April in Paris
Photo by Reba Mize
Springtime in Paris. Doesn't that sound grand?
Paris, the city of girls in overalls.
Wait, what? Oh, that Paris – Paris, Arkansas. There is no Louvre, no Eiffel Tower, but there also are no lines for security at the airport and no long flight. However, we will ascend, in about an hour's drive, to the highest point for hundreds of miles east, west, south or north. That, my friend, calls for a road trip!
Head east on Highway 22 and, heck, let's just pretend we are in the French countryside as my history lessons tell me a lot of this area was named by French explorers. Your imagination will be stretched as you cross Arkansas 96 and pass my favorite silo painted like a giant Budweiser beer can, seen to the right side of your vehicle. Just pretend it's a wine bottle. We do have a genuine vineyard on our route, Cowie Winery & Vineyard, where I have always wanted to go, and a cathedral on a hillside above, but we are going to save those for another day.
What makes Paris, Ark., so much fun is that it is not burdened by attention. And yet, the town is something of a shopper's paradise. Who knew?
One of my favorite shops is Girls N Overalls on Highway 22. If you are a junk gypsy like me or even a serious antique collector, you are bound to find a treasure here. You will feel as if you have slipped around a winding corner of the Rue St. Andres and found the most amazing little shop. Fortunately, the actual overall-wearing picker, owner Freda Norris, speaks perfect Arkansan.
Stroll the boulevards of Paris, meet the shopkeepers!
My sweetheart, an admitted shoe addict, and I also found Sharum's Shoe Shop while ambling around the streets of Gaye Paree. Step inside and smell that mix of leather and mink oil – intoxicating. Remember when you didn't throw your shoes away when the soles got worn? Ray Sharum, owner and cobbler, does.
Ray has an easy, relaxed manner as he pedals an ancient foot treadle machine to sew a pair of cowboy boots and talks with Vernon, who has brought his Swedish Bastad wooden clogs in for work. Looking for a new or used pair of cool cowboy boots? Ray's got 'em. Got a favorite pair of brogans that need a little work? Ray's your man.
On a sunny day, Jim's Glass Shop shimmers like a little jewel set on this corner of downtown Paris. When you ask Jim where he found all the glass in his shop, he modestly says,“Oh, I wasn't born a collector. I was born 'to' collectors. I tagged along with my parents who loved to collect and it just sort of rubbed off.”
Jim may be modest, but his collection of glassware is not. This tiny shop has everything from the red hot collectable Jewel Tea china to the Fire King dishes Martha Stewart collects, but I love the 10-dollar, striped ‘50s-style water pitcher I brought home as souvenir of the day. Jim's prices are fair, his knowledge is amazing and the shop is a fun stop for everyone with all sorts of “unglass” finds to keep you coming back.
Fasten your seat belts, we're going up!
OK. Enough Paris city life – our mountain lodge awaits. We jump back in our Saab and head up Mount Magazine Scenic Highway 309.
In just a few miles, Cove Lake appears – that perfect little place so filled with memories it should be sepia-colored. I love this place and have camped, fished, swam and picnicked here forever. You just must take your family, sit right in your campsite with a can of worms and a fishing pole and enjoy the good life. I love it so much it is hard for me to let the secret out. The park is fun anytime of year but if you come in the summer, be sure to bring your swimming stuff and enjoy the grass-covered beach. Be transported to a time when you remember how good an old-fashioned concession stand hamburger, crispy fries and a Coke taste with a sunburn.
From here on up the mountain is a wow-around-every-corner viewing experience that is drawing people from all over the county. Nestled on the side of the mountain, Mount Magazine Lodge is as dramatic as The El Tovar on the edge of the Grand Canyon. It is just that jaw-dropping.
From the moment you get to the lodge, you cannot separate the architecture from the spectacular 180-degree views. Mount Magazine can be as relaxing or as adrenaline-pumping as you want it to be. Take one of the miles of hiking trails. The Summit Trail will take you, as promised, to the highest elevation in the U.S. between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians. There is, of course, a big ol' sign to stand by while taking a group photo, because we are, after all, making magical mountain memories.
What do I do if I see a bear? It's probably not what you think. Get the inside scoop, fun facts and secret spots from park ranger Brandy Oliver, whose enthusiasm is a joy. I love rangers! It's also OK to just relax in a rocking chair and watch hang gliders and birds soar over the valley below.
Meet the chef – again.
Inside the lodge for lunch, we ran into an old friend, Nick Tucker. You may remember Nick and his equally incredible wife, Judy, from their ground-breaking Folie à Deux restaurant in Fort Smith. After leaving Arkansas for a very successful catering venture in the Napa Valley, they missed us and came home to run the lodge's restaurant.
While he gave us the grand tour, Nick had me at “herb garden.” Along with running a state-of-the-art kitchen and top-notch staff, this effervescent foodie tends his own herb garden on-site.
“Have you ever had the corned beef at Oaklawn in Hot Springs?” he asked. “I buy my corned beef from the same place and we slow-roast it here.” It is that attention to detail that makes Nick's latest adventure, the Starcrest Restaurant, worth the drive on its own.
Three-story-high windows framing the view of a lifetime made us feel as if we were in our own luxury sky box but the atmosphere is relaxed and kid-friendly.
“We cook good, fresh food for hungry folks,” Nick said.
The lodge and restaurant are open daily and what a great place to have a wedding or family reunion or a Vintage Saab Convention. Vernon recommends the mountain burger. Next time, I am trying that corned beef!
Our getaway to Paris was delightful. I checked the map one last time as we started for home and at the other end of Scenic Highway 309 is another intriguing city, Havana. After all this hiking and mountain air, we'll save this exotic destination for another Saturday.
But we'll always have Paris.