The U.S. has many celebrated destinations, but few rival the city of Asheville, in my opinion. Located in the dazzling Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville beckons strangers to slow down and savor. To revel in the bucolic countryside, dine on superb cuisine, and absorb its romantic history and culture.
The bountiful farmland surrounding the city has inspired Asheville chefs to construct imaginative, flavorful dishes at practically every restaurant. Behold the rolling valleys where local dairy farmers produce small-batch cheeses and organic fruits and veggies. Asheville’s restaurants were some of the first in the country to embrace farm to table cuisine.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable attraction, Asheville contains one of America’s crown jewels. Visit The Biltmore Estate, a storybook castle built by American aristocrat George Vanderbilt. The wealthy railroad magnate discovered Asheville in the late 1800’s, and because the region offered a pleasing climate with fresh air and healing mineral waters, he decided to build his mansion here. Vanderbilt acquired 125,000 acres of land and constructed the Biltmore Estate with state-of-the-art everything—from an indoor swimming pool to electric lighting.
Vanderbilt’s home is like America’s Downton Abbey—with sumptuous rooms upstairs supported by an army of staff working behind the scenes. Surrounded on all sides by the bluest of the Blue Ridge, his mansion includes lavish gardens and barns. Biltmore Estate helped sustain Asheville’s citizens through the difficult Depression years, and today, Vanderbilt’s descendants welcome visitors to take self-guided tours of the house, gardens and historic village.
Staying at the Inn at Biltmore Estate is a splurge worth considering. This Four-Diamond resort offers idyllic views from every window, and convenient access to all estate activities–horseback riding, archery, wine tasting, Land Rover Riding, and a variety of dining options including Afternoon Tea.
Downtown Asheville has a different vibe thanks to a progressive community of entrepreneurs, makers and artists. The town is a haven for seekers of the original. To find handmade Appalachian crafts, visit the Grove Arcade, a historic marketplace or the Folk Art Center. If you’re not traveling yet, you can shop for crafts online at Asheville’s Holiday Gift Guide.
Eating Asheville is the ultimate introduction to Asheville’s fine eateries. Guides of this food tour escort groups to several stops to sample food and wine. Some of the most popular restaurants in Asheville these days include The Admiral, Curate, Strada Italiano, and French Broad Chocolate Lounge for dessert.
Asheville is truly renowned for the craft brewery scene with 48 small batch breweries and a few large ones too. My favorites are Bhramari Brewery, Burial Brewery, Wicked Weed and Twin Leaf Brewery. In contrast to these intimate taprooms, visit the Sierra Nevada Taproom, the brewery’s massive Eastern production facility and restaurant. For the ultimate insider’s look at the Asheville brewery scene and sample several dozen unique beers, I recommend taking the Brew-ed Tour.
Beyond downtown, there are other impressive restaurants. Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village is a showplace for healthy Southern cooking. Tour the popular River Arts District to see local artisans at work, and have lunch at former President Obama’s favorite barbecue restaurant, 12 Bones. Don’t be shocked by the line–it really is worth the wait.
If you’re looking for a mountain adventure, take a 350-foot high zip line canopy tour at Navitat. Thirty miles from downtown Asheville, this well-organized trip above the hills and dales of the Blue Ridge will leave you exhilarated and refreshed.
Closer to town, go explore the North Carolina Arboretum with acres of planted gardens and sensational walking paths – the grounds were inspired by designs from the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. If you visit this winter, take a drive through the Arboretum’s mile-long sparkling stretch of Winter Lights (Nov. 20 through Jan. 10, 2021). The displays will feature colorful native butterflies and winter wildlife displays, as well as a special insect-themed lantern exhibit.
History enthusiasts should tour the home of influential American author Thomas Wolfe. The guesthouse Wolfe immortalized in Look Homeward, Angel is open to the public for tours, and exemplifies the struggles of life in the South after the Civil War.
Asheville is a fabled destination where travelers are heartily welcomed and thoroughly entertained. It’s a place known for natural beauty, unforgettable cuisine, and a real American castle.
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.