Raleigh and New Bern, North Carolina, August 2019
This sidebar piece was published alongside a longer article on The Outer Banks of North Carolina, which you can read here.
Our trip to North Carolina was topped and tailed with stays in Raleigh, the state capital, and New Bern, a small town near the coast.
Raleigh is by no means a small town but it feels just like one. Everyone you meet seems to know everyone else and nearly everything is within walking distance.
After flying in we ate at the Garland, a pan-Asian restaurant owned by husband-and-wife musicians Paul and Cheetie, who play in a rock band called Birds of Avalon. After an excellent meal we asked Paul the way to a local bar and he took us there on foot, greeting nearly everyone we passed by name.
He also knew Matt and Nicole, owners of our hotel. The wonderful Guest House Raleigh, the city’s first boutique hotel, was restored from an old wooden house which they first had to move across town. On their website is an amazing picture of the building in transit on a flat-bed truck.
Next morning we had breakfast in City Market, an area of quaint cobblestoned streets. Big Ed’s diner is the most perfectly American place you can imagine. We got talking to a team of cheerful traffic wardens who were hailed and high-fived by everyone who passed.
At the North Carolina Museum of History we could have spent a day poring over vintage films and fascinating facts but left after two hours to drive to the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Set in a vast park with outdoor exhibits, it was huge, uncrowded, and has everything from Old Masters to modern sculptures and a whole building for African art.
Back in town at the multi-storey Beer Garden, we met owner Niall Hanley, a genial giant from County Mayo who has built up a chain of ten food and drink venues since opening the city’s first Irish pub 20 years ago. His Beer Garden holds the world record for the most beers on tap – an incredible 366.
Along the way we lunched at Brewery Bhavana and Beasley’s Chicken, both tastily typical of a town where local owners are the rule, not the exception.
New Bern, around 110 miles east, was Raleigh’s predecessor as state capital until 1792. It was hit hard by Hurricane Florence in 2018 but has bounced back so well that we didn’t notice any effects until we took a river cruise and and saw cabin cruisers stuck in the trees.
On our Cruise The Neuse trip passed an osprey’s nest (complete with egg-sitting female) and the palatial home of Nicholas Sparks, author of weepy bestseller The Notebook. On a less romantic note, his ex-wife’s smaller home is a mile downstream.
New Bern is also the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, invented in a local drugstore in 1893 as “Brad’s Drink”. The building is now a Pepsi shrine and even though I’m fizzy-pop-phobic a huge float with ice-cream proved irresistible.
Pepsi apart, this is another town that thrives on unique local businesses, from quaintly traditional stores like Mitchell’s Hardware (motto: if we don’t have it, you don’t need it), to first-class restaurants like the Persimmon Waterfront and the newly opened Cypress Hall, plus lunchtime favourite Captain Ratty’s.
After the biggest breakfast of our lives at a social mecca called Baker’s Kitchen, our curiosity about the home-baked bread earned us a trip upstairs to meet the bakery team.
Later, at the Firemen’s Museum, we learned how two rival firefighting crews with civil war roots were told to amalgamate in 1928 – only to divide their single fire station into mirror-image halves.
We took a replica trolleybus tour and found the jewel in New Bern’s crown – streets full of antebellum homes lovingly preserved and restored. Like those in better-known Savannah, Georgia, they escaped the destruction of the civil war.
We stayed in one such a building brought back to life by husband-and-wife owners Michael and Denise, who retired early to create luxury B&B The Jarvis at 220. Denise, an anglophile after hundreds of trips to Heathrow as a flight attendant, even serves PG Tips tea.
Both towns were great places to visit and we thought they’d be wonderful places to live, too. If I were young again I’d been looking for a job in Raleigh right now.
Rooms at Guest House Raleigh start at £140 per night. http://www.guesthouseraleigh.com and at The Jarvis at 220 from £105 per night. http://www.thejarvisat220.com
More info: http://www.visitnc.com, http://www.visitraleigh.com, visitnewbern.com
Edited versions of this article and its companion about the Outer Banks were published in the Daily Express on August 17, 2019, and the Daily Mirror on October 5, 2019. Click the page below to find the Express version online.