In 1794, the site that would become Asheville, North Carolina was only a simple crossroads of Cherokee Indian paths in the Appalachian Mountains. Over the next 200 years, European migration, railroad access, and a trust fund baby named George W. Vanderbilt grew the intersection into a city with remarkable art-deco, Gothic, and neoclassical architecture. Today, Asheville has a thriving tourism industry, an eclectic population, and one of the most attractive downtowns in the Southeast.
You can’t talk about Asheville without at least mentioning the magnificent Biltmore Estate, the 250-room Loire Valley-inspired chateau built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. His “little mountain escape” is nestled in 8,000 acres of woodlands and formal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the designer of Central Park).
The largest private home in the U.S. contains 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, 43 bathrooms, an indoor pool, a bowling alley, and an extensive collection of art and antiques. The grounds include managed forests and hiking trails, gardens, a winery and vineyard, horse stables, and a glass conservatory. The estate requires so much labor to maintain, an entire town called Antler Village was built to house employees nearby.
Touring the mansion alone can take hours. To enjoy the gardens, carriage rides, hiking, and kayaking, plan to spend the entire day. Staying on the estate – no, not in the mansion itself, but in the four-star Inn at Biltmore Estate – lets you fully experience Vanderbilt-inspired hospitality. Travel Maestro tip: The estate’s elaborate Christmas decorations and Candlelight Christmas Evenings are spectacular.
The Food and Beer Scene
Asheville has emerged as a “foodie haven” with restaurants and chefs earning high accolades again and again. You’ll find plenty of creative new twists on traditional southern cuisine and Appalachian-inspired dishes, as well as many ethnic, Asian fusion, and vegetarian options. The only problem with the Asheville food scene is making a choice!
The small city is equally known for its beer and boasts the most breweries per capita in the U.S. There are dozens of local craft breweries and tasting rooms, each with its own style and personality. You can catch an incredible variety of live music, shoot a game of pool, or brewery hop on a 13-person Pubcycle while tasting your way through the options. Travel Maestro tip: North Carolina’s coronavirus reopening is in Phase II at the time of publication. Check for the latest updates here.
The River Arts District of Asheville features many local art studios in converted warehouses. Hundreds of artists ply their skills in painting, glasswork, jewelry making, ceramics, photography, printmaking, and sculpture. Travel Maestro tip: On the second Saturday of each month, over 200 artists in the River Arts District open their studios to the public and hold free classes, events, and demonstrations.
The Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway is an homage to Appalachian artists and regional crafts. In contains a museum of American Craft, exhibition rooms, and a craft library. Travel Maestro tip: Allanstand Craft Shop at the complex is the oldest craft shop in the country, established in 1895.
Day Trips Close to Asheville
Less than five miles south of Asheville, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest is home to Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock, and the Pink Beds Trail at the Cradle of Forestry. The whole area is full of outdoor adventure including hiking trails with amazing overlooks, waterfalls with swimming holes, and exhilarating cycling routes. Travel Maestro tip: Weather conditions change rapidly in the mountains. Wearing layers is usually a good plan.
Cherokee, North Carolina is 50 miles west of Asheville at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cherokee is a kitschy tourist town where you can shop for handmade baskets, beadwork, and clay pipes. But it’s also a historic preserve that is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. Oconaluftee Village portrays the history of the Cherokee people and offers live demonstrations of 18th-century tribal life. Travel Maestro tip: Experience the rich story of the Cherokees’ courage, triumphs, hardships, and disappointments in the thrilling outdoor drama “Unto These Hills.” (Due to COVID-19, the show is dark for the 2020 season.)
Chimney Rock is a soaring 315-foot granite outcropping overlooking a beautiful gorge and lake. The spire is located within Chimney Rock State Park about 20 miles southeast of Asheville. Six hiking trails range from child-friendly to strenuous. One leads to Hickory Nut Falls, one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. You can also take an elevator to the top of the namesake rock for views as far as 75 miles away. Travel Maestro tip: The park’s Rocky Broad River is popular with trout anglers.
Put Asheville on Your Travel-Soon List
Asheville enjoys a moderate climate, and it’s nice to visit year-round. The mountains keep the city cool in the summer and protect it from too much snow in the winter. The diverse people, delicious food, creative art, and nearby nature make it an engaging place to visit. Asheville deserves a place on your travel-soon list!