When I was invited to visit North Carolina* to tour the film shoot locations where The Hunger Games was shot, I’ll admit my love of the book and the anticipation of seeing the actual sites was my main motivation.

*Kathy was a guest of the North Carolina Tourism Board.

But after I arrived in the western part of this expansive state, I came to appreciate so much more:  From the beauty of the DuPont Recreational State Forest, to the ultra-modern architecture of big city Charlotte, and all of the charming towns in between, there’s something for everyone.

This artistic community of 75,000 has a new age feel, springing from its antique shops and converted Woolworths
(now an artisan marketplace, but with the soda fountain counter still in place and operational), to eclectic bookshops and restaurants.

The boutique Hotel Indigo (temporary home to Hunger Games stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) is funky and extremely dog friendly – the hotel offers doggie room service, including their specialty: “Meatwoof.”

The main part of town is steps away from the hotel, including The Lexington Avenue Brewery who prepared a special Hunger Games menu (which included rose petal soup and rabbit), which was perfectly complemented with a beer-tasting menu. For lighter fare, The Laughing Seed vegetarian restaurant (a favourite of Woody Harrelson, Haymitch in the movie), and the Tupelo Honey Café offer up some of the best local specialties, complete with Moonshine Mimosas. Moonshine is a big part of the state’s history, and running it was in fact responsible for the spark (plug), which became NASCAR, also based in Charlotte. Take a trip just down the road to visit the real-life, moonshine still of female-owned Troy & Sons, and pick up a bottle of moonshine made from heirloom Crooked Creek corn.

Nantahala Outdoor Center
The Nantahala Outdoor Center provides wilderness and survival training along with some of the best whitewater on the Nantahala River. Located just outside Bryson City, the survival school includes wilderness first aid, plant identification (for medicinal, nutritional, and other uses), fire starting, and animal tracking and trapping. Kids love to learn which plant is known as “Charmin of the woods.” This is also the site for the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships, hosting 300 athletes from 40 countries (Sept 2-8).  Stop in to local favourite Jimmy Mac’s burgers in Bryson after working up an appetite hiking the woods or riding the waves.

When the Hunger Games cast and crew invaded the small town of Shelby, NC (population 21,000) they hoped that 300 extra bodies wouldn’t be notice, but of course they were. So apparently the producers gave everyone some money to shop for “typical” Shelby clothes to wear in town and avoid being too conspicuous. Pretty much all of them bought Dale Earnhardt baseball caps. The town of Shelby has identified retail and dining establishments, which were frequented by cast and crew by displaying an “Approved by District 12” decal in the window. Stop in to Pleasant City Wood Fired Grill, a cast favourite, for delicious wood fired pizza and a local beer.

DuPont State Recreational Forest
The setting for the ‘Arena’ scenes, Triple Falls is the newly iconic site where Katniss discovers Peeta’s blood spots, and then Peeta himself, camouflaged in the rocks. Given there were 150-plus people in the forest, the crew worked hard to maintain the natural beauty and preserve the forest as best they could. The park will continue to welcome visitors and hikers, but they must be mindful not to disturb this truly beautiful wilderness.

Brevard was recently voted America’s second coolest small town by Frommer’s, and from the moment you enter town, it’s easy to see why. Stay at the historic Red House Inn Bed & Breakfast to enjoy an authentic English style fry-up served by the owners, and then walk into town to O.P. Taylor’s Toy Store, and pick up one of owner John Taylor’s customary beanie caps, set amongst thousands of toys. Stop at Rocky’s Diner (owned by aptly named Dee Dee Bullwinkle) for a traditional shake and hotdog, or enjoy the fine food and jazz on offer at Hobnob Restaurant.  Be sure to keep a sharp eye for the area’s unique white squirrels.

The Charlotte Convention Centre was the film location Katniss and Peeta rode their chariot into the arena ablaze with fire—actually filmed in the parking garage—soon it will be the site for the Democratic Convention and President Obama’s address. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is located right next door, and has three floors filled with history and hands on experiences for drivers young and old. Try out the virtual driving experience and see how you stack up versus Jimmie Johnson and other NASCAR greats. In the evening, make your way to the NoDa Neighbourhood of Charlotte. This newly emerging neighbourhood boasts some already well known eating establishments, including the 24/7/365 open bakery, Amelie’s, which had Harrelson as a regular chess-playing guest on their premises.Venture on to the main street to discover the always-packed Cabo Fish Taco, and then stop for a nightcap at Growlers Pourhouse, voted one of America’s 100 Best Beer Bars.

US National Whitewater Centre
Home of the US Olympic team trials for whitewater canoeing and kayaking, this unique facility gets 540,000 visitors per year, who come to take advantage of the man-made Class 3 and Class 4 whitewater, via kayak or river raft.  As well, there is a high ropes course, a 40-foot hydraulic zipline, and a canopy zip tour that takes 3 ½ to 4 hours to complete. The extensive bike trails and climbing walls became a favourite of Harrelson’s. A day pass will have kids and adults alike challenged and exhausted before heading to the on-site restaurant and bar. The open-air stage features jazz bands and other local
musicians on Friday nights.

To experience North Carolina The Hunger Games way, visit www.hungergamesfantours.com for information on day trips which explore the DuPont Forest, and include survival skill training, or take it all in with a Hunger Games Fan Tours Adventure Weekend, which finds its base at Earthshine Mountain Lodge www.earthshinelodge.com where you’ll start off by being part of the lottery and get assigned to your own District. By the end of the weekend you’ll be survival trained and ready for a simulation event.

Visit www.visitnc.com for details on all the events and happenings in North Carolina. And may the perfect vacation odds be ever in your favour.

Kathy was a guest of the North Carolina Tourism Board. Follow all of Kathy’s travel adventures on Twitter @KathyBuckworth. GL

This article first appeared in The Good Life and can be found at this link: http://www.goodlifemississauga.com/114-gl-2012/nc-hunger.html

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