Asheville, North Carolina
The first thing that got my attention as I was driving into North Carolina from Tennessee, was the beautiful landscape. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t that great. Fog and rain wasn’t helping to really appreciate it, but even though, I still found it charming. If beauty can shine through bad weather, how stunning must it be on a clear blue sky and sunshine.
As I arrived to my hotel that evening, I had a sensation of peace and serenity. Something about the atmosphere and the area. Being surrounded by those green mountains was really relaxing. It wasn’t just me. Asheville is known to be a healing resort. The first therapeutic health center was in 1880. Visionaries, poets, explorers, notable statesman and other luminaries have always been drawn to Asheville and have contributed to the development of the city.
This city is as welcoming as diverse.
Asheville has a rich heritage of Architecture: Neoclassical styles, mix of Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movement. Unique buildings like the Grove Arcade, the Basilica of St. Lawrence, the city hall, the Asheville High School, the Jackson Building, to mention just few, are the testimony of greatness. More art deco architecture built in the late 1920s and early 1930s can be found in downtown Asheville than in any other southeastern city outside Miami.
The most impressive house of all, is without a doubt the Biltmore house, built between 1889-1895 by and for George W. Vanderbilt, the richest man in the world at the time. In the late 1880 he purchased 120,000 acres (48,560 hectares), today the family still owns 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares). The 250 rooms-estate has 175,000 sqft (16.300m2) and can clearly give you an idea of the extent of his fortune for the time. This is the largest private house in the USA and is simply magnificent. I couldn’t take pictures of the inside, but I will describe some of the rooms that stayed with me. The reception room which has a large dinner table that seats comfortably about 65 people, an organ like you see only in churches and huge fireplaces on each side of the room. The Vanderbilt loved to organize dinners and parties and especially during Christmas, they had the biggest tree and held receptions for family, friends as well as one for all the people working on the property with gifts for all the children (still held today). The library has more than 10,000 books on the shelves, and apparently 12,000 more are in storage. Mr. Vanderbilt had collected through his multiple trips to Europe pieces of art and furniture that are of an incredible value today. Sculptures of European Princes, paintings and drawings from young unknown (at the time) artists (a little Renoir hang in a corner of the family dinner room), a table game and chess set that belonged to Napoleon, 16th century Belgian and Flemish tapestries are just a few examples. The indoor heated pool was spectacular, especially considering the period. The Biltmore house was built with plumbing and electricity. I couldn’t help admiring the three kitchens (for those who ignore it, it is for me the most important room in a house). One kitchen for pastries, one for rotisserie and another for regular cooking. It is definitely nothing compared to some royal European castles, but it is nonetheless a remarkable house for a business man.
George W. Vanderbilt also built a village near the estate for the men working on the construction of his property along with a church. It has a unique style of houses that now are homes to boutiques and restaurants. The Biltmore Estate and village is not only a sign of opulence, but it has refined taste and true beauty. The property include the house, the gardens, the equestrian center, the winery, the hotel (opened in 2001), the Antler Hill Village (where you can admire an iron forger with 50 years of experience demonstrating how he goes from an iron stick to a beautiful vine leave key chain, amazing!) and the farm. You can bicycle or horse ride around the property that is open all year around and offer different view each season.
But Asheville is not just the Biltmore Estate, although it takes at least two days to enjoy the entire property. It is a splendid city to visit.
If you are passionate by art, collector or simply curious, there are several art districts, some have old warehouses transformed in artists’ studios that you can visit. Others are packed with galleries or antique boutiques (about 100 in the city). There are numerous art events through the year, as well as performing arts festivals. The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, held in August in downtown Asheville, is the oldest of its kind in the nation
If you want an upscale-relax treatment, the Grove Park Inn resort and Spa is listed number 13 of Travel+Leisure magazine spa worldwide and the most luxurious in the city. It is on top of a hill, and you can admire sunset over the mountains while dinning in the fine restaurant of the resort. It also contains the world largest collection of furniture and lighting fixtures from the Arts and Crafts era.
If you like organic food, Asheville has a large selection of distinctive restaurants as well as many food festivals. You can enjoy every type of cuisine at all kind of prices.
If you want to admire beautiful landscapes and hike (or not) the Blue Ridge Parkway that surround the city is quite impressive and has amazing views. You can also go whitewater rafting. I didn’t get a chance to see, mostly because of the weather, the Great Smoky Mountains, but there are UNESCO World heritage site and the country’s most popular national park with more than 514,000 acres and from 400 to 600 black bears. People say the scenery is simply breathtaking!
If you didn’t get it by now, I have completely fallen for Asheville. It is my very first city-crush of the trip and I do recommend it to everyone. My last half day (obviously) was full on sunshine and blue sky and made me very sad to leave, but give me the occasion to see that beauty under the sunlight and I was just overwhelmed. That feeling of peace was extraordinary to find in a city that has everything to offer. To me, it felt just magical… I just cannot wait to go back!
To see the pictures please click here
See you next in Lake Lure and Wilmington!