Experiencing a metropolitan city in 48 hours can be difficult. But in Asheville, North Carolina, most attractions are so centrally located, you can sample more in a short amount of time. This small mountain town boasts artistic flair, outdoor adventure, historical intrigue and plenty of deliciousness. In other words, it’s a perfect weekend getaway any time of year.
Here’s how to make the most of a two-day itinerary:
Start your visit in Asheville off right with a bison burger paired with a pint of top-notch craft beer at Wicked Weed Brewing. Don’t be surprised by the strong smell of wort when you walk into the main-floor restaurant; brothers Luke and Walt Dickinson are constantly experimenting with fermentation downstairs, and the aroma, they say, is part of the memorable experience. In 2013, they created a record-busting 104 beers, one of which, called Serenity, took a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. A mural of King Henry VIII, who famously declared hops a “wicked and pernicious weed,” greets more than 1,000 drinkers and diners a day, so it’s best to arrive for a late lunch to get your pick of indoor, outdoor, upstairs or downstairs seating.
Though there are a few hotels located downtown, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Inn on Biltmore Estate offers views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a winery within walking distance and the kind of hospitality you might expect as a guest of millionaire George Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt completed his mansion in 1895 in the heart of his family’s 125,000-acre estate, and today, the retreat (now measuring 8,000 acres) still somehow feels isolated and peaceful while only a 10-minute drive from downtown.
The contagious laugh of doorman Bert Miller welcomes you for check-in at 4 p.m., and after you settle into your suite (request an east-facing room for estate views; west for peeks at downtown), enjoy a down-hill walk to the winery for a complimentary tasting before 6 p.m. Biltmore grapes are selected from around the country, and all of the winemaking takes place on the property. Try the chenin blanc if you like dry whites, or if you are more of a red fan, our favorite was the sangiovese, made from 100 percent California grapes.
After you’ve had an aperitif, drive downtown for dinner. (A parking tip: The city’s more than 700 metered spots typically cost $1.25 an hour, but they aren’t enforced after 6 p.m.). Make a bar-side reservation at Katie Button’s Cúrate (pronounced “coo-rah-tay”) to watch chefs prepare intricate Spanish tapas that will make your taste buds dance the flamenco. The long dual-language menu overwhelms at first, but take your time and order as you go. The berenjenas la taberna (fried eggplant with honey and rosemary) makes a great starter, and don’t miss the esqueixada de montaña (raw trout served on a bed of tomato with lemon vinaigrette). Save room for dessert — the espuma de chocolate (chocolate mousse, raspberry sorbet and hazelnut praline) is worth every calorie.
Start the morning with a cup of coffee or tea using the room’s Keurig machine and order a light breakfast of pastries or Irish steel-cut oatmeal from the inn’s room service menu. After fully rising from your Cúrate-induced food coma, it’s time to explore Biltmore Estate. Catch the 9 a.m. shuttle across the estate, and though you’ll be tempted to begin with Vanderbilt mansion, start at the oft-ignored Conservatory instead. It’s just down the hill to the left of Biltmore House and is a structural marvel in its own right — 7,500 square feet of palms, orchids and sub-tropical plants housed in a nursery designed by Vanderbilt’s famed architect, Richard Morris Hunt. And if that stop somehow fails to curb your appetite for cultivation, the gardens and grounds will bloom with vibrant flowers, beautiful music and colorful art exhibits through May 23.
For lunch, the Stable Café — located in the Biltmore House’s original carriage and horse stables — serves sandwiches, salads and a particularly delicious caramel pot de crème to sustain you for the afternoon. If you’ve never seen Biltmore House, we recommend taking the free tour included in your stay after you’ve had a bite; however, repeat visitors should consider reserving a space on the Butler’s Tour, which reveals the servants’ quarters, boiler room and kitchen that, at one time, were off limits to Vanderbilt’s guests.
After all that walking, head back downtown and treat your feet to a soothing bath of salts and herbs at Wake, Asheville’s first foot sanctuary. Included in a 45-minute soak and leg massage is a complimentary glass of bubbly at the neighboring Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, a dog-friendly bookstore and wine bar located at the Grove Arcade.
For dinner, pop in or make a reservation at chef Mike Moore’s Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder, a bourbon bar and restaurant with a whole-hog approach to casual fine dining. To start, order the beet salad and meatloaf (made from the cheek meat of a pig head). As for your main course, choose from large plates such as buttermilk fried chicken or diver scallops with truffled edamame. Flights of bourbon are $15 for four half-ounce tastes — our favorites were the 107-proof Old Weller Antique and Prichard’s Double Barreled, both of which are excellent served over ice.
After all that eating, walking and history absorbing over the weekend, it’s nice to take a little bit of time to slow down and breathe. Before your 11 a.m. checkout, stretch out with an early-morning, drop-in community class at Asheville Yoga Center, located in North Asheville. When you complete a workout, try organic oatmeal hotcakes topped with candied walnut craisin butter at the much-recommended Sunny Point Café in West Asheville. Then explore the eclectic neighborhood for a few last-minute experiences. Asheville BookWorks, a printmaking studio and workspace, is open to the public and always has art from locals on display as well as artists working in the studio. Whist, a gift shop filled with stamps, children’s books, gnome-shaped soap-on-a-rope and other oddities, is a prime example of West Asheville’s quirky goodness and a great place to pick up a gift before heading home.
Photos Courtesy of Brad+Jen Butcher