Asheville, North Carolina, is a town best described as the point where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the weird. Strolling through downtown recently with a friend celebrating her 50th birthday I was struck by how much Asheville is like Portland, Oregon, or a young Austin before the hipsters ruined it.
Asheville is home to many fascinating things like the Biltmore Estate built for George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. The estate is the largest privately-owned house in the United States at 178,926 square feet of floor space, and its construction pretty much built the town. The estate houses an Inn, stables, and can be rented out for private events. The Biltmore is still owned by George Vanderbilt’s descendants and is one of the most prominent examples of Gilded Age mansions.
The estate today covers approximately 8,000 acres and is split in half by the French Broad River. The Biltmore Company is a trust set up by the family that manages the estate. The company is a large enterprise that is one of the largest employers in the Asheville area. Restaurants were opened in 1979 and 1987 as well as four gifts shops in 1993. The former dairy barn was converted into the Biltmore Winery in 1985.
The 210-room Inn on Biltmore Estate opened in 2001. In 2010 the estate opened Antler Hill Village, as well as a remodeled winery with a connected farmyard. The Biltmore occasionally hosts special exhibits, and last year the internationally famous glass artist Dale Chihuly’s jaw-dropping work was featured on the grounds of the estate and inside the house.
We spent the day at the Grove Park Inn Spa, which is considered by many as one of the most unique and best spas in the country. The treatments offered include wellness pod multi-sensory experiences, massages, body treatments and skincare. We loved our body exfoliations, massages and scalp rejuvenations.
The spa is nestled at the foot of the Grove Park Inn golf resort and was built in 1913 with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The spa features an indoor workout room, mineral water lap pool, relaxation floating pool, two hot tub waterfall pools, and a women-only area with a dry spa, steam room, aromatherapy room and jacuzzi.
Outside is a terrace with a large hot tub where food and drinks are served – you can enjoy those wearing robes or swimsuits. The décor is so unusual and cozy with locally sourced rock-lined nooks everywhere You will need to bring your swimsuit and plan on leaving your cell phone in the locker as the spa is an electronic-free zone. Robes and slippers are offered for all the guests.
We loved the fact that we were encouraged to spend the day enjoying the spa amenities until 9:00 p.m. The grounds are beautiful and feature hiking trails, an antique car museum, art gallery and at Christmas time a nationally televised gingerbread house competition. Be sure and grab a drink on the Grove Park Inn back terrace and watch the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains – it is spectacular.
After all the pampering, the next day we made our way to the Blue Ridge Mountains hiking trails to take in the scenery and enjoy the cool temperatures. The Blue Ridge stretches from Georgia to Maine, and the trails feature elevation, well-marked trails and greenery you will see nowhere else. The tree canopy makes the hike very comfortable.
Independent and diverse eateries dot downtown Asheville. We enjoyed the Bouchon French Bistro our first night and the dim sum and tapas restaurant Red Ginger the second night. We recommend Tupelo Honey for brunch and lunch as they serve delicious breakfast food all day long.
Be sure and save room for dessert and stop by Asheville Chocolate off of Broadway and College for handmade in-house chocolates and gelato.
We stayed at the AC Hotel Asheville Downtown and were pleased with the clean, spacious rooms and enjoyed their rooftop bar, considered one of the top 50 rooftop bars in the U.S. We heard great things about the comedy bus tour LaZoom Tours which takes guests on a historical and hysterical tour of Asheville.
Beer aficionados will love visiting Sierra Nevada Brewery, a gorgeous space with an organic farm, bocce ball, brewery tours, a great restaurant and all the beer blends and flights you can drink.
All in all I wish we had more time to learn about the city as it is easily walkable and so entertaining. Historical buildings are intermingled with funky stores, bars and great people watching. The tattoo ink never runs dry in Asheville and dreadlocks are everywhere. A laid-back hippie attitude makes everything in this little town feel relaxed and slow-paced. We are told fall is a great season to visit to see all the changing leaves, so grab your girls and make some plans for the fall!