Asheville is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Many have fallen in love with the place for its natural wonders. The Blue Ridge Mountains are, indeed, some of the finest strokes that Mother Nature’s brush have ever wielded.
Others who’ve visited the charming city in western North Carolina can’t get enough of its holistic spas and alternative healing options.
And there’s yet another group that insists the place is the antique shopping capital.
After a recent visit, we can safely say that Asheville is all of those things. But it’s so much more. The dining landscape is absolutely cooking. Its brew scene is nowhere close to fizzing out.
So, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a fun getaway with the gals or still searching for that vintage lamp, you’ll undoubtedly find it in Asheville.
For the History Buff
Even with the city’s evolution, one constant has always been the Biltmore Estate. The beloved family home of the Vanderbilts, established in 1895 and still overseen by descendants to this day, is the same gasp-inducing statement piece that it’s always been. Rolling fields and majestic, fairytale-worthy structures still dot the campus. Only now, the 8,000-acre property entices with even more distractions.
Through October 7, Dale Chihuly’s prized glass works will be on display in the Biltmore’s historic gardens, a first for the property. And if you can’t get enough of the stunning pieces during the day, a new experience called “Chihuly Nights at Biltmore” will give you a fresh perspective on things with dramatic lighting.
The Biltmore Winery is also worth exploring. If you go with an in-depth tour and tasting, you’ll learn everything you’d ever want to know about the vino-making process at America’s most-visited winery. But should you elect to kick your feet up at the wine bar with a handcrafted chardonnay instead, we won’t judge you, either.
Once you finish exploring the barrels or breathtaking art, have a rest at The Inn on Biltmore Estate, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star stay that feels like somewhere George W. Vanderbilt may have entertained guests in the early 1900s. But where gold waterfall window treatments and paisley-printed armchairs provide a sense of place, vessel sinks and flat-screen TVs offer enough of a contemporary feel to ensure the inn stays in modern travelers’ good graces. The warm staff and cool spa (its hand carvings and hidden compartments were inspired by the estate’s architecture) complete the experience.
For the Foodie
If you’ve spent any considerable time south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you know that hospitality in these parts is best shown through the stomach. Dining around Asheville, of course, is no exception.
At the Biltmore, for example, the standard is the Dining Room. This versatile Four-Star destination serves golden Belgian waffles to short wearers in the morning and herb-crusted salmon to those donning sports coats at night. And while moods may change with the clock, executive chef Sean Eckman’s mission remains unmoved — deliver estate-raised meats and freshly picked vegetables to as many tables as possible.
Things have been done with similar aplomb with chefs Steve Goff and Mike Moore’s The Blind Pig Supper Club, a collaborative culinary organization meant to raise awareness for local charities. The two toques took what they learned with that effort, sprinkled in a few extra dashes of entrepreneurial gumption, and opened a brick-and-mortar version, Auxiliary Bar & Kitchen, in downtown Asheville in early 2018.
As they did with the club, locals have flocked to the new restaurant for the chefs’ colorful renditions of duck wings, Brussels sprouts and seared trout. It’s Southern food done with flair. And trust us, we’re able to make that declaration before trying even one of Aux Bar’s famed retro cocktails.
Speaking of drinks, Asheville has garnered quite the reputation for its craft beers over the past decade or so. What started out rather unceremoniously in the mid-’90s at a pizza joint has exploded into a certified movement; Hi-Wire, Highland and more than 30 other breweries now call Asheville home.
One of the most interesting companies in the batch is White Labs, a yeast-production facility that sources many of Asheville’s best breweries. Last year, the label decided to expand its hops-filled horizons and open a restaurant specializing in beer-infused foods — a pause-worthy concept, sure, until you’ve taken a bite of a delicious margherita pizza that’s been fermented with cultures. It will confirm that these “scientists” know exactly what they’re doing.
Jargon has been open in a cozy, historic West Asheville building since 2017. Over that short span, word of its globally inspired American cuisine has only grown. When we visited for “blunch” recently, a jazz singer was crooning — live music is on the menu every weekend — while the kitchen made music with sweet and spicy shrimp, challah French toast, and sausage-and-mushroom-stuffed skillets. Come for dinner or late night (open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) and you’ll be serenaded with similar scrumptiousness and smiles from the servers.
The scene at the just-opened AC Hotel Asheville Downtown’s Capella on 9 is slightly different — appropriately positioned on the ninth floor, the restaurant offers a rooftop terrace with knockout mountain views — but the results are just as tasty. From crabcakes drizzled in a piquillo remoulade to the smoked chimichurri wings, every small plate does it big with the flavor. Couple those bites with a refreshing Guillermo’s Garden (Vya dry vermouth, Cointreau, cucumber, basil and grapefruit) and a gorgeous sunset, and you have the recipe for an unforgettable summer night.
For the Fun Seeker
People come from far and wide for the hiking along Mount Pisgah and the kayaking on the French Broad River (the world’s third-oldest river, by the way). And while both of those pursuits still warrant visits, Asheville has other good-time options that have nothing to do with lacing up your boots.
One of the city’s favorite new downtown pastimes is meeting up at Well Played, a neat café that essentially turns every evening into game night. Here, you walk in and are greeted by a gamemaster who asks you what your favorite games are before showing you an area that looks like something out of Milton Bradley’s craziest dreams. From common titles (Monopoly) and obscure offerings (Scythe) to in-house creations (gamemaster Tanner’s Draft-a-Dragon), the options are plentiful.
Between moves, enjoy a snack (a grilled cheese sandwich, an amazing onion dip or an assortment of candies) while sipping on a local brew. The place works for friends, families or folks on a first date.
Groups will also have a great time on a Hood Huggers tour. The brainchild of community activist and poet DeWayne Barton, Hood Huggers aims to tell the largely overlooked story of African Americans’ impact on Asheville. This, of course, is a huge undertaking, which might explain why Barton often dons a cape and funky shades when he leads a trek.
Or, it could simply be a tactic to keep you engaged as the spirited Barton leads you around town and talks about E.W. Pearson (real estate investor, organizer of the state’s first NAACP chapter) or “The Block,” an area south of Park Square where more than 60 black-owned businesses thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today, a beautiful mural in Triangle Park from artist Molly Must, the Just Folks organization and Asheville Design Center serves as one of the last reminders of what the area once meant. Look across the street and you’ll see a major development being erected. Progress melding with the past. No matter which you’re searching for around Asheville, the city is more than eager to show it to you.