Three Romantic Places Where the Welcome Mat is Out For 50+ Visitors
These three spots run the gamut from sophisticated-city to genu-“wine” country. But each has its own special charm…especially for folks our age. Each of them is, in fact, filled with middle-aged visitors from all over the country (or the world). Each of them is blessed with the magnificent scenery that holds many of us spellbound. And each of them is blessed with friendly natives who make it clear that they appreciate our business.
THE LITTLE GERMAN VILLAGE IN TEXAS
The Texas Hill Country has wooded hills, farms, wineries…and a “German” village. The town of Fredericksburg was founded by German settlers in 1846, and it still retains the flavor – and the Gemutlichkeit – of the old days.
This is an unlikely place for world-class attractions – but two of them are here. The National Museum of the Pacific War gives an up-close-and-very-personal look at World War II, with real planes and PT-Boats and touching personal stories. And the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is the site of the home on the Pedernales River so beloved by our 36th President.
There’s a surprising diversity of dining options. The Airport Diner – in a World War II-era hangar at the Fredericksburg Airport – serves American classics. The Cabernet Grill serves gourmet Texas specialties and good Texas wines. And, in a town dotted with “Sunday Houses” built by German settlers for their forays into town to go to church, you’ll find plenty of German restaurants. The schnitzel and the red cabbage and the sauerbraten are superb at the Altdorf Restaurant and Biergarten, and The Auslander.
If you head for the Texas Hill County Winery Trail, you’ll come upon small family wineries where the owner/vintners will take the time to talk with you about their products…and to pour you samples.
If you’ve a taste for the unusual, head for the “Bat Tunnel,” an abandoned railroad tunnel outside of town. Every evening at sunset, some 3,000,000 bats fly out of the tunnel, in a whirling, whipping frenzy that darkens the sky for nearly thirty minutes. And nearby is the crossroads of Luckenbach, with a legendary honky-tonk in which Willie Nelson got his start. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear cowboys reciting “Cowboy Poetry”…basically, tall tales that get taller by the telling.
THE TENNESSEE SMOKIES
It’s not hard to see how the Smokies got their name. At sunrise, the mountains are shrouded in a thick blue-gray haze. When the sun finally burns off the haze, the Great Smoky Mountains emerge in a burst of brilliant color, and rows of sky-high ridges trailing off into the horizon. The Tennessee Smokies are a colorful patchwork of mountain culture; natural beauty; and, in a few towns, more attractions-per-square-mile than almost anyplace in America.
The biggest attraction is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take a ride – preferably on horseback or in a wagon – through breathtaking Cade’s Cove, where you’ll pass by deep-green “hollers” and pioneer cemeteries and rushing streams and 1800’s planked cabins. In the park, every turn of the road tempts you to pull over and take it all in (and you can hike on 800 miles of trails).
Gatlinburg is a beautiful mountain town, and you can get a bird’s-eye view of it from the mountain-top entertainment complex called Ober Gatlinburg. The main street is lined with an assortment of Ripley’s-type attractions ranging from little shops of horrors to Hollywood Star Cars (and an Aquarium that’s actually one of the best in the country).
Nearby Pigeon Forge has Dollywood, built by favorite daughter Dolly Parton. Here, in a country-themed park, you can roll on the coasters, peer into a bald eagle preserve, test yourself on a high-ropes course, and watch a blacksmith forge a knife…all within a few minutes. Also in Pigeon Forge is The Titanic, which bills itself as “The World’s Largest Museum Attraction.” Its hallways are a poignant memorial to the ship and the 1,500 souls who went down with it. As you enter, you’ll be given a card with the name of one of the passengers. And as you exit, you’ll find out if “your” passenger survived.
For a true Smoky Mountain dinner with all the fixin’s, head for Dolly’s Dixie Stampede. Here, there’s ridin’ and ropin’ and lasso-in’, and the ribs and chicken and country cobblers are lip-smackin’ good.
VIVE LES QUEBECOIS!
Montreal is a high-rise city with a heart – no building can be taller then 750-foot Mount Royal, in the center of town. And it’s a high-rise city that treasures its past, in the beautiful shops and sidewalk bistros of the Old Montreal section. Old Montreal edges up against the Old Port area of the city, filled with waterside parks and unusual attractions (including the Molson Brewery!). To really get the feel of New France, visit the Bonsecours Market, in an old domed building on the waterfront, and St. Marguerite’s Church, a 1700’s edifice that served as a shelter for shipwrecked sailors.
Quebec Province is nothing if not romantic. Take a carriage ride around Old Montreal. Or take in the view from the top of Mount Royal, where one of North America’s great cities spreads out before you. Or – at the opposite end of the spectrum – take the Montreal Ghost Tour; you’ll be guided to dark alleys where “ghosts” in period costume will appear, telling scary stories from the past.
Quebec City is another world altogether. Only 160 miles northeast of Montreal, it’s the only walled city in North America, with 18th-Century fortifications behind which Old France still lives. Here, you can spread out a picnic lunch on the Plains of Abraham, where the course of North American history was changed forever with England’s 1756 victory over the French. You can explore one of the world’s great hotels, the Chateau Frontenac, its brown stone towers and green spires overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence. You can take a funicular down the steep cliffs into the cobblestone streets of Old Town, site of the original 16th-Century settlement.
Quebec City is made for walking, with its centuries-old houses with colorful flower boxes on the windows and red or blue roofs. Take a stroll on the Grande Allee, a fashionable boulevard where you’ll find some of the city’s finest restaurants and shops.
The surrounding countryside is magnificent. Montmorency Falls is the tallest in North America (yes, taller than Niagara!). And the Isle d’Orleans is a verdant green island in the middle of the St. Lawrence, with villages and farms where time seems to have stopped in the 18th-Century.
For a romantic dinner, try the revolving restaurant 33 stories atop the Loews Hotel. Here, you’ll be treated to a night-long visual symphony, with the sun setting over the Laurentian Mountains and the St. Lawrence, and the lights of this ancient French city turning on to greet the evening.
In summer, all of Quebec Province echoes to the laughter of the Quebec Comedy Festival. You may not understand some of the French…but you’ll laugh anyway!
Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles appear in major media all over the world.