Daniel Boone, Thomas Wolfe and George Vanderbilt are among many notable names who have a connection to Asheville, North Carolina. The odd collection of frontiersmen, authors and tycoons is still somewhat representative of the picturesque Blue Ridge mountain city, a place that readily welcomes artists and craft beer entrepreneurs, granola-crunching naturalists and techie inventors. Since the late 1800s visitors have appreciated the region’s natural beauty as well as its eclectic collection of galleries, boutiques and restaurants.
The bohemian allure of Asheville continues in 2013. Its thriving Downtown is something of a time capsule where beautifully preserved old buildings house mom-and-pop shops, and small parks regularly play host to concerts and community gatherings of all sorts (drum circle, anyone?). The Grove Arcade and its surrounding neighborhood is a good place to begin a visit as it features dozens of antique stores, produce sellers and chef-owned eateries.
Just outside the city are myriad options for outdoorsy adventures. Whitewater river rafting, mountain biking, hiking trails, trout fishing streams, zip lines through pine forests, horseback riding stables—this slice of western North Carolina is famed for its backwoods action. Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers more than 520,000 acres alone. Bring a camera and extra batteries. Green meadows, tree-shaded paths and shallow streams and waterfalls dot the landscape.
Hands-down the biggest attraction around these parts is Biltmore House and Gardens, the largest privately owned mansion in the country. “Big” doesn’t do George W. Vanderbilt’s 250-room French Renaissance masterpiece justice. The 8,000-acre grounds of the estate are nearly as impressive, and the property is home to several restaurants, a winery and its very own outdoor activity center.
There are numerous outstanding hotels in and around Downtown, including the Hotel Indigo, Aloft Hotel and Haywood Park Hotel. Good as these are, however, the Grove Park Inn is a true Carolina landmark. The nearly 100-year-old, AAA Four-Diamond hotel combines fine dining, championship golf and a luxurious spa all inside one rambling, granite stone-covered facade.
The region hosts numerous summertime festivals and special events. Arguably the most anticipated is the Bele Chere Festival, a huge three-day street fair that celebrates Asheville’s music, art and foodie scene. This year’s Bele Chere (“beautiful living”) is July 26-28.