Holiday spirit lights up the skies south of Charlotte, North Carolina.
By Hope S. Philbrick
If there’s one drawback to being a grownup it’s that it’s too easy to get caught up in all the must-dos that build up this time of year that you forget to have a jolly good time.
An overnight escape from the obligations at home is one solution.
So grab whoever sets your heart aglow and head toward the lights.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, perhaps even if (you’re among the lucky and) the best part of this winter season is merely a slow-down at work, the abundant light displays to be found in Belmont and McAdenville, North Carolina will brighten your mood. For many folks throughout the southeast, visiting these towns this time of year is a tradition—now that we’ve made the journey ourselves, we offer this fair warning: you may want to make it one of your own!
A wonder in every season, Belmont’s Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is especially magical during “Holidays at the Garden,” which shines through January 3, 2016. Strolling through the 380-acre garden along the banks of Lake Wylie all decked out for the season is a decade-old tradition that showcases twinkling trees, sparkling fountains, merry music, a crackling outdoor fire, a one-of-a-kind 116-foot orchid tree and much more. (Think you’ve seen the Garden before? Don’t let that deter you from going again: I’ve visited twice previously and am amazed by how much it is transformed each time.)
Walkways meander through several different gardens, all of which are illuminated by more than 500,000 LED lights. For added interest, statues and fountains are intermingled among the flowers, shrubs, trees and grasses. Seasonal tunes float through the air.
In addition to the outdoor light displays, inside the spacious conservatory you’ll find seasonal displays plus blooming orchids and tropical plants. Several smaller orchid trees adorn the pathway around the conservatory, plus creative minds have put together a display of fairyland houses—think natural gingerbread houses—constructed of bark, branches, greens and other earthy elements. Model trains weave throughout the fairyland; in addition, inside the main building a special model train display created by the Metrolina Model Railroaders depicts North Carolina’s Saluda Mountain Grade, the steepest mainline railway gauge in country.
Several special events and programs are planned at the Garden. Of particular interest to adults, horse-drawn carriage rides are available from Southern Breezes from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, through December 31 for $6/adult. In addition, you can enjoy hand-crafted cocoa, lattes, and espresso from Catawba Coffee of Mount Holly, s’mores over the outdoor campfire, dinner from barbecue food trucks (on select nights) and adult beverages from the Garden’s bars.
After enjoying the Garden, drive a few miles away to discover McAdenville, which has been dubbed “Christmas Town USA.” (To get there from the Garden, plug “McAdenville” into your GPS to get started in the right direction then follow the road signs to find the official route.)
Each year since 1956, residents and business owners in this quaint little town have pulled together to put on one of the nation’s biggest lights presentations. Dozens upon dozens of homes plus hundreds of trees and lampposts are decorated, mostly with a vintage vibe.
McAdenville has lit itself up for 60 years—which, when you really think about it, is a major accomplishment for a lights display that isn’t commercialized, nor has it ever been. This is simply one town pulling together to share the joy of the season.
Tour the lights by foot or car. If you drive, you’ll snake through the streets at a snail’s pace—though it almost seems too fast to really see all the details in these elaborate displays. Illuminated trees and 200 lit lamppost wreaths line the route, while friendly police officers direct traffic. A lake surrounded by more than 30 decorated trees with a 75-foot multi-colored fountain serves as the centerpiece.
Lights start to dim at 9:30 p.m., however, because this display is mostly hosted by individual residents, the timing comes primarily at their discretion. At some point along the route, you may start to realize what a sacrifice it is for residents whose streets are clogged nightly from December 1st through 26th. These folks truly adore the holidays!
And they share a gift that even Scrooge would approve of: It’s always free to drive through McAdenville. So come on down (or up, or over).
Happy holidays, y’all!
Where To Eat…
Supply Bistro & Grill
101 Kenwood St.
The newest restaurant in town delights taste buds with flavorful food and drink and diners with its laid-back, casual atmosphere and attentive, friendly servers. With an eye on showcasing favorite American flavors, the menu offers a range of bites and entrées—all priced under $20—including spinach artichoke dip, quesadillas, chicken wings, flat iron steak, pan-roasted Chilean salmon, shrimp & grits and more. Arrive hungry, leave satisfied, with money still in your wallet.
Where To Stay…
Hampton Inn Charlotte/Belmont at Montcross
820 Cecilia Alexander Drive
Belmont, NC 28012
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, this Hampton Inn provides everything you need for a comfortable overnight stay. If you’re familiar with the Hampton Inn brand, you know individual hotels can vary. This location ranks among the nicest the brand offers. It’s clean, comfortable, thoughtfully decorated and staffed with some of the world’s friendliest folks.
- Free parking
- Free Wi-Fi
- Free breakfast
- Located one mile from Belmont Abbey, seven miles from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and eight miles from the center of Charlotte, NC
- On-site convenience store
- 85 guest rooms; suites and accessible rooms are available
- Outdoor pool
- Some rooms offer tubs; others offer showers only
- On-site fitness center
- Odds of Encountering Children: Varies. Generally, with a national brand hotel, I’d think “high,” but I’ve stayed at this particular Hampton Inn three times and have never seen—and, more importantly, never heard—a youngster.
- Read about our quick stop in Belmont NC earlier this year.
- Read more about the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
– Christmas Town USA images by Steve Rankin; remainder courtesy Lyerly Agency. Visit our Facebook page to see an album of our photos from this trip.
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.