Since its earliest days, Asheville has been a bit different – and in a very good way. The mountain air is cool and inviting, and the views superb. Creatives love it here, and discerning shoppers enjoy finding one-of-a-kind treasures.
Outdoors enthusiasts can hike, bike, paddle, or even go for a balloon ride. Live entertainment is everywhere. Restaurants are known worldwide, and the town features breweries that demand a pub crawl, or two. And then there’s Biltmore Estate. You simply must spend a few hours there, enjoying America’s version of a castle, and touring the gardens, the winery and the village.
First, you’ll want accommodations.
Our advice? Don’t skimp on where to lay your head in this town.
One excellent recommendation is the Grand Bohemian Hotel, located within Biltmore Village. Tudor-inspired, the Grand Bohemian is reminiscent of an elegantly appointed mountain lodge. In addition to the impeccably trained professional staff, the walls and nooks are filled with art – paintings from everywhere, sculptures from regional artists (and perhaps, Frank Lloyd Wright) and designer touches that take your breath away.
The Omni Grove Park Inn has a history of serving guests for more than a century. Its rich heritage is reflected in the tradition of Southern hospitality you’ll find. Make time to enjoy the subterranean spa, or play golf on their Donald Ross course. With four locally sourced restaurants, dining in will be an easy choice – at least for one night.
A smaller option is the Bunn House, a beautiful five-room property within walking distance of downtown. Gated, beautiful grounds and a self-service area with snacks and light breakfast. Lovely rooms, heated floors, steam showers. Delux pampering.
Reynolds Mansion is a great option. Full of history and beautifully restored, guests enjoy homemade baked goods, a hot breakfast, and personal attention. The porches beckon for sitting, and if you’re lucky, you might hear from one of the family spirits who are said to watch over their home from time to time.
Abbington Green Bed and Breakfast Inn is a Triple A Four Diamond Award winner, filled with history and luxury in the gorgeous colonial designed in 1908 by Biltmore Estate’s resident architect. King-sized beds, specially filtered water and three dog-friendly suites in the carriage house.
The Lion and Rose is a stunning pink lady in the Montford district, within walking distance of downtown. Built in 1905 and one of the oldest operating inns in Asheville, it’s a favorite of those who appreciate the history, beauty and luxurious accommodations.
Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, which opened December 2015, is the newest property on Biltmore Estate – located within walking distance of Antler Hill Village and the Winery. The surroundings are delightful and families with children will be welcomed and pampered.
There are lots more, including the Hilton Asheville at Biltmore Park, Windsor Boutique Hotel, and Pinecrest B&B. Asheville is in the middle of a hotel boom and Hyatt Place and Hilton Garden Inn are new hotels downtown. Both have beautiful rooftop bars.
Find the property that speaks to your soul and makes the Asheville visit even better. Deciding among them will be the hardest part.
Food and Drink.
Asheville is known for its cutting edge restaurants as well as casual regional cooking, wineries and breweries. Here are a few of our favorites.
Bone and Broth Neighborhood Kitchen and Bar in Asheville’s historic Chestnut Hill area, offers truly local fare, with dry-aged cuts from the neighbor’s butcher shop and fresh-baked bread from next door. Beef is the star, but seafood and vegetarian options are excellent. English pub favorites and local craft beers accented by the mahogany bar.
Buxton Hall BBQ opened August 2015 and has experienced well-deserved national media attention. It’s whole-hog, smoked BBQ with incredible sides and delicious desserts. It is in Asheville’s South Slope area, a hot, new beer district.
The Corner Kitchen is a charming restaurant offering contemporary southern food with a French flair. It’s also got a full-fledged commitment to giving back to the community. Housed in an 1880s house in Biltmore Village, it’s got great atmosphere in that walkable neighborhood. Be sure to try the Vanderbilt martini, and then consider their whole grilled NC black bass with olive tapenade. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Word is, their homemade corned beef hash is a delight.
Curate is a celebration of Spanish cuisine in a comfortable downtown setting. It’s been named one of the ten coolest Spanish restaurants in the U.S. We concur.
Gan Shan Station It’s an east Asian-inspired menu from chef Patrick O’Cain, an Asheville native. The restaurant is set in an old gas station. You’ll find a bit of China, Korea and Thailand here – it’s all good.
Jerusalem Garden Café offers Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisine. Try the Spinach pie and hummus and enjoy live music and belly dancing on weekends.
Local Provisions is a downtown restaurant that’s fairly new on the Asheville scene, but it’s making waves. Chef Justin Burdett pays homage to the cooking traditions of the South, while incorporating innovative techniques. The wine list is formidable – and very inviting.
Nightbell is the second Asheville endeavor by Chef Katie Button of Curate. These American food creations are served small plate style. Try their very original craft cocktails.
Limone's At this much-applauded restaurant, Mexico-born Hugo Ramirez combines his love of traditional Mexican cuisine (influenced by his mother), with French-inspired California cuisine. The result is delicious.
OWL Bakery This new West Asheville Bakery is quickly becoming a favorite. Enjoy an amazing pastry, and plan to take a little something home. Check out the menu.
Rhubarb can be found in the heart of Asheville on Pack Square. Chef John Fleer, a three-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southeast, has created a menu inspired by seasonal, local ingredients that pays homage to the bounty of regional and American cooking. Go for the snacks and shares.
The Rhu – from Rhubarb’s John Fleer (see above) – a café, bakery and pantry that celebrates local foods and producers. Serves breakfast and lunch. The Rhu highlights local and regional ingredients, pantry, and housewares, and artisanal producers that have shaped Chef John Fleer's signature style and cuisine. In addition, Artisanal cheese and micro-creameries of the Blue Ridge available for retail.
Salsa’s for those who enjoy truly excellent Mexican-Caribbean-Puerto Rican cuisine. Be sure to try a classic Mohito or a Margarita (the house made citrus mix is the bomb).
Smoky Park Supper Club restaurant is made from shipping containers set next to the French Broad River, in the River District. Wood-fired menu from executive chef Michelle Bailey. FYI: Largest restaurant in the US made out of shipping containers. Try the Smoky Park fries. You can thank us later.
Tupelo Honey Cafe has been an institution in Asheville for years. Take a look at their web page for one impressive list of local vendors. (They have a great cookbook, too). Southern comfort food, plus craft beer and cocktails.
What to Do
Be sure to spend some time in Biltmore Village. Built in the late 1890s as a classic planned community at the entrance to George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate, the area is a shopper’s delight, with a combination of independent retailers, All Souls Cathedral and interesting restaurants, the area has an international reputation.
Not to be missed: New Morning Gallery, with its functional and whimsical pieces of art, pottery, home accessories and furniture. You’ll lengthen your wish list, regardless of your taste, and you’ll be sure to find gifts for those you love.
There are so many shops to choose from, so take your time. It’s a great way to spend a morning. Later, go to the downtown area with your walking shoes on. The Grove Arcade comes to mind and never disappoints. Ditto on the Portico Market, downtown Asheville’s only permanent outdoor market.
To check out some of the creative results of living amongst such mountain splendor, visit Woolworth Walk, with more than 150 exhibiting artists. Downtown is also home to Malaprops, a wonderful bookstore and café which can entertain you for hours (and empty your pocketbook as well). Even if you don’t visit, check out their website for their 15 most popular books. It’s a mixture of regional fare, earth-friendly tomes, and bestsellers.
You’ll want to visit Blue Spiral 1 and when you’re near the Omni Grove Park Inn, check out Grovewood. Without a doubt, Asheville is filled with artists who create a wide variety of work that belongs in your home.
While downtown, tour Thomas Wolfe’s home. (You don’t have to be an English major to enjoy the tour. The furnishings are authentic and in the shop, you can listen to Mrs. Wolfe talk about life, and enjoy looking through books by one of North Carolina’s most famous, and tortured, writers.
Battery Park Book Exchange. Here’s how one reviewer described this gem: “It's a readers’ paradise but it's not just for scholars. It's a two-level bookstore within a 1929 beautiful building with mixed furnishings from every time period serving fantastic champagnes, wines, cheese trays and coffees – a bookstore of old books where locals come in and sell their books.”
Need a bit of pampering? Try a visit to the Asheville Salt Cave. It’s the only Salt Therapy center in the United States made of all natural materials – salt, wood and water. Two natural ionizers feed the cave and make it a virtual sterile environment and a unique micro-climate, like those found in nature. Great therapeutic experience for lots of issues.
Take a Tour
Sure, you can wander on your own, and Asheville is a perfect town for independent exploration. But there are great tours that cover all sorts of interests and if you begin with a tour, it will give you more ideas for wandering later in the week. Here are a few of our favorites:
Asheville Farm to Table Tours visit sustainable family farms, where the farmers share their passion and knowledge. Specializing in produce, cheese, chicken, beef or lamb, each farm adds their own unique approach to sustainable farming. A special lunch features ingredients from the farms you visit. Lots of themes and options.
Asheville Art Studio Tours visit a variety of studios, some with multiple artists. It’s an insider look through a small-group experience, into the River Arts District, led by an artist who works there.
BREW-ed Tour – guided walking tour to breweries led by a Cicerone® who is a certified beer expert. Tour participants go on a three-hour journey of beer, brewing and local history.
LaZoom Band & Beer Tour is for the 21+ crowd. You’ll enjoy live music as the bus takes you to local breweries. It’s a bit of history and a lot of fun. (Learn more about the LaZoom experience.)
No Taste Like Home is a foraging tour for wild edibles. You’ll enjoy he only year-round, u-pick, forage to table experience in North America. Later, your finds will be transformed into “find dining.” (Think daylily tamales, sassafras root beer, or perhaps wild mushroom pizza.)
In the Neighborhood
Biltmore Estate is America’s largest home, and from the magnificent public rooms to the servants quarters, visitors are enchanted. Consider the rooftop tour. It is a remarkable way to see what only the Vanderbilt’s closest friends were able to view. And the winery, the gardens, Antler Hill Village – all of it. Within the home, pause in the grand library to admire more than 10,000 volumes. And if you visit between February 10 and July 4, 2017, there will be a special exhibit of Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics.
Hint: If you love riding bikes, there’s no better way than traversing the beautiful grounds of Biltmore. Go to the Biltmore Welcome Center and ask about renting bikes or take your own.
The River Arts District showcases artists and working studios in 22 former industrial and historical buildings spread out along a one mile stretch of the French Broad River. It’s eclectic and it’s growing, filled with art, food and walking. While there, visit the Asheville Guitar Bar. The area is currently adding sidewalks greenway space, and a visitor center.
Western North Carolina Nature Center – a great attraction for families who want to spend some time learning about wildlife up close, in habitats created to mirror their natural surroundings. Don’t miss the river otters.
Finally, depending on the time of year, plan a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway which passes beside Asheville. Simply spectacular.
We have barely scratched the surface. Start here, but check out the Asheville Visitor Website: Explore Asheville. You’ll have a wonderful road trip to Asheville.
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