Asheville’s nickname “Land of the Sky ” is fitting for this North Carolina town, along with its other monikers “Paris of the South” and “San Francisco of the East”. Travel and Leisure named Asheville in its 50 Best Places to Travel in the World in 2020. That got my attention, sweetened by a short nonstop flight from my hometown Austin, so we made it happen in the Fall of 2021.
Good to Know
Asheville, NC is between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains 130 miles from Charlotte, NC. March to May is a popular time to visit, along with September to November. The summer and winter months get attention, too, with temperatures that are not that hot and not that cold. Attractive shoulder season rates are a bonus. Average annual snowfall is around 16 inches per year. Weather-atlas.com is a great planning tool. Attire is casual even at upscale restaurants. Blazers and heels are not a thing. Explore Asheville is a good resource to find upcoming events.
Little Known Fact
Asheville was identified in the early 1800s as a wellness retreat for respiratory illnesses. Folks arrived in droves to miss the heat, mosquitos, and malaria that dominated the south, and others came to miss the brutal snow and cold in the north.
Asheville was originally part of the Cherokee nation. European settlers arrived and named the land Morristown. Asheville was renamed in 1797, after then governor of North Carolina, Samuel Ashe. George Vanderbilt was sold on the benefits of mountain air and purchased 125,000 acres, as a 25 year old single bachelor, to build his future family home.
The Vanderbilt Estate attracted other notables who flocked to Asheville. Grand hotels and office buildings emerged. The city was on fire during the roaring 20s, followed by the tragic depression in the early 1930s. Asheville was unable to recover from the economic devastation. This was both a blessing and a curse. Asheville, in many ways, is a time capsule from its glory days 100 years ago. The architecture, including the many brick facades from the 1920s, remain today, and contribute to America’s love affair with the charming North Carolina town.
The Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) is 15 miles from Asheville, with nonstop service from 20 central and east coast destinations. This data is from FlightsFrom.com, a favorite website covered in Strategy Workshops for the Expert Traveler. Check it out. More than half of those nonstop flights are on Allegiant Airlines. Allegiant is a budget carrier that operates a limited flight schedule and offers no bells or whistles. If you are in the military or a veteran, check out Allegiant Air Military Discounts before you book, which includes one free onboard pet, early boarding, and no bag fees.
Allegiant’s Austin to Asheville nonstop is currently offered only once daily on Monday and Friday from the Austin Airport South Terminal, which is a car drive away from the Austin Airport Main Terminal. Allegiant cancels flights and may not offer you a same day alternative. I had a back-up connecting flight on Delta in case Allegiant cancelled mine. Once I knew the Allegiant flight was a go, I cancelled the Delta flight with a 100% refund. I always book one way flights. There are good reasons why you should too. You should also get Global Entry right now, and use the TSA Precheck line. The warnings to arrive 3 hours before your flight are true. I see a repeat of this everywhere.
You need a car in Asheville if hiking and mountain drives are on your punch list. I check my rental car rate a day or so before departure. My rate dropped for the Asheville trip, so I rebooked and cancelled, in that order. Check rental car rates before booking flights to be sure cars are available and book cars ASAP. Strategy Workshops for the Expert Traveler cover topics guaranteed to ramp up your travel experience. The car we were first assigned in Asheville smelled like a smoke stack, so I promptly swapped the vehicle. If I hadn’t, I could have been hit with a $250 cleaning fee when I returned the car.
Gray Line Tours
If you skip the car in Asheville, Gray Line Tours Hop-On Hop-Off Trolleys provide a great option for transportation to and from the in town sights. Check the schedule before you book. They are limited on certain days, and at certain times of the year.
The Foundry by Hilton in downtown Asheville scored a 10 for our stay, and gets my vote for our next stay in Asheville. The Foundry was previously the Asheville Steel Factory. It’s a boutique hotel with 87 rooms in 5 connected buildings.
Rates during our Fall stay were staggering, so I opted for a no cash reward stay. Points earned on my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card were transferred to my Hilton account and the four night award was issued. Strategy Workshops for the Expert Traveler discuss points, including how to earn and spend them. We also received a $15 daily credit per person for food and/or beverages as a Hilton Gold benefit, automatic with my American Express Platinum credit card, which I’ve had since college days. Benne on Eagle, the in-house restaurant pictured here, was great for an evening coctail using the daily credit. Breakfast, however, was slow at Benne, so we opted for breakfast bars on the go, that I keep in my carry-on luggage.
Our Foundry Historic King Room was located near the lobby for a fast in and out. This was requested in advance. The rooms are smart with plugs, mirrors, and lighting where they should be. Linens and robes are the good kind, and a make-up mirror seals the deal. Our room oozed charm, and I could nearly touch the stain glass at the nearby Baptist Church.
The lobby is a big one where you could stay all day. Work tables, a bar, and a cozy fireplace are in the lineup. This is just one of the four corners.
Other Lodging Options
Consider the 128 room Hotel Arras, a Kimpton Hotel by IHG, located inside a former bank and centrally located in downtown Asheville. The Grove Park Inn, 2.5 miles from downtown Asheville, is popular with travelers who enjoy large resorts with golf, spa, and multiple onsite dining options. Although Biltmore Estate lodging is an option, I lean toward a visit to the Estate, versus a stay.
Shopping is not a thing, however, there are a couple of stores that got our attention. Most of the stores are the quirky kind and the type Phoebe from friends might frequent.
Battery Park Book Exchange
The Battery Park Book Exchange offers a treasure trove of used books on North Carolina, American History, the Civil War, and the American South. Other subjects are plentiful, but you will find neither New York Times best-selling novels, nor current newspapers. Champagne, wine, lite bits, and deserts are served. Mission furniture and antique dining tables are scattered amongst bookshelves. Reservations are required for table seating, where food and beverages are served. Phoebe would love this spot. Antique lovers will too.
Mast General has roots that extend back to 1883 and is nirvana for the outdoorsman of the male and female kind. They sell more than just clothing and shoes. In fact, the Mast General website claims they sell everything from fried chicken cookbooks to toffee and tents. Other Mast General locations are in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
If you are on the hunt for Duke Cannon’s “Bourbon” solid travel cologne, Mast General has you covered. Amazon sells it too. You can find the Amazon link on the Bullseye Packing – Essentials for the Expert Traveler, found on the Resource tab of my website TravelToolsTips.com.
The only other urban chain retailer I noticed in downtown Asheville was Anthropologie. Ladies, don’t get too excited. It’s a small one with limited inventory.
Dining in Asheville
Foodie and beer lovers this is your place. Asheville was included in the list of the South’s Best Food Cities by Southern Living in 2020. Make your dinner reservations well in advance. Spaces are small with limited capacity. Many establishments are closed on Sunday and Monday. Carolina Eater provides a good guide. Asheville is even better known for its beer and ranks as the USA city with the most breweries per capita. Breweries have more seating and can generally accommodate walk-up patrons.
Downtown Asheville has a bunch of great options including these.
Wicked Weed Brewery
Wicked Weed Brewery is a casual option for lunch and dinner, that serves up a fantastic beer and pub menu indoors and out. There is a tasting room, bottle shop, and brewery onsite. Schedule tours and tastings in advance if you are going for an immersive experience. The bar is a great spot for a casual dinner and local charm.
Curate, is an upscale dinner only option that offers small plate tapas, and is the most difficult reservation to secure. If you don’t have a reservation, the bar provides seating, but be prepared for a wait. Chef Katie Button is a local celebrity with a giant following.
La Bodega, Curate’s sister establishment, provides a café, Spanish market, and wine bar in a cozy streetside setting, with dining inside and outside. We hit La Bodega for lunch, but it also checks the box for a casual early dinner too. Closing time was 8:00 pm. Check hours before you go.
Limones is an upscale dinner only spot that serves a French-Mexican cuisine “with California influence”. The dining room is quiet, romantic, and on the dark side. Bar seating is bright and lively. Both sides require a reservation. I will go again and target my reservations for the bar side. The food tastes as good as it looks.
Modesto is an upscale Italian restaurant that serves lunch and dinner both indoors and out. The staff and crowd were noticeably polished. Our experience was extraordinary. This restaurant is located near the Battery Park Book Exchange, and pairs great with a stop there before or after to browse vintage books.
Rhubarb is a popular upscale farm to table cuisine located in Pack Square, a busy part of downtown. Both indoor and outdoor seating is offered.
Dining Outside of Downtown Asheville
Hillman Beer is less than a mile from the Biltmore entrance and provided a fast, casual bite before seeing the USA’s biggest house. Both lunch and dinner are served inside and outside. Service was fast. The pub food was great. The vibe was Asheville all the way.
Great Hall Bar & Sunset Terrace at the Grove Park Inn
The Great Hall Bar was the ideal lunch spot to sit and marvel at the comings and goings at the Grove Park Inn. It’s located in the grand lobby, by the Inn’s famous old fireplace. The vibe is a cross between a mountain side ski lodge and a national park hotel. Reservations at the Great Hall Bar are not required. The Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup was the best I’ve ever had. Don’t be misled by this photo. The space is giant and packed with people.
With more time and more planning, consider a long lunch or dinner seating at the craftsman tables at the Grove’s Sunset Terrace with pinch yourself gorgeous views of downtown Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Biltmore Estate & Gardens
The visit to the Biltmore Estate & Gardens exceeded expectations. An advance ticket is required with designated entry time. We chose the most popular Estate & Garden tour; however, other immersive experiences are offered for a premium fee.
The Biltmore home remains today the USA’s biggest private residence with 175,000 square feet, 250 rooms, sitting on 8,000 acres. George Vanderbilt, at the age of 25 and single, was drawn to the mountain climate and started the Biltmore project. Construction began in 1889 and was completed six years later in 1895. More than 1000 people were employed in the construction. Three years later, in 1898, George married Edith who joined him at the giant estate. George inherited his wealth from his father Cornelius, who was a steamboat and railroad industry magnet. George’s descendants own the home today, though no one has lived in the home since the 1950s. Rooms are the formal kind, that emulate European castles fit for a king.
The basement even has a swimming pool and fitness center. The stunning gardens provide a great opportunity to stroll the property.
Great hiking is available less than one hour from Asheville. Here are a couple of hikes to consider.
Craggy Gardens & Craggy Pinnacle Trail
From downtown Asheville, drive approximately 20 miles northeast on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Craggy Gardens Visitors Center. This drive is a pretty one.
Park at the trailhead by the Craggy Garden Visitors Center. Look for signs to the Craggy Gardens Trail. The Craggy Gardens Trail is a 1.9 mile out and back hike rated moderate by AllTrails. Hiking shoes are best for this one due to the steep incline that makes up about half the trail. One side is up. The other side is down. It feels like more than 1.9 miles.
After hiking the Craggy Gardens Trail, drive to a nearby parking lot to hike the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. AllTrails rates this 1 mile out and back hike as easy. Once at the top you get the million dollar view. Here you are positioned high above those hiking the Craggy Gardens Trail.
DuPont State Recreational Forest & Waterfalls
Head south 40 miles to the DuPont State Recreational Forest. Views on this highway drive aren’t exceptional. There are five waterfalls within walking/hiking distance at the Forest, so choose the waterfall hike that suits you. We chose the 4.6 mile hike to Bridal Veil Falls that is rated easy by AllTrails. Hiking shoes were good to have but not required. Most of the hike was flat. Last of the Mohicans and Hunger Games filmed here.
Grove Park Inn
E.W. Grove built the Grove Park Inn in 1913, approximately 2.5 miles from downtown Asheville. Now it is owned by Omni Hotels. Don’t let the word “inn” mislead you. This place is a giant resort with 513 rooms, a golf course, tennis courts, a spa, and sits on 408 acres. The resort is perched over downtown Asheville. Photos cannot capture the incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, that surround the Grove Park Inn. You have to see it for yourself.
The resort, filled with craftsman furniture, feels museum like, with many exhibits. Historians, this is your place. A 30 minute, on your own audio history tour, is available. See the concierge for details. After visiting the property, consider touring the nearby neighborhood.
River Arts District
The River Arts District (RAD) has working artist’s studios, galleries, housing, dining, and bars inside old factories, warehouses, and historical buildings. There are 22 buildings in the two square miles that make up RAD. This area screams urban cool and is a welcome diversion from historic Asheville.
North Carolina Glass Center
The North Carolina Glass Center in the River Arts District offers one time glass blowing classes that require advance paid registration. Visitors can watch the techniques safely from the wings if the immersive experience is not how you roll. There are great items for purchase at this one of a kind glass studio.
Wedge Studios, across the street from the North Carolina Glass Company, houses many artist spaces including Joyce Thornburg. Joyce is an acrylic and mixed media artist. Every corner in Wedge Studios is a diamond discovery filled with a myriad of creations. Each is more different than the last.
Mark Bettis Studio Gallery
The Mark Bettis Studio Gallery is next door to Wedge Studios. Works from the artist Nabil El Jaouhari are housed there. Nabil creates elaborate collages that fetch over $6K. He is pictured here with a commission from an out of state buyer.
This familiar painting, “Craggy Gardens”, was available for sale at the Mark Bettis Studio Gallery. Watch out for this tree if you hike the Craggy Pinnacle Trail in Craggy Gardens. It’s an attention getter. You will know it when you see it.
Tips on Asheville
Plan in advance for dinner reservations. Dining establishments are small and good. Allegiant Airlines has a bunch of flights into Asheville, but beware. Allegiant may let you down. Plan accordingly. Don’t look for a lounge in the Asheville Airport. It’s not that kind of airport. Lounge access, however, and how you get it, is covered in Strategy Workshops for the Expert Traveler. Dial back your speed while in Asheville. Instead, open up all of your senses, and soak up this lovely “time capsule” kind of town.
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