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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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…
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