Apples to Apples: Find cider, craft beer, apple picking, and more in Hendersonville

You can’t compare Asheville to any of the smaller mountain towns around it. Asheville—site of the largest house in the entire country—has an unfair advantage.

But the towns surrounding Asheville are more than also-rans. Hendersonville is a destination itself. And the biggest event of the year for the picturesque town is the annual N.C. Apple Festival (Aug. 31 – Sept. 3). Main Street—restored to its original charm—becomes a nine block-long fair with arts vendors, festival food and, of course, local apples.

Hendo didn’t invent an apple festival as a tourist grab. Henderson County is North Carolina’s top apple-producing county. This is apple country to its core.

The most luxuriously comfortable place to stay in town may actually be outside city limits. The Bed & Breakfast on Tiffany Hill (tiffany-hill.com) is innkeeper Selena Einwechter’s dream come true. She built her pristine farmhouse on six acres in Mills River—about 25 minutes from downtown Hendersonville—by force of will and the unexpected luck of a layoff with severance.

The gracious inn, perched on a hill and surrounded by flower and herb gardens on what used to be a dairy farm, is a member of Select Registry, a network of boutique hotels, B&Bs, and inns.

Five suites are in the main house; two are in the carriage house. The Mountain Brook Suite, with a separate sitting area and its own wet bar and dining area, might be the prettiest.

Breakfast is a three-course, communal affair. The last course is something sweet—a strawberry crepe one day, pineapple pudding the next. Who doesn’t want dessert for breakfast?

A “human tree house” (as Einwechter calls it) lies just beyond the gardens. The rustic aerie is the perfect spot for an al fresco massage. Ask to schedule one when you book your reservation.

Eat/Drink

The mother of all breweries in the region is an outpost of California’s eco-friendly Sierra Nevada (sierranevada.com). And it’s just 10 minutes away from Tiffany Hill. Sign up (in advance!) for a free tour. Serious beer lovers might want to invest in the three-hour “Beer Geek” tour. Another tour involves a hike—so you’ll feel like you’ve earned the beer you get at the end.

The pastoral grounds—on 190 acres of forest along the French Broad River—are glorious. You could easily make Sierra Nevada your sole focus for the day.

The fare—like bison steak and duck fat fries—is much more than pub grub. The creative cuisine includes pretzels served with pimento beer cheese made with Hop Hunter brew and apple-cinnamon cake made with their Kellerweis.

Bar seating is first-come, first-served. Expect a wait for a table. Luckily, there’s a gorgeous outdoor area with a fire pit, corn hole, and—often—live music.

Hendersonville’s Main Street is filled with locally owned eateries. McFarlan Bakery (mcfarlanbakery.com) is legendary. They’re still using the same recipes they used in 1930 when they opened. Everything’s made from scratch. Apple turnovers, fritters, strudel, and loaf cake are fitting for fall. Chocolate glazed doughnuts are right anytime.

Postero (postero-hvl.com) offers creative Southern cuisine in a refined, but relaxed, atmosphere. Benton’s bacon mussels, catfish, and grits and seared local trout are standouts.

Craft cocktails have a Southern twist. Southern Son is made with Junior Johnson’s moonshine, ginger beer and house-made vanilla bean lemonade. The Idgie Threadgoode mixes N.C. Cardinal gin, St. Germain elderflower, grapefruit juice, and rosemary syrup.

Craving pizza? You won’t have to resort to a chain. Just off Main Street is West First Wood-Fired (flatrockwoodfired.com). The bread is organic; the sausage made in-house.

A couple of miles from Main Street is the just-so-crazy-it-works HenDough Chicken & Donuts (hendough.com). Cleverly named after Hendersonville’s sobriquet, the restaurant combines two beloved foods not generally thought of together: fried chicken and doughnuts. The diet-busting doughnut breakfast sandwich (bacon, sausage, and cheese between two doughnuts) may be too much of a good thing for some. The fried chicken sandwich with pickles and Duke’s mayo (and the French toast made with a doughnut) are just right.

Your Autumn Agenda for Hendo

Start at Bold Rock Hard Cider (boldrock.com). Just as with its Mills River neighbor, Sierra Nevada, there’s a lot more to do here than the obvious. A cider garden with picnic tables, outdoor music venue and a food truck are part of the landscape. Try the grilled pimento cheese with pulled pork and the house-made pork rinds.

But cider rules. The IPA—which I usually don’t care for—tastes floral, not hoppy. Carbonation makes it effervescent; it’s more prosecco than beer. “The bubbles last,” our bartender told us. “You can sip this slowly.”

Orchard Frost, their best-selling fall flavor, has hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.

Flat Rock Playhouse. The official state theater has its main stage in the Village of Flat Rock. But there’s a second, more intimate theater on Main Street in Hendersonville (flatrockplayhouse.org). Most shows are family-friendly.

Cheers! Trail. Eleven stops make up the self-guided tour of wineries, breweries, and cideries. Don’t miss (the easy-to-miss) Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider. (Visit their Facebook page; they don’t have a website.) This bucolic property is home to an orchard, a vineyard, and a 1940s tin-roofed barn, where you can sidle up the rustic bar and, on weekends, listen to live bluegrass.

Book a guided tour of all 11 with The Brewery Experience (thebreweryexperience.com) or The Trolley Company (thetrolleycompany.com).

Orchard Trail. Pick your own fruit at any of 20 farms. At Sky Top Orchard (skytoporchard.com), the view is magnificent and the apple cider doughnuts are made while you watch. Celebrate apple-picking season with a hot caramel or fudge apple. You’re on vacation.

DuPont State Recreational Forest. About 90 miles of trails and dirt roads wind through 10,000 acres of forest. If the land looks familiar, you may have seen it in The Last of the Mohicans or The Hunger Games. Of the three waterfalls on the property, Hooker Falls is the most accessible.

Art on 4th. This tiny space is worth seeking out. Just off Main Street, it’s an artist-owned gallery of paintings, pottery and jewelry with a teaching studio and workshop space.

Mast General Store. As authentic as the day is long. Whatever you need—from clothes to mountain crafts to old-timey hard candy— Mast is likely to have it.

Learn more at VisitHendersonvilleNC.org.

(Photo Credit: Sam Dean)