With its epic vistas, charming historical sights and a culinary scene that never ceases to outdo itself, Asheville has become more than a traveler’s passing whim. This fanciful Western North Carolina town tucked into the palm of the Blue Ridge Mountains is fast becoming a favorite among adventurers and gourmands alike.
Several items ought to grace any visitor’s must do list, starting with a stop at The Biltmore Estate, George W. Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre retreat that still stands as an awe-inspiring example of American ingenuity and chutzpah. Completed in 1895, the estate features a 175,000-square-foot French Renaissance chateau with 250 rooms, 75 acres of gardens, a working farm, an equestrian center and numerous restaurants, all of which are accessible with paid admission to the estate.
For most, a day-long visit doesn’t supply enough time to absorb Biltmore’s architectural and horticultural grandeur, which is why an overnight at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel, is suggested. An outdoor pool with sweeping mountain views, grand afternoon teas in the stately library and a boutique spa are just a few of the perks of this 210-room hotel tucked into the rolling hills of Vanderbilt’s sprawling property.
The nearby Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville is also worthy of consideration. This impressive abode, reminiscent of a lavish 1880s hunting lodge, is drenched in stone, wood and fur, and dotted with stag heads, antique guns and antler chandeliers. Opened in 2009, the hotel contains an art gallery packed with magnificent original works, a spa and Red Stag Grill, the onsite restaurant where executive chef Adam Hayes whips up American cuisine such as elk carpaccio or North Carolina black grouper propped up by provisions from local gardens, farms, ranches and fisheries.
The Grove Park Inn, the iconic hotel built by tonic tycoon Edwin Wiley Grove, just celebrated its 100th birthday this summer. But this local landmark hasn’t lost any of its luster and still serves as one the best places in Asheville to watch the sun set. Snag a table at Edison, Grove Park’s newest epicurean gem, to sip cocktails from mason jars and nosh on Carolina cuisine while relishing the views of the Blue Ridge peaks in the distance. Carve out at least half a day to visit the hotel’s legendary 43,000-square-foot spa, where you can splash in a series of grotto-enclosed and outdoor pools flanked by fireplaces and decked out with an underwater sound system.
After some indulgent pampering, head to the great outdoors for a seemingly limitless array of hiking options. For a somewhat effortless jaunt, visit the North Carolina Arboretum, where an $8-per-car admission fee gives you access to 10 miles of well-marked hiking and biking trails, a stunning outdoor bonsai tree exhibit and 65 acres of cultivated gardens bursting with vibrantly colored North Carolina flora.
Those craving a little adventure should try a zipline tour through the treetop canopy overlooking the Southern Appalachian forest. Located about 30 minutes northeast of Asheville, Navitat Canopy Adventures offers a three-and-a-half-hour guided escapade through an 80-acre aerial trail featuring two sky bridges and 10 ziplines, including one that sends you 200 feet above the forest floor.
Be sure to set aside a few hours to slip into the many quirky, independently owned boutiques in downtown Asheville. Those in need of a respite should stop into Wake, the self-described foot sanctuary that opened in the Grove Arcade earlier this summer. Snuggle into cozy couches and immerse your feet into giant copper bowls filled with your choice of soaks, including lavender chamomile, honey oatmeal and salty beach rose. Tip: Add on the foot and leg massage for the ultimate relaxation.
The tiny town of Highlands, North Carolina, lies just an hour southwest from Asheville, making it a perfect overnight escape. Check into Old Edwards Inn and Spa, a delightful Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel that exudes a sense of country charm with period antiques, an outdoor mineral pool and unfiltered vistas of the lush mountain landscape. Once you’ve dropped your bags in your room, spend an hour exploring the quaint collection of shops on Main Street or head out on an easy hike to Sunset Rock in Ravenel Park, where views of the town and sweeping panoramas of nearby peaks make it worth the short one-mile trek. Back at the inn, enjoy a farm-to-table dinner at Madison’s, which is known for its seasonal and locally sourced cuisine. If possible, squeeze in a spa treatment or two; the inn’s 25,000-square-foot facilities are made for spoiling, especially the open-air treatment terrace and fireside lounge.
Photo Courtesy of The Biltmore Company, The Kessler Collection and Navitat Canopy Adventures