summer getaway, Travel, Vacation

A Perfect Weekend Getaway — Bear Lake Reserve

With temperatures as hot as Hades in the Tennessee valley, the kiddos and I packed up and headed toward the Blue Ridge Mountains for a weekend getaway.  A quick google search on VRBO for properties that included mountains, a lake, and a swimming pool led us to a brand new destination spot:  Bear Lake Reserve

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Tucked high up in the North Carolina peaks at an elevation of 2600 feet, this 2,100-acre gated community is spectacular.  Upon entering, you feel like you’ve escaped into a whole other world where you are immediately welcome and among friends.  The resort offers a full-service restaurant, a nine-hole golf course, two swimming pools, 20 miles of hiking trails, a game room, a fitness facility, and a daily list of planned activities for kids and families.

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The heart of the community, though, is a glassy 500 acre lake hedged by majestically tall mountain tops that jut from the ground like a royal crown, surrounding the pristine water.  Reaching out to meander in and out of hidden forest coves, this lake is dotted with a small island that offers the simple thrill of a rope swing.  Bear Creek calls for you to enjoy her cool temperatures, offering fishing, boat rentals, wave runners, kayaks, and paddle boards.  She doesn’t disappoint.

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I decided I might as well let my rowdy ragamuffins take in everything the lake had to offer.  The wave runners were brand new and very quick, giving us a full-on fast adventure … while paddle boards and kayaks urged us to slow down and soak in the beauty of the day and early evening.  The rental rates are reasonable, and the supply is plenteous.  Hope and Charlie enjoyed it all.

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Since we were only going to be staying for a weekend, we never left the Bear Lake Reserve property.  The Lake Club, a 14,000 square foot rock faced facility, has three restaurants and provided one big meal a day for us.   Their menu has everything from burgers and wraps to shrimp & grits and tenderloin.  Want to eat by the pool?  No problem.  But they also offer dining on an outside deck overlooking the lake or in their upscale restaurant space.  And at night, even in the summer, the temps are cool enough for fleecy sweatshirts and fireside chats.  With large stone fireplaces strategically placed on the lodge property, visitors can always find a warm spot to sit and relax.

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The pool area is vast.  There is a poolside grill, an abundance of lounge chairs and fresh towels, and a staff that waits on you hand and foot.  You can even have a poolside massage if you schedule one.  I can’t say enough about the staff … they are kind and eager to assist.  And as far as accommodations go, we chose a two bedroom condo.  Only a couple of minutes from the lodge, it was a perfect location.  I found the owner through VRBO , and she was a dream to work with.


If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that feels like a true escape from reality, I’d highly recommend Bear Lake Reserve.  Peace has been created with great intention, from the choice of music that plays through the speakers to the gorgeous flowers that line every path.  The WiFi works great at the lodge, but not really anywhere else on property, which gives much needed unplugged time.  Honestly, this place will exceed all of your expectations.

Just my thoughts.



Why Anna Maria Island?




“Anna Maria Island … hmmmm.  I’ve never heard of it.”  

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that statement.  Anna Maria Island is still somewhat of a hidden gem, and that’s precisely what makes it so amazing.  As soon as you pull into the quaint beach town, you escape every semblance of modern architecture and return to the safety net of yesteryear when days passed by at a much slower pace.  It’s heavenly.

Only seven miles long and two miles wide, there’s no planned community, no Taco Bell or Walmart, and very few stoplights.  Golf carts, bicycles, and flip flops are the preferred modes of transportation.  The mood?  Friendly.  And the beach?  Exquisite.

On some visits, I rent a house on Anna Maria, because there are so many extraordinary houses to choose from.  But most of the time I choose to stay in a three bedroom condo on the ground floor of the Mainsail Beach Inn.  Within ten steps of the sliding glass door, my feet are on the beach and my body is enjoying a lounge chair the condo sets up daily for all of it’s guests.



The Inn is well-appointed, clean as a whistle, and convenient to everything.  The staff, however, is the selling feature.  They are beyond warm and accommodating.  Because most guests return, they actually call people by name.  They even know my kids.  haha.  And if that doesn’t top the proverbial cake, the sunset view from the back porch is enough to draw me back time and time again.  It will you as well.  You have to see it to believe it.

But how about the food?  On such a small island, there can’t be too many food options, right?  Uhhhh, no.  There are so many options.  Yummy fresh seafood can be found at several local restaurants, but my favorite food on the Island comes from Vinny and Cheryl’s Italian Kitchen.  Go ahead and say it.  Italian food on an Island sounds sketchy.  I was a doubter too, at first.

Rumor has it that Vinny and Cheryl’s was once a booming catering business in New York City.  They retired, moved to Anna Maria Island, and when word spread about their ability to make homemade Italian fare from scratch, unsolicited orders started coming to them.  That is where their new establishment was born (Arrivederci to retirement!!!).  If you don’t place your order early, you’ll have a two or three hour wait to get your food.  And people wait. The demand is that high, because their food is that good.

Vinny and Cheryl’s is not a sit down restaurant, by the way.  It’s a ‘place your order and pick it up’ gig.  And the portion sizes will blow your mind.  As soon as I start heading toward the Island, I place my order for the week.  My favorite dishes are the Stromboli (half pepperoni and half sausage), the Penne Vodka, and the Tortellini Alfredo.  Right now, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.  If you go to Anna Maria Island, this little green building is a must!

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And as in any authentic beach town, desserts are important as well.  Anna Maria Island, once again, doesn’t disappoint.  My two faves are Two Scoops and The Donut Experiment.  Two Scoops, as the name implies, gives you a customary two scoops of ice cream.  (Two scoops — how nice of them!!!)  With thirty- two homemade flavors to choose from, the place never gets boring.  As for The Donut Experiment, it’s an experiment that shouldn’t be skipped if you are a donut lover.  When you enter the store, you are given a fresh baked cake donut.  From that point, you can go crazy choosing icings and toppings to make your own donut creation.  Bacon, Caramel, Key Lime, and Chocolate Chips are on the menu … so, yeh, it’s a winner.



So now that you know where you’re going, it’s time to talk about how to get there once you’re on the Island.  For golf carts, bikes, and paddle board rentals, I use Beach Bums. They will deliver whatever you want whenever you want it … right to your door.  In all of the times I’ve visited, I’ve never had one single issue with any of our rentals.  Beach Bums keeps things in tip top working order.  And again, because most vacationers who go to Anna Maria Island return, the folks at Beach Bums can call most customers by name.  They, too, know my kiddos.  That personal level of service is not easy to find these days.  But like I said before, stepping onto Anna Maria Island is like stepping back in time.



The accommodations on Anna Maria Island are spectacular, the food is delicious and diverse, the service is exceptional, and the people are welcoming and friendly.  These are all reasons this beach ranks as one of my favorites.  But the biggest test of all is how my kiddos like it.  Hope and Charlie sport an extra chromosome and have a keen sense of knowing when they’re accepted versus when they’re not.   And on Anna Maria Island, they have always been accepted with wide open arms.  For a momma, that goes a very long way.



If you’re looking for a new adventure, consider this piece of paradise.  Support the locals and allow them to call you by name.  Then let me know your thoughts.