After avidly collecting articles on the area and hoping to make a visit for many years, I finally experienced the vibrancy and natural splendors of Asheville, NC.
Asheville nestles in a bowl of the Smoky Mountains which are majestic and beautiful in their perpetual smokiness and blue haze. There is no better way to experience them than driving along the crests of the southern Appalachians on The Blue Ridge Parkway. The many entrances over its nearly 500 mile journey from Shenandoah Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountain Park in North Carolina make it easily accessible unless the fog and low lying clouds that give the mountains their name have other intentions.
The parkway allows for seemingly endless views of parallel ranges connected by cross ranges and scattered hills.
For us, they did not disappoint and provided a glorious spectacle on a cool rainy day for much of our 50 mile meander that weaved through the southern end of the massive black mountains named for the dark green spruce and fir that covers them.
A side trip to Tallulah Gorge rewards with vistas of cascading waterfalls, though the 1000 step journey down and then back up is not for the faint of heart.
Mount Pisgah, donated by the Vanderbilt’s to the US Forest service stands a lonely sentinel at close to 6000 feet.
My favorite treat and a great way to start the day was seeing Asheville rise from its smoked night time slumber from our top floor aerie at the Hotel Indigo.
The quaint downtown of winding streets, restaurants and boutique shopping has not fallen prey to the scourge of fast food and uninspired national brand stores that have ruined other towns of a like ilk.
The River Arts district along the French Broad River is where the old brick tobacco and textile warehouses are now filled with galleries, artist graffitied walls, art studios, glass and metal works and home to the famous 12 Bones Smokehouse, a foodies delight of all things smoked and barbecued. The beef brisket and sides of corn pudding, corn bread and green beans still have me licking my chops.
George Vanderbilt’s chateauesque Biltmore is the largest privately owned home in the U.S at 175,000 square feet. It is the most prominent remaining example of the gilded age. In his time, George was able to gaze at endless vistas of property that stretched for miles and included Mount Pisgah. Though the Vanderbilt’s gave much of the acreage away to the National Forest Service including the mountain, the house and 7000 or so remaining acres still belongs to them. Today, the magnificent house, it’s Renoirs, John Singer Sargents, furniture, a chess set belonging to Napoleon and many other treasures are open to the public.
We spent a delightful day at the Biltmore. Between the house, gardens, winery and views of the mountains under a cloudless blue sky, the day sped by.
Asheville’s burgeoning food scene is exciting to dive into. Five local chefs have been nominated for a James Beard award.
A reservation is definitely needed at Curate. Kate Button earned her stripes at the now closed El Bulli on Spain’s Costa Brava. Her long saffron painted dining room is carved out of a 1920’s bus terminal and the tapas are delicious. Her signature dish of fried eggplant drizzled in wild mountain bee honey and rosemary was exquisite
All Souls Pizza is unlike any pizza joint I have been too. The owners mill their own grains and pizza toppings are as local as can be.
An Asheville native converted an old gas station into the unlikeliest of restaurants, Gan Shan station. The Pan Asian food with a southern twist is delicious.
And for breakfast lovers like me, Early Girl eatery is a crash course in Appalachian cooking with dishes like biscuits in herb gravy
Waynesville, a picturesque town off the Blue Ridge Parkway served up a delicious repast of fried green tomatoes and southern fried chicken.
On our way to Asheville we enjoyed the home made Colombian delicacy ‘Frijoles Rojos’ that blends red beans, rice, ground beef and avocado and melt in your mouth shrimp spring rolls made by my dear friend Natalia, and the best arepas I have ever tasted at Las Margaritas in Atlanta.
It truly was an unexpectedly delightful vacation and Mango and Fiona’s exuberance remain with us
Adios amigos till next time!
> I would recommend a stay at the Hotel Indigo. It’s rooms are bright and spacious especially if you are lucky enough to snag one on the top floor aerie. The views especially at sunrise are stupendous and it’s a short walk to restaurants and nightlife.
> Most of the restaurants I have mentioned don’t need reservations but be prepared for lines in the height of the summer season
> I did not make it to Rhubarb, from star chef John Fleer, but I heard it’s in a league of it’s own when it comes to farm-to-table.
> Another one that we did not have time to take in is Buxton Hall Barbecue which serves pasture raised meat every which way.
> Make sure you get to the Biltmore’s gargoyled front door before 9am in season and during weekends otherwise you will be swallowed up by the crowd. There are great restaurants on the property including the Stable Cafe. As it’s name suggests it’s the original stables of the house and has an interesting ambiance. There is also the Bistro and winery at Antler Hills Village a few miles away on the property.
> The gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted are beautiful and so are the many walking trails.
> In Asheville, enter the Blue Ridge Parkway at Hwy 74. The magnificent folk art center/guild, about two miles from that entrance is well worth a visit and has a stunning display of mountain art, tapestry, jewelry, crafts and a variety of leather goods etc.
> Waynesville on Hwy 276 off the parkway is worth a lunch and browse of the quaint shops along its Main Street. The precipitous winding descent to the town from the parkway affords great views of the mountains.