Fall Upward: Whether Georgia, the Carolinas or Italian Alps, mountains are breezy places to be in autumn

A pond is next to the clubhouse at Firethorn, nestled in the mountains near Blowing Rock, N.C. (Photo provided).

By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

About the closest that Joseph and Margie Hores get to mountains at home in Mount Pleasant is visualizing the town’s name.

So they take an occasional foray to the western North Carolina high country, more specifically the Trillium village near Cashiers. He says the couple is “attached to the area.”

They own a vacation cabin at the resort that they rent out for a week or a few days from around Easter to Thanksgiving.

“In the fall months, it’s absolutely beautiful,” he says. “The leaves are changing.”

For more than a decade, the Horeses have visited or owned property at Trillium, which also supplies a golf course, swimming pool, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and a clubhouse.

“We usually go up at least two weeks (of the year)” to the three-bedroom property, he says. Called Birdie’s Retreat, the house touts three bedrooms with sleeping for six, three baths, fireplace and a second living area.

“It’s a mountain (locale), higher elevation, out of the city, in touch with nature,” Hores says. There are “natural features, waterfalls, hiking trails. It gets you out of the house (and from) in front of the TV,” he says.

Yes, the outdoors. That’s one of the lures of mountain properties, which are a half-day car ride away from greater Charleston. The weather is a bit nippier in the autumn: Vacationers or second home owners are running out of weeks to boat on a mountain lake or to swim.

Not entirely, though.

“We are not (at) fall yet,” says Karen Lewis, a Realtor and developer of the Firethorn community just outside of Blowing Rock, N.C. “The big draw of the summertime is the (comparatively) cooler temperatures,” she says.

Autumn is a week away, however, and there’s lots to do then, too. Try hiking, biking, horseback riding, golfing, climbing, shopping, sightseeing, visiting wineries and — starting around November — skiing.

Lewis says that October is a big month for Firethorn, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The gated preserve has 96 lots, 44 of which have been sold, and there are 10 houses built. There’s a clubhouse, hiking trails, stocked pond with waterfall and trout streams.

Home prices are “$2 million and under. These are no cabins by any means,” she says.

Blowing Rock, off N.C. Highway 321 about 10 miles from Appalachian State University in Boone, historically was a summer resort, Lewis says. “People didn’t come up in the winter.” That changed in the 1960s when ski resorts opened up nearby. Today they include Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain, she says.

“We’re really all year round,” Lewis says. One couple who lives in Florida and has a house in Charleston prefers to stay home during the colder weather but they’re an exception, she says. Other Florida residents and Hilton Head Island home dwellers travel up in the winter, she says.

While many new neighborhoods and resorts are close to towns, some older homes or indvidual properties can be quite isolated.

Bob Freeman of Mount Pleasant is marketing a house on top of Bell Mountain, Ga., near the N.C.-S.C. line that belongs to a Christian missionary ministry, the Leapers Fellowship.

Freeman, who is a board member, says most of the ministry’s missionaries who lived at the brick ranch house built in 1975 were elderly and have died in recent years. The ministry, meanwhile, is moving to Charleston, he says.

The property covers 22 acres and includes the 4,450-square-foot main house with two-car garage and a 1,000-square-foot office where the missionaries stored their papers and documents.

Oaks and pines dot the wooded expanse, which is at the pinnacle of a steep grade along Shake Rag Road, an old moonshiner hideout outside Hiawassee, Ga.

The property is priced for sale at $525,000, down quite a bit from the original listing. Freeman says the house is at “a really good price now. It’s just a unique piece of property.”

Charlestonians tend to focus on mountain ranges in the Southeast for vacations or second homes. But some enterprising residents look out further.

Take Carolyn and Peter Gorman. They returned to Summerville after living for 11 years in rural mountainous Italy.

They recrntly put their 3,000-square-foot three-story villa, Casa Rubiana, on the market.

“We live in a mountain village where most days the villagers go about their planting, herding, harvesting just as they have done for centuries,” Peter Gorman says. The residence is near Colle de Lys, about an hour from the French border.

The couple describe Casa Rubiana as a three-story century-old stone house in the foothills of the Italian Alps, a half hour west of Turin in northwest Italy. They bought the property in 2001, completely remodeled it over the next five years and then added finishing touches “to create a place of peace, fun and security,” the Gormans say.

“Living in the mountains is glorious,” Carolyn Gorman says. “Every morning, I stood on the balcony and looked at the hills surrounding the house. The air was fresh and cool, and it was a new beginning.”

The house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, study, office and a balcony overlooking a half-acre of landscaped grounds with large cypress, walnut, bamboo, weeping willow, magnolia, fig and olive trees; lilac and rose bushes; grape vines; and an herb and vegetable garden.

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Period highlights of the house include a Murano chandelier in the dining room, an antique French fireplace from the 1840s, two Piemonte-style pellet stoves on the third floor, an underground wine cellar and satellite receivers for TV and Internet.

There is also a greenhouse, large tiled patio with custom lighting and a covered outdoor barbecue and cooking area with two grills.

“Visitors always comment on how peaceful it is ... most mornings, it is just the sounds of birds awakening, interrupted by the sounds of church bells in the surrounding hills,” Peter Gorman says.

“My favorite place, and the reason I bought the house, is Colle de Lys, about 10 minutes uphill,” Carolyn Gorman notes. “Surrounded by 9,000- foot mountains, we always had this place to ourselves. In the summer, we hiked. In the winter, we skied or snow-shoed. The views are spectacular,” she says.

While moving to or even visiting Italy is a long-range plan, Lowcountry visitors can reach the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains in six hours or less traveling into one of four states: North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee or upstate South Carolina.

Vacationers eying a weekend-to-week stay in the mountains can frequent area bed and breakfast establishments. Among them is the elegant Inn on Church in downtown Hendersonville, N.C.

“The season has been above and beyond expectations,” says Joe Carlton, who with his wife Stephanie own the 21-room inn with restaurant and bar built in 1919. They maintain the inn, which they opened last year, in the Classical Revival style popular in the ’20s.

Carlton figures the fall months should continue to be strong for business. Visitors come up to “cool down, get away, (view) leaves, atmosphere, shopping, dining,” he says.

To find out more, visit www.innonchurch.com.

You can find at least some vacationers and home shoppers in the mountains almost any time of year, while a growing number are making the peaks their permanent home, if voting records are an indication, says Nancy Morrow, agent with Keller Williams Realty in East Sapphire, N.C.

For the fall, there’s one overriding reason to visit. “You know, I think it’s the beautiful colors (of the changing leaves),” says Morrow, who is marketing a vacation townhome in Sapphire Valley. The completely renovated end unit sports stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, refurbished exterior, new sealed decks and top-notch landscaping.

Morrow says the fully furnished townhome is “at a cool 3,500-foot summer elevation.”

The western North Carolina real estate market went through some down times in the past half-dozen years but is resurging, Morrow says. “A lot of people come here, they pay cash,” she says. “This is a very good summer.”

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.