As I strolled across the cobblestone driveway, I found myself imagining the sounds of horseshoes clicking down the uneven red pavement’s gentle slope. A mountain of boulders stood before me, obstructing my view of an endless horizon. This must be a monument, placed here by giants. The crudely cut boulders were stacked and fashioned into what appeared to be an enormous building that seemed to have risen out of the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Blocking out the sun, the structure echoed of a time long passed…a simpler time of gothic splendor. The roof mushrooms over the top as if the red shingles melted under the rays of a burning sun. Ever nearing the megalith, we passed between modern-day carriages greeted by coachmen, one motorized carriage at a time. As Mrs. Highlander and I pass under arches formed out of boulders, I am recalling past holiday seasons and the fables that have taken place here.
A tale of a waterfall is said to flow from the belly of a stone giant, its liquid silver cascading over stones finding its way into a mysterious submerged grotto. During this time of the year, an oversized bear has been seen throughout the halls of the stone giant, captivating children with antics and pranks. All the while, a rarely seen supernatural being clad in red with flocks of silver hair and beard is known to hold court with his devoted wife as children seek his serious counsel regarding "who’s been naughty and who’s been nice." Also, within the confines of the stone giant are tales of a mythical city with hundreds of homes ranging from modest means to more opulent styling. It is said that this magical city of bright colors and festive displays are so delectable… you will want to eat them in delight.
No, it is not the North Pole, or a mysterious holiday Shangri-La; it is The Grove Park Inn, in Asheville North Carolina and it is once again the holiday season.
Passing thru the doors of The Grove Park Inn, we entered into the Great Hall lobby and immediately found that the outside had flowed inside. Walls of boulders line the perimeter of the Great Hall lobby with square wooden columns supporting the ceiling. The grandeur of this stately hall is accented by two oversized stone or rather boulder fireplaces, standing in opposition to each other across the hall, the winter fires cast out a warm flow of heat that captures your senses and warms your feeling when you first walk in.
Giants, are no strangers when it comes The Grove Park Inn, with celebrities, dignitaries and a cast of renowned figures, these particular kind of giants have been seen roaming the halls of the Inn for nearly one hundred years, but mythical giants didn’t build this Inn. It was completed in 1913 by the vision of an “entrepreneur giant,” who out sold Coca Cola in the 1890’s with his own bottled elixir called “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic.” The health conscious, Mr. E. W. Grove of St. Louis, sought to build a retreat where visitors could find rest, relaxation and comfort in a beautiful mountain setting overlooking the valley and what has become the historic mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina. Today after much time and growth, the Inn is known as The Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa.
The holidays at The Grove Park Inn find the Grand Hall filled with guests and visitors from reaches, both near and far. Today was a day for special festivities throughout The Grove Park Inn. There were many parties and a large group of formally attired carolers gathered around the grand piano, filling the air with traditional holiday songs as they followed the passionate strokes of their conductor’s direction.
The spirit of Christmas past and the joy of Christmas present swarmed the Grand Hall as everyone moved about enjoying the hospitality of the Inn. Mrs. Highlander and I came to the Inn this day, to discover the bases of these fanciful holiday tales of strange beings and mysterious cities. Having conquered the tale of giants we moved on to our next objective, big mountain bear hunting.
Trying to pick up the trail of the bear, we sought help from what were possibly uniformed game wardens stationed throughout the Great Hall. We quickly gained an identity of the beast and its possible habitat. The giant bear was known as “Major Bear,” an impressive rank for an elusive bear. He’s known to come out of the deep forest this time of year and has been seen within the walls of the stone giant at a place call “Elaine’s.” Entering “Elaine’s,” we stalked around quietly before we came face to face with the legendary bear, we observed him engaging in what looked like fun and games with several pint sized children. We eased up to Major Bear and attempted to make contact. Pleasantly surprised was Major Bear's reaction, very cordial and accommodating, yet he had that "fraiddy-bear" look about him, must have been that large fluffy head, big round eyes and no teeth, which is probably why the kids love him, her or it
The Major Bear Party is an annual Christmas celebration at The Grove Park Inn. Major Bear arrives each year to visit and entertain the children and to help one of the Inn’s very special guests of honor. The honor line for this special guest was full of smiling children’s faces standing patiently along side their moms and dads. Up at the head of the line, sitting on a throne and accompanied by his wife were the phantoms themselves clothed in red. The honorable and lovable Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.
The innocence of the children’s faces set a glow around the room, as each child waits in nervous anticipation for the official representative of Christmas gift-giving, to present that delicate question...“have you been naughty…or have you been nice?” Nice... always seems to spill out from the little ones, as they received a warm and loving reminder concerning future behavior.
We now put behind us the tales of giants and boulders, mysterious beings in red and oversized bears. The only thing left was the mysterious waterfall and discovering the whereabouts of the fabled lost city.
Wandering the corridors of the stone walled giant, we came upon another uniformed service person and proceeded to fill her with tales of the fabled city, seeking any direction she could provide. Before she could answer our inquiry, she was summoned away…in her haste, she yelled over her shoulder, “Follow the gingerbread road.” Follow the gingerbread road seemed more like a clue than a direction, the puzzle was still incomplete. We continued on a trail thru a maze of corridors, before long, we found other wanderers, all being drawn in the same direction. This flow of people must be going somewhere, best we follow along.
Reaching a dead end, we descended into an atrium stairwell, avoiding the elevator to save time, we soon found ourselves right in the midst of the fabled city…a city constructed of gingerbread.
Spectators become guests each year as they lineup to walk the streets of the gingerbread city and view scaled models of dwellings fashioned out of gingerbread and other edible morsels. Each holiday season, just before Thanksgiving, contestants carefully make their way to The Grove Park Inn’s Annual Gingerbread Contest. The journey from their homes often requires extensive travel, maintaining the safety of their precious cargo destined to arrive at this hallowed event.
The Grove Park Inn’s Annual Gingerbread Contest, with over 200 entries. Drawn to this event are professional, dignitaries and celebrity judges all taking pride in the seriousness of their choices. Final judging is determined by overall appearance, originality, creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme. The number one rule, everything contained in or on the entry, must be edible, that sounds easy but when you see these creation you’ll think there must have been something magical going on in the kitchen. A tremendous amount of love and creativity goes into these delicate creations, from the simplest works of a child’s tiny fingers to the precision sculpting of mind blowing works of pastry art, created by adults who know what competition is all about. The passion of gingerbread house construction is alive and ever growing at The Grove Park Inn’s Annual Gingerbread Contest.
The gingerbread road begins with the youth entries and winds along thru the adult entries, completing with the current year’s winners. Along the line, you’ll view a variety of gingerbread works, from simple cabins to grand castles and mansions. We found an igloo with a family of snowmen including a pond for ice skating. Another entry was a replica of the Old Lady in the Shoe complete with rug rats climbing about. It’s a magical city of imagination, with temporary homes made from the heart of the child that resides in young and old alike.
With several of the myths and fables behind us, Mrs. Highlander and I made our way back towards the Great Hall. Along the way, we pass a continued flow of guests and visitors making their way to the fabled gingerbread city and other destinations within The Grove Park Inn. Back in the Great Hall lobby, we find ourselves once again lost in a sea of holiday joy with live musical performers rotating throughout the day.
Guests and visitors stroll and mingle while small groups sit around the many tables in the hall, ordering refreshments and other delights. In the middle of the room stood a large Christmas tree stretching from floor to ceiling beautifully decorated with ornaments and bows. Small groups of friends and families patiently took turns posing for pictures in front of the tree. To the side of the hall sat a large red sleigh with the words "The Grove Park Inn" painted in white, another photo opportunity for what I’m beginning to believe is a Grove Park Inn holiday tradition. A photographer is stationed alongside the sleigh for those looking for the more professional holiday shot.
As the day progressed, people came and left, dressed in a variety of attire, from casual to formal wear. Holiday parties were being held in private halls showering their festive spirits throughout the lobby as their guests moved about. The large fireplace along the side of the hall held its own atmosphere of peace and solitude with rocking chairs swaying back and forth. Once again, the hearth offered more photo opportunities but quick ones considering the heat on the backside.
Exiting the Great Hall, Mrs. Highlander and I found ourselves on the veranda. No longer is our vision obstructed by the stones of the giants, before us lies the great valley of Buncombe County and the endless horizon of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the head of the stairs, we could hear the rushing of water below. “From the belly of the stone giant flows a waterfall cascading over rocks and disappearing into a hidden grotto.” Descending the stairs we soon stood above the head of the falls, more stairs lead to the left and right of the waterfall, both stairways arriving at the bottom of the falls. Looking back up from the waterfall, presents a spectacular view of the historic stone structure and red roof of The Grove Park Inn. Towering high above the waterfall, the Inn stood alone, perched along the mountain slope. From this view, the waterfall appears to flow under a stone wall and into the grotto at the base of the falls. The mystery of the grotto is that it’s private, not open to the general public, it's part of the spa at The Grove Park Inn.
Working our way back up the staircase, we arrive back at the veranda and take a table for two. It’s time to relax after our adventure and what better place to relax than in the comfort of The Grove Park Inn. The veranda is large and spacious, small groups of guests sat around tables ordering food and drinks, joking and laughing in the warmth of a Blue Ridge Mountain winter sun. Other guests on the veranda sat in rocking chairs along the outer wall staring aimlessly into the setting sun, waiting for the light of day to end and the valley night lights to begin.
The Inn is enormous, with two newly added wings forming a courtyard surrounded by a total of 510 guest rooms plus an exceptional spa, restaurants, tennis courts, a health club and a premier golf course. Mrs. Highlander and I ordered from the lobby grill and reminisced over our day’s experiences. Finishing our meal, we joined our outdoor companions in a peaceful quite meditative worship of the setting sun. As the twilight grew nearer and the warmth of the sun faded, we ordered a couple of flavored coffees laced with spirits to ward of the chill and watch the magical twinkle of distant lights.
A perfect ending to a day of discovery. The Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa is not a holiday of lights and glitter drawing people to a luminous display. The Inn is subtle with decorations, set precisely to accent the original masculine design selected by Mr. E.W. Grove in 1912. The spirit and joy of the holiday season at the Grove Park Inn flows from the light in the souls of its guests and staff. It’s in the laughter, the music making, and the overall atmosphere of the Inn, it’s as though it were resonating from the stone boulders themselves.
Just by happenstance, we saw one more message we thought we would share with our readers; it was one of many quotes from famous authors carved in stone throughout the Inn. This particular one was located within the stone enclosure leading to the historic lobby elevator. The message was as plain as a wooden chalice and as simple as an innocent babe in a manger. It read, “Think of your own faults in the first part of the night when you are awake, and the faults of others when you are asleep.” A Christmas message of fellowship if I ever read one.
At the end of the day, seeing and more importantly, feeling the spirit and joy of all the guest, especially in the faces of the children we encountered, Mrs. Highlander and I left with a great feeling for the holiday season, it was like getting a "hope for humanity boost." When we're given the right opportunity, the time and the place, we often find ourselves sharing “peace on earth and good will to all."
We thank The Grove Park Inn for having the Blue Ridge Highlander as guests and opening its doors for the most special season of the year…