Hill and used with permission).
Where I Ate
Roanoke was an overnight stopover for me, so I only ate two meals here, one of them in Wendy’s dining room at Rose Hill.
The other I researched exhaustively hoping to find an option both local and popular with the in-towners.
Roanoke offers a number of amazing dining options, but I wanted to try something truly regional. This particular corridor of Appalachia is known for its farm-to-table restaurants. The best known of these in Roanoke is Local Roots.
I tried the Prince Edward Island Mussels, which the server, Beth, told me about in detail.
She told me a regional sea captain, “Charlie-The-Fish-Guy,” drops the mussels off in the kitchen periodically.
There was something in the salad called salt wort. As a novice herbalist, I found this interesting. They get it locally in the fields here. I’m in the same planting zone and never heard of it. It looked a lot like dill, but tasted totally different. I liked it.
Where I Drank
Pro tip: If you plan to explore Virginia’s wine country, avoid Sundays! This deeply conservative, deeply Christian region pretty much shuts down on Sunday. Many restaurants and wineries close their doors for the Sabbath.
If you happen to find yourself in Roanoke on such an occasion, you still have options (before 5pm, anyway).
I grew up in the Beltway area outside of Washington, DC. So every time I climb these winding mountain roads in my (very, very) used Toyota, I involuntarily imagine skidding off one of the jaw-dropping cliffs.
The journey to Valhalla Vineyards tested both my courage and my horsepower.
But alas! Upon arrival, the smokey, blue-scorching landscape alone made the somewhat perilous journey worthwhile.
Take a moment and just . . . look.
I spent a season working in a winery, telling stories to tourists and locals alike about the finer points of Virginia wine history.
But I loved the art of wine making long before. That same Appalachian family from which I descend carried a long tradition of making wine—both when it was legal, and when it wasn’t. 🙂
So the castle-like doors of this grand tasting room swung open to welcome me, I felt the brief, fleeting nostalgia that floods the senses when one inhales the aroma of something familiar yet distantly in her past.
Inside, I met the friendly, knowledgeable Donna.
I opted for the premium tasting option. My favorite was the Alicante. Donna explained to me that this winery is the only one that grows this varietal outside the state of California. Absolutely delicious!
While in town, I also stopped by Parkway Brewing Company. I found it via the recommendation of locals at Local Roots.
But honestly, I actually stopped in it because I was driving by and I saw this awesome, re-purposed bus out front.
Hendersonville/Horse Shoe, North Carolina
About a four hour drive from Roanoke, I made my way through the valleys and foothills to the tiny city of Hendersonville, finally arriving in the late afternoon.
Winding down a gravel road and through the woodlands, I felt transported into a mystical forest as a remote from the bustle of city life as retreat in the Himalayas.
I made my way up a steep incline to find a gingerbread-like cottage at the crest.
I nearly expected a little gnome to emerge and offer me a crumpet.
I really appreciated the tiny touches of this little loft in the woods, like a mix-your-own station for body care products (plus pre-mixed ones with real essential oils), the spiral staircase, the custom finishes, and the hot-tub out front for soothing tired muscles from long walks!
Where I Ate & Drank
One of the great things about staying in a short-term rental instead of a hotel: honest food recommendations.
I worked in the hotel industry for nearly a decade. The restaurants recommended by the front desk staff often work out a deal with them to provide discounts in exchange for rave reviews to customers.
Owners/operators of small rentals usually don’t have the traffic or volume to get deals like this, so they recommend places they genuinely like.
Begin or end your day with a latte at Sweet Gypsy Coffee, an aptly named java joint for any traveling witch. I chatted up a barista named India (I know, coolest name ever). In addition to my coffee, I got the low down from her on a few inside secrets. She recommended the brewery I went to later that day, and told me where to go hiking. Afternoon plans? Done!
Of the four restaurants I tried in Hendersonville, this one was my favorite.
The hook for me? They serve crickets! Locally grown and harvested crickets! As the Goddess as my witness, I was fully prepared to try them and report back to you. Unfortunately, they were out of them for the night
So I tried one of their tapas (the “Taco Cubano”) and one of their clevered titled cocktails (“The Spicy Vampire Bite”).
You cannot leave the Henderson/Asheville without trying one of their award-winning microbreweries. Oskar Blues Brewery, located in the nearby town of Brevard, stood out to me as a clear leader.
I ordered a beer flight, which I recommend trying any time you step into an unfamiliar brewery, especially if you are just beginning to explore craft beer or don’t yet know what you like. Personally, I really enjoyed the Hotbox Coffee Porter.
Also worth stopping in—not so much for the food (which is decent, but pretty standard diner fare) but the atmosphere. Formally a pharmacy, it’s located in a historical building and continues its tradition of 1950s decor and servers dressed in the style of the era. I tried the “Beefalo Burger” (a combination of ground beef and buffalo).
What to See & Do
Dozens of miles of trails snake the area surrounding Hendersonville, cutting through the lush beauty of the Blue Ridge.
Waterfalls spill over the rushing creek beds and monarch butterflies flock to patches of brightly colored wildflowers, streaking the landscape with orange trails. High points look out over the robin’s egg blue haze of the mountains. If you’re lucky, you may even find a swimming hole or two.
If you’re not up for a 20-mile hike into the wilderness, Hooker Falls is an easy, rewarding 1/4 mile stroll.
If you’re a big vacation shopper, take a stroll on Mainstreet through Hendersonville and check out their noteworthy antique shops.
What to look for if you’re a practicing witch? Antique chalices, medicine chests for herbs and vintage jewelry, of course!
Jump Off Rock
Every small town needs a local legend to pass around the campfire or challenge dare-devil teenagers on Samhain.
Head over to Jump Off Rock to watch the sunset and read the legend of a young Cherokee lady in love and her tragic tale of a lost soldier.
If you’re a paranormal investigator, the cliff is said to be haunted by the young girl by who inspired the legend.
Mostly, though: it’s just really beautiful up there. Blessed Be.