© Photo courtesy of Visit Charlotte
Great golf, fine food and laidback attractions make this North Carolina city perfect for a long weekend
Charlotte, NC is perhaps not the destination that first jumps to mind in a state that’s home to the fabled Blue Mountains and 450 kilometres of coastline including the Barrier Islands and some of the best beaches on the Atlantic seaboard.
But wait: it’s the largest city in North Carolina, it’s the second-largest financial centre in the US after New York, and the food and accommodations are first class. With a population of less than 750,000 and a heralded new rapid transit system, it’s easy to get around. There are more than 100 golf courses in the area and the weather’s pleasant. These must be some of the reasons the Democrats chose Charlotte for their national convention in this election year. The session to select the candidates for president and vice-president will be held on September 6 at the Bank of America Stadium.
The city is the headquarters to America’s biggest bank’s and was also home to Wachovia which was acquired by Wells Fargo, as a result of the financial meltdown. The merged bank, now the nation’s second largest, maintains a strong presence in the city. The irony of the Democrats meeting in a location with such close ties to the bailouts that continue to dog the administration says a lot about the city’s attractiveness.
Small is beautiful
Good hotels abound — all the major chains have properties here — but for something with more enduring local roots, try the Dunhill Hotel (237 North Tryon Street; tel: 704-332-4141; dunhillhotel.com; doubles from US$169) on uptown Tryon Street (downtown elsewhere is uptown here). Built as a hotel 80 years ago, it has the seductive character of an elegant place that has lived through turbulent times and thrives anew. The rooms are tastefully decorated; the marble showers, commodious; the dinning room, intimate; the lobby bar, a snug spot perfect for a glass of wine of a late afternoon. Discerning visitors familiar with small hotels like Toronto’s Windsor Arms will feel right at home. Another pleasant surprise, the rates are remarkably reasonable.
You'll find out more about Charlotte in a happy hour at the Levine Museum of the New South (200 East Seventh Street; museumofthenewsouth.org; US$6 includes parking) than almost anywhere else. Funded by Leon Levine, the founder of the 7000-store Family Dollar chain, the museum's main exhibit is Cottonfields to Skyscrapers, a series of rooms that recreate periods in the city's history.
Visitors meander from farm to mill, city shop to segregated bus and lunch counter and are encouraged to touch, hold, listen, photograph, video and discuss. What you hear most often is: “I didn’t know that!” As popular with locals as it is with visitors, it’s a delight, the kids will love it, don’t miss it. Until September 9, the museum will host a special exhibit titled Down home: Jewish life in North Carolina. You’ll find the museum right at the start of Charlotte’s much-lauded new rapid transit system, also worth a look.
Here’s a concept: build an artificial river in a 400-metre loop with lots of challenging rapids to shoot, fill it with 45-million litres of water and invite the Canadian and US Olympic kayak teams to stage their trials there. And another thing, open it to the public.
The 160 wooded hectares of the US National Whitewater Center (5000 Whitewater Parkway; usnwc.org; adults US$54, kids under 10 US$44) offer visitors much more than challenging kayak and canoe runs. There’s mountain biking and running on nearly 22 kilometres of trails as well as zipline adventures across valleys and through the tree tops, rock climbing on two outstanding walls and stand-up paddle boarding on a natural lake.
Just 24 kilometres out of town, the $38-million project is a non-profit partnership, but the vibe is much like what you might find at an upscale wilderness camp: it’s all a whole lot of outdoor exercise and fun. All equipment from watercraft and paddles, to mountain bikes and helmets are provided as part of the entrance fee.
Or you can merely sit and watch. Sit at a café table on the big deck overlooking the river, eat, quaff draft beer and watch others exercise themselves into delirium. Picnics welcome anywhere. Rock bands regularly stage concerts on the property and there’s one of the best fireworks displays in the state to celebrate July 4th. Southern Living magazine calls the centre, “the best deal in the state.”
The Dunhill Hotel is a short walk from the EpiCentre (East Trade Street; epicentrenc.com), an uptown mall which is home to restaurants, bars, pubs and nightlife including the Enso Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar (210 East Trade Street; ensocharlotte.com). It’s a good choice when you’re feeling upbeat and hip. Plush banquettes, surround low tables and cosy sofas, there’s an elegant sushi bar and a new separate dinning room that can be divided into smaller spaces for private parties. The ceilings are high, the room dark, the music cool and loud. The voluminous Asian menu offers hot entrees in addition to full sushi offerings. Servings are generous and tasty, if a shade pricey. A terrific place to unwind, it’ll be jumpin’ during the Democratic convention.
Other nearby choices include Aria Tuscan Grill (100 North Tryon Street; ariacharlotte.com) which has good Italian food, moderately priced and popular with locals, as well as Blue Restaurant and Bar (206 North College Street; bluecharlotte.com) which offers dishes from all around the Mediterranean. It's popular so reservations are recommended.
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