Charlotte; the place for food, fun and fast cars.

By | Category: Travel destinations
Nascar on the track

Nascar on the track

With an international airport, a bumper crop of new restaurant chefs, a thriving arts district, the interactive Nascar Hall of Fame and proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Charlotte makes an excellent base for a week long break.

Did you know there is a city in North Carolina that has had a symphony orchestra for 82 years? Or that top Hollywood films and TV series The Hunger Games, Homeland, The Last of the Mohicans and Days of Thunder, were filmed here? And would you expect a city of about 800,000 residents south of the Mason Dixon Line to be second only to New York City’s Wall Street for financial services in the country?

Welcome to Charlotte. It is home to Bank of America and its corporate offices, originally North Carolina National Bank, as well as a host of other financial institutions such as Wells Fargo (formerly Wachovia), and a whole array of regional banks. This exceptionally strong sector, helped by pioneering businessmen such as Hugh McColl of Bank of America, is fuelling the growth of Charlotte. The energy industry is also flourishing here with big companies such as Duke Energy, Siemens, CB&I and Piedmont Natural Gas all making an impact.

Independence Square

Independence Square

As a consequence of this, Charlotte’s ever expanding multi-cultural and sophisticated population are looking for high end experiences. A positive development for visitor’s coming to stay here.

To get an overview, I took a Segway tour with NC Tours. Our knowledgeable guide, Tremaine, shared all sorts of interesting facts about the city. I was most impressed with the four bronze statues at the intersection of Tryon and Trade, also known as Independence Square, which represent the city’s past, the future, industry and transportation. These spoke volumes of the thrust and inventiveness of this interesting city.

RESTAURANTS and BARS

On a visit to Charlotte, don’t just expect to find traditional Southern cooking when on the hunt for a meal.   All types of restaurants are opening in the city and its outskirts. Apparently, there is a bumper crop of chefs to be found cooking in places as casual as the 7th Street Public Market or as sophisticated as Asbury’s at the Dunhill Hotel.

Speaking of Asbury’s, I had a fantastically fresh ‘farm to fork’ meal here. Native Charlottean, Chef Chris Coleman, spent summers on his grandparent’s holding in Mississippi and is a proponent of organic farm practices. I tried one of his top heirloom tomato recipes and also the catch of the day. Both were fresh and succulent, while the dessert was a deconstructed delight of in season blueberries and strawberries.

When looking for something authentic and more down to earth, Chef Chris himself recommends Miguel’s on a service road near I-85 close to the airport. Best fajitas and margaritas around according to Mr. Coleman.

the Punch Room

the Punch Room

On the take-away front, try Price’s Chicken Coop on 1614 Camden Road (worth the queue for the top notch southern fried chicken). And if you fancy a good ole fashioned fried bologna sandwich try these cafes: The Diamond (order it “Southern style”), Pinky’s Westside Grill, Brooks’ Sandwich House (ask for it “all the way”) and Tavern on the Tracks.

Fancy popping out for a bevvie? There are exclusive bars such as The Punch Room nestled into the 15th floor of The Ritz, 201 East Trade Street, much like speak easies of old. The Lobby Lounge, which is just downstairs, was buzzin’ the Friday night I was there. The NoDa Brewing Company has won awards for its legendary IPA while legal moonshine is making waves on the cocktail front in bars all over town.

NASCAR

There are two ways to experience Nascar in Charlotte: (1) the Nascar Hall of Fame interactive museum downtown or (2) be completely immersed in the race day events at the Charlotte Speedway in nearby Concord.

I have time to visit the Nascar Hall of Fame and am not disappointed. On the first floor is a typical speedway track with a whole variety of historic cars on display. Visitors are allowed to walk up the banked sections to get an idea of what a 33 degree angle might feel like. It is absolutely impossible to stand up straight. This is when I realised why this is such an exciting race to watch; the speed that cars attain when accelerating out of these banks and bends is incredible, often up to and exceeding 200mph. And the close proximity of the cars to one another creates tension and excitement as well.

a simulator for wheel changing in the Hall of Fame. Cold you beat a pit team's time?

a simulator for wheel changing in the Hall of Fame. Cold you beat a pit team’s time?

Not only are there a range of vintage cars, there are exhibits in honour of real-life racers. But my top pick for entertainment value is the true to life Nascar simulator. I had a try on the rehearsal simulator and couldn’t quite believe how hard it was to control a vehicle in a mocked up race.

Much of the history of Nascar is wrapped up in moonshine (illegal alcohol production). Nascar grew out of the souped-up car chases between moonshiners and the police. If the moonshiners’ cars got faster, then the police had to alter their cars to make them go faster in order to catch ‘em. Soon these chases moved to the speedway and the fabulously popular sport of Nascar was born. The recent 30 year sprint car anniversary race in Charlotte, which reported an enormous turn out, shows that the popularity of Nascar is not abating but only increasing.

ACTIVITIES IN AND OUT OF TOWN

For those who like to take in a game of basketball and other professional sports, the Bank of America stadium is right in the midst of downtown and where you will find all the action. Plus, Music concerts of every variety are on offer at venues such as the PNC Music Pavilion, Ovens Auditorium, the Fillmore and the Charlotte Uptown Amphitheatre.

The Mint Museum is well worth with its interesting historical exhibits as Adrian noted when he was at the opening of the new site of the museum four years ago. Also, fit in a visit to the arts district on Davidson Blvd., known as NoDa. It is a thriving, fun scene with artist’s studios, eateries and also the Chop House music venue.

Lake Norman and Lake Wylie are only a ½ hour drive from the city centre and offers most water sports and fishing, plus, there is picnicking, biking and hiking on or along its 845 miles of pristine shoreline.

one of the many vintage Nascar racers on display

one of the many vintage Nascar racers on display

And just a two hour drive away, are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are also astonishingly beautiful locations like Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain which are now serious attractions. The animal habitats at Grandfather Mountain offer a glimpse into the wildlife of the area including deer, black bears and wild eagles. The mile-high swinging bridge, high above the forests below, has astonishing views of the surrounding area. In late spring, the rhododendron and pinkshell azalea (native only to northwest North Carolina) are in bloom, along with the delicate mountain laurel flowers. A riot of pink set against the green forests and the blue skies.

Visitors can experience an enormous variety of things to do in Charlotte and its environs. For those planning a visit in the spring or autumn – to avoid the heat of summer – you find fall foliage or spring blooms adding to the experience.

For more information on Charlotte, North Carolina click here or go to www.charlottesgotalot.com.

 

Images and story © Lynn Houghton

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , , ,