It’s time to head off to the mountains and enjoy one of our country’s most unique small cities. Asheville, North Carolina is most famous for the largest private residence in the country: Biltmore. And while the estate should definitely be toward the top of you list, there are two or three other gems that make Asheville a well rounded getaway for anyone. We’ll get to our take on the Biltmore Estate later on but, let us tell you about the rest of the area. Look for Asheville to be a great drive from big destinations like Washington, DC and St. Augustine, Florida with times clocking at about 6 hours each.
The River Arts District
Winding through all of Asheville is the French Broad River. It seems to be a lifeline for making Asheville hum. These days, most of the energy centers on a few neighborhoods including the River Arts District. Full of plenty of art galleries and hipster happy coffee houses, this district is all about the slow down pace of browsing and perusing while you learn what all the local artists have been up to. There are plenty of riverside pathways that let you enjoy this little slice of the city and some of the best eateries call RAD home. Expect to spend a couple of hours along Lyman Avenue to fully enjoy. Other areas include Biltmore Village (for that Disney feel) and West Asheville (for the great eats).
Connecting with the mountains out your window
While the main draw to the Asheville area might be the big house up on the hill, the surrounding area has much to offer. And the river is certainly where most people start. Enter French Broad Adventures. With great trips like rafting and ziplining, French Broad has something for every age and stage. Our choice? Canyoneering in the Pisgah National Forest. This hybrid mix of repelling waterfalls, rock slides, hiking and more immerses you into nature and gives you a fresh look at an area that can start to feel a little over-urban.
We know! We know! You don’t think it’s for you! But it totally is! If we can do it, so can you! Listen in to our Asheville podcast to hear the ins and outs of canyoneering and why you should totally take up offers from great guides like Alerie and Aldon to enjoy a new adventure. We promise to help you feel brave!
Crown Plaza on Resorts Drive
If we have a pan among our picks, it’s this throwback hotel that has so much potential. Located minutes from everything and on lovely grounds, this throwback hotel is now best known for it’s convention business. The rooms are clean and well maintained but the outside is dated and just a little sad. Additionally, the facility offers no lunch service. While there are plenty more places to stay, many come at quite a cost or are not as centrally located. This may be a reasonable compromise to make an Asheville stay more reasonable when you argue with you wallet.
Listen, we are the first to tell you that we are not food experts or that our focus is on the culinary arts. But, we know good eats when we taste them. Asheville had so many hits for us that we couldn’t pass up the chance to tell you about some of our favorites. It was definitely part of the amazing experience that Asheville offers any visitor. Before we walk you through an epic day of amazing dishes, we do want to tell you about one big pass that we recommend. Tupelo Honey seems to be a reservations only institution around here but we’ve got to say, we weren’t impressed at all. The menu wasn’t too inspiring and much of the food was bland or not prepared well (read microwaved!). There are so many good choices instead.
Breakfast at Biscuit Head
Look for the line out the door. Now stand in it. You won’t regret it!!! Biscuit Head has mastered the cathead biscuit and everything that they put on top. This small cafe with counter order only knows how to dish out amazing dishes like fried green tomatoes and biscuits as well as classic full breakfast with biscuit featuring the very best bacon we’ve ever had! We are all about starting our day on the right foot and Biscuit Head certainly did their part!
Lunch @ Sunny Point Cafe in West Asheville
This easy, breezy laid back garden patio makes sure that you leave miserable from all the great food! From Peach Pound Cake Bites to seriously good Chicken and Waffles, there’s not one thing on the menu that will disappoint. The yellow and blue vibes ensure that you enjoy the laid back patio with plenty of urban charm. Look for plenty of signature cocktails and great service. Ask for Tessa for some of the best service around!
Dinner at Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village
Walk up onto the porch of this old school Victorian Cottage and get ready for a fresh take on some old favorites. The little house once originally belonged to the parents of one of the estate workers and now has plenty of nooks and corners to enjoy the great food that’s coming out of the kitchen. Look for seasonal southern twists on staples like the amazing charred peach and tomato caprese. The chef also ensures there’s something for everyone like huge heritage porkchops with cherry bourbon glaze and classic shrimp and grits. The best part? The lovely staff leading foodies through the whole dining experience. To finish off the whole evening was the over the top, don’t miss out, maple blondie sundae that our favorite server, Allie, recommended. By the way, Allie was totally the best server ever! This was a great choice!
Now, onto Biltmore and it’s 8,000 acre playground!
So, there’s this house. Or should we say that there’s this mega mansion that started to take shape in 1889? George Washington Vanderbilt worked with Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame to create the largest private residence in the United States. So, why should you go see a big, huge, old house? There are many many reasons and none of them disappoint. Basic tickets to the house allow you to go through the main gate house and wind your way through the property and park to either take a shuttle or a walk up to the main house. And what a house it is! 250 rooms including 43 bathrooms! Unlike many of its European counterparts, however, Biltmore touts an extensive amount of turn of the century technology while maintaining that old world feel.
The House Tour
Walk in the front door and be welcomed into the foyer of the Vanderbilt home. Take in the open conservatory and the grand staircase. Guests can walk around with a self paced audio guide and learn all about the formal, family parts of the house from the seven story great dining hall to the two lane bowling alley in the basement. Be sure to pause on the back veranda to take in the view that convinced George that this was the perfect spot to break ground.
Take in the “modern” art from masters like Renoir and Monet; both artists that Vanderbilt thought highly of. Then, continue understanding how this massive house worked by touring some of the service areas like the kitchen and pantries. It is here that you will see most of the state of the art technology that made this place hum. Look to spend about 90 minutes exploring the major rooms that the family spent most of their time in.
But, wait, what else?!
Now that you’ve had a chance to immerse yourself in the guilded age, it’s time to explore beyond the splendor of the big house and see how the rest of the over 80,000 acres worked and how the present 8,700 acres is now a modern day playground. The closest thing to the house are the gardens. But… maybe don’t start there. The thing that makes Biltmore well worth the visit is menu of activities that bring the entire estate to life. Look for three major categories to keep you entertained: outdoors and wellness, food, and cultural experiences. Here is a short list:
- Lazy river rafting and kayaking on the French Broad River. The gentle current makes this perfect for all ages.
- Horseback riding on the estate trails in the Deerpark area.
- Archery and falconry lessons that turn back time and not only let you participate in the sport but also inform you about how these sports played a role on the estate.
- Yoga and immersive nature experiences that get you out into the grounds and allow you to connect with this picturesque corner of Carolina.
- Landrover trail expeditions that let you try your hand at navigating through the backfields and woods while learning how to use the dynamics of the car to become a better handler.
- Mountain biking on the pristine trails that crisscross the property (which is a great way to explore those gardens!)
All of these activities are yours to book as long as you have a ticket to the house. And, it’s okay if the outdoor activities don’t exactly work for you. Biltmore has plenty of cultural experiences to round out your visit. They include:
- Shop at the stable shops just next to the house with plenty of charming items that reflect the house and its history. The stable yard is also a great place to grab a snack in between tours and activities.
- Rooftop architecture tour lets you climb and explore the different balconies and rooftop areas and take in the exceptional views over the house and gardens area.
- Backstairs tour will give you a proper dose of Downton Abbey fun as you learn about the upstairs maids and the butler’s domain. If you are truly interested in the inner workings of the house and how Mrs. Vanderbilt’s maid assisted her throughout the day (it was A LOT!) Everything on this tour is not available on the extensive main house tour.
- Winery tours and tastings are available in Antler Hill Village where there are some lovely shops and eateries that include Cedric’s Tavern which is named in honor of the family’s huge, sweet, good boy!
- Painting workshops that match the current exhibit theme are available seasonally and well worth it to enjoy the experience and walk away with a little keepsake!
- Immersive art exhibits featuring artists like DaVinci or Monet are installed for limited runs at the Ashcroft building and are a lovely way to connect to fine art. The Monet exhibit relates to the house particularly well as Mr. Vanderbilt truly enjoyed these modern masters.
Asheville has so very much to offer every sort of traveler. From the great food to the amazing experiences and even that big house up on the hill all contribute to an amazing getaway!