Wilmington | Wrightsville Beach, N.C. – With a warm cookie in one hand and a cup of hot cocoa in the other, an evening stroll through Enchanted Airlie lifts holiday spirits.
Once the property of 19th century financier Pembroke Jones and his wife Sarah, historic Airlie Gardens features 67 acres of groomed maritime forest, pristine habitat for swans, egrets, geese and owls. When night falls in December, the forest comes alive as “Enchanted Airlie,” with over half a million twinkling lights illuminating a half-mile, self-guided trail as classic holiday tunes stir memories.
“Airlie is a magical place,” says Tara Duckworth, New Hanover County’s Parks and Gardens Director. “It’s a magical time of year. People have a certain spirit during the holidays. It’s hard not to be happy when you’re at Airlie.” The Southeast Tourism Society voted Enchanted Airlie one of its Top 20 events in 2012.
Along the trail, guests find a majestic Spanish moss-draped, 500-year old live oak tree, as well as the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel – a dramatically lit tribute to one of America’s most important visionary artists, built from colored glass bottles. Evans served as gatekeeper of Airlie Gardens from 1949-1974. Also on the tour is the Airlie Butterfly House, a softly lit, butterfly-themed octagonal structure that eleven native species of butterflies call home during the warmer months.
This year’s expanded Enchanted Airlie trail also features LED-lit weeping willows, cherry trees, oaks, and other native flora. The heated refreshment tent at the trail’s beginning and end is decorated with a stunning variety of poinsettias and features an extensive working model train exhibit. There is also an impressive LEGO display consisting of over 250,000 bricks, thanks to the NC LEGO Users Group of Raleigh. For the little ones, Santa Claus is visiting to receive last-minute holiday wishes.
Enchanted Airlie is the culmination of six months of preparations. “We start restringing in July, but we don’t put any lights out until October,” says Duckworth. During her tenure, she has replaced nearly every incandescent bulb with LEDs. “Not only are we green, but those lights are so much brighter.” Adding to the landscape, Tinga Nursery of Castle Hayne generously provides temporary plants for the event, including Encore Azaleas, Hollys, and Crape Myrtles.
Enchanted Airlie opens for 5 and 7 p.m. reservations each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from November 29 through December 21, with additional dates on Wednesday, December 18, and Sunday, December 22. Tickets must be purchased in advance and usually sell out.
Tickets are available on Airlie Gardens or Blockade Runner Beach Resort websites. Blockade Runner includes overnight accommodations and breakfast and is located oceanfront three miles from Airlie Gardens. The famed landmark hotel, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014, is beautifully decorated for the holidays.
Tickets only: www.AirlieGardens.org
Tickets and Accommodations: www.blockade-runner.com
Proceeds from Enchanted Airlie benefit the preservation and improvement of New Hanover County’s historic Airlie Gardens.
300 Airlie Road
Note: Visitors the weekend of December 7 and 8 can include Old Wilmington by Candlelight, hosted by the nonprofit Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear. This annual self-guided walking tour showcases thirteen privately owned historic sites, including homes and churches such as the stately Latimer House on Third Street, all beautifully decorated for the holidays. Advance tickets only: www.hslcf.org, 910-762-0492, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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