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Trip Report Trip Report - Vermont To Georgia and Biltmore Estate in North Carolina

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We're retired and in our sixties. A while ago, we decided to drive from where we live in Vermont down to northern Georgia to visit a beloved, elderly aunt (97 and still a delight) who now lives down there. Since we also enjoy staying in B&B's, we sought out good ones along the way, and found the vast majority of them to be all that we had hoped for. This would also be a "test" for us, too, because we were involved in a serious accident in January of this year, and we wondered how we would cope with traffic and trucks, especially, as I had noted in a separate post previously under "Route 81 in Virginia".

We packed a number of snacks and a few cans of chilled soda in a small cooler, with reusable ice packs. Our snacks included our favorite crackers and a package of Cracker Barrel "cheese sticks", as well as some fruit, and 2 water bottles accessib le from the front seat. (We both find that occasional sips of plain water can be a big help when driving. Some people say that travel is dehydrating, and we agree.)

We left Vermont on Monday, April 13, the day after Easter. My wife settled in with her maps and directions, and we were off. (Yes, the double meaning IS obvious!) All told, we would drive a total of 2,500 miles, through 10 other states, before we returned on Sunday, April 19. I drove the whole way, and my wife navigated. We've always taken our trips that way, and find that it works well for both of us. (By the way, we never paid a single toll on the whole trip!)

Here's a synopsis of our trip. If I have made errors on route numbers or whatever, I apologize in advance. I'm still a bit tired!

DAY ONE -- MONDAY --VERMONT TO WILKES-BARRE, PA VIA I-90, I-88, and I-81.

We packed our car (a P T Cruiser) and left home at 10:00, driving down U.S. Routes 7 and 22 to Stephentown, NY, where we met our daughter for breakfast before leaving for the first day's travels. We then drove to Albany, NY and briefly picked up I-90 (the New York Thruway), until we reached I-88, which we took to Binghamton. Note: We found I-88 to be an excellent way to reach I-81 South. It is also toll-free.)

Highway construction on I-81 slowed us considerably! However, we reached some friends' home in Wilkes-Barre late in the afternoon and spent the night with them before proceeding the next day.

DAY TWO -- TUESDAY -- WILKES-BARRE, PA TO CHRISTIANSBURG, VA VIA I-81

This was our only rainy day, and the only day that we had not made some kind of advanced plans for the evening's lodging (something we usually do). We had deliberately left our plans open because of the serious auto accident noted above, so that we could possibly even abort the whole trip, if need be! We found ourselves feeling comfortable with the driving, however, so we decided to proceed. However, because of our discomfort with where we might stay that night, we had decided that, henceforth, we would always reserve in the morning, choosing a place that was an achievable distance away.

Thankfully, we found a lovely place (The Oaks Victorian Inn) in Christiansburg, VA. We arrived there late that afternoon. The inn was very luxurious, there were "treats" in the common areas as well as in our room, the innkeeper was a joy, the room and bath were excellent.

DAY THREE -- WEDNESDAY -- CHRISTIANSBURG, VA TO NORTHERN GA VIA I-81, I-40, I-26, I-85, AND VARIOUS OTHER HIGHWAYS.

The breakfast at The Oaks the next morning was wonderful. We would definitely stay here again.

This was to be a day in which we hoped that "shortcuts" would take us through portions of Tennessee and North Carolina and into northern Georgia. However, those plans changed quite a bit, based on advice from the folks in the Tennessee Travel Center! They asked if we had ever taken the secondary roads we planned to take through the Smokies, and, when we said we had not, they urged us to reconsider. They advised us that there would be "switchbacks" and steep grades, as well as some drop-offs along the roads in question.

Since my wife dreads those elements of any road, they recommended that we stay with interstates, using I-40 to Asheville, NC, then I-26 to Spartanburg, SC, and I-85 back across to Atlanta (or near there). This meant a LOT of extra miles for us, but we chose to listen to them and proceeded to go that way. (Others may be able to tell us now whether or not we erred.)

This was our longest day, distance-wise. We drove more than 500 miles, which is a lot for us. We arrived at our reserved (sight unseen) B&B after 9:00 p.m. that night, exhausted and eager for sleep. Unfortunately, this was our only "bad choice" along the way. The B&B looked okay in books we had, but turned out to have what we felt were serious drawbacks. (I have chosen not to name this place, but it was a "lodge" outside of Dahlonega, GA.) It was supposed to be "nonsmoking", but for us nonsmokers, it obviously smelled of stale cigarette smoke, and there was no A/C in our room, which also appeared not to have been "upgraded" in several years, resembling a motel room. We opened a window in our room, only to have a large dog start barking loudly outside at about 1:00 a.m.! This continued until after 3:30, obviously leaving us unable to sleep!

We determined not to even wait for breakfast. We had paid, anyway, and simply explained that my wife felt ill (not totally untrue!) and that we were leaving. When I complained about the dog, the innkeeper simply said "That must be the neighbor's dog. Sorry about that."

DAY FOUR -- THURSDAY -- DAHLONEGA, GA TO ASHEVILLE, NC VIA I-85 AND I-26

We were happy to leave our last B&B, and found a Waffle House in town where we had coffee and breakfast! We made our way to visit my dear aunt and thoroughly enjoyed several hours with her. We then returned to Asheville, NC via a secondary road to I-85 and then I-26, to a fabulous inn -- the Albemarle -- for the night.

The Albemarle was truly a luxurious inn. We arrived at about 5:00 p.m., just in time for their "cocktail hour", consisting of a glass of wine (your choice) and some excellent and unusual hors d'oeuvres, shared by several other couples who were also staying there. We later enjoyed an excellent but reasonably priced dinner at a restaurant a couple of blocks away

Everything about the Albemarle was superb, from the spectacular woodwork in the lobby, to the staff, the food and wine, the bed, and everything else were all that anyone could ask for!

DAY FIVE -- FRIDAY -- THE BILTMORE ESTATE AND BACK TO VA. VIA I-40 and I-81

Breakfast at the Albemarle was excellent. It was truly a 3-course meal that included juices, coffee and tea, fruit, quiche, and more, all prepared by their chef Tracy, and served by wait staff and the innkeeper herself, who wanted to be sure she chatted pleasantly with all of us.

After breakfast, we checked out and left to tour the Biltmore Estate, also in Asheville. I could go on and on about this special part of our trip, but, instead, I urge anyone who can do so to visit the Biltmore for themselves. (I imagine the Biltmore has been described elsewhere, anyway. If not, I welcome questions.) This is the fabulous Vanderbiilt estate, described as the "finest and biggest home in the United States". Tours are not inexpensive, but they are worth every penny.

The tour cost is $50.00 per person, but discounts are available from AAA, apparently, and we found that handicapped tickets were just $34.00 each, but only allowed us to visit the first and second floors. (My wife is unable to be on her feet for too long, anyway, so we opted for the lower-priced tickets.) However, on the second floor, one tour guide was about to usher us up to the third floor, anyway. When I pointed out our limitations, he said simply "No problem -- go ahead, if you really want to. Other people do!"

We were awed, as are most people, by the house and grounds.

After touring the Biltmore, we left on I-40 toward I-81 for our next B&B, the Trinkle Mansion, in Wytheville, VA. (This is pronounced "With-ville.")

The Trinkle Mansion B&B is magnificent. (I hope I haven't overused that word!) It truly was the governor's mansion many years ago, but had apparently fallen into sad disrepair before the current owners bought it a few years ago. One would never know of the condition they describe back then, based on the beauty that one finds there now! The furnishings are truly lovely, the huge and beautifully restored staircase is what one might expect in a mansion like this, and the rooms were expansive and delightful, as were the bathrooms. We slept very soundly here!

DAY SIX -- SATURDAY -- WYTHEVILLE, VA TO HERSHEY, PA VIA I-81

Breakfast at the Trinkle Mansion was another three-course delight, served at a beautifully set table, complete with silver and crystal. After chatting with other guests and the innkeepers, we headed north again on I-81 toward Hershey, PA.

Our B&B in Hershey was The 1825 Inn B&B. This is within eyeshot of Hershey Park , but we had been to Hershey several times many years ago, and were only interested in a good place to stay for the night this time, before striking out for home on Sunday.

The innkeeper is a very nice young man who has obviously worked hard to upgrade and repaint the rooms in the inn. He is currently also working on the exterior, so I know it will look even better in the future. He also was able to direct us to an inexpensive "family style" restaurant a mile or so away, which we appreciated.

Our room was somewhat small, but had its own bath, was very clean, and was obviously recently painted and decorated.

DAY SEVEN -- SUNDAY -- HERSHEY, PA TO VERMONT VIA I-81, I-88, I-90 AND RTE 7.

Breakfast at the 1825 Inn was charming and delicious, served in somewhat rustic but pleasant surroundings. We felt rested and refreshed when we left, and would stay there again, too.

Needless to say, we were thrilled to finally be headed home again, having logged well over 2,000 miles in the past few days. It was also nice to contermplate sleeping in our own bed, and so nice not to have to "reserve" a room! We also found that most of the construction on I-81 (causing the delays experienced on the way down) apparently was NOT in process on Sunday. We decided that we'd try to pass through that area on a Sunday, if we did that route again!!

We arrived home Sunday evening, happy to find that all was in good order. We had actually driven 2,507 miles in the past week! After unpacking most of our things, and after checking to be sure the house was still in one piece and not destroyed by our two cats (!), we called our local children and the person who had watched and fed our kitties, and then collapsed and turned in early. Yes, we slept VERY soundly!

CONCLUSIONS

This was an ambitious undertaking for a couple in their late sixties. We had always made advance reservations for each stop, and found that first day to be very stressful because we had not done so. (The first few places we called were booked, and it got more and more frustrating to be dialing numbers on our cell phone, in a rainy rest area on I-81.) As I said, we determined to always reserve each morning for that night after that.

We found the highways to be generally very good, except for the delays on I-81 in northern PA, apparently a common thing. Getting to I-81 via I-88 was a surprise bonus, since there were fewer trucks (we think) and no tolls.

Again, the Biltmore Estate is truly a remarkable landmark and worth a day.

I would be happy to try to reply to anyone who wants to know more about any part of this trip.

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