The long and the short of it is, you can’t have a “long” weekend in Asheville North Carolina, your time will always be too short, no matter how long you stay because there is just too much to do. Now that’s a problem that we should have more often! Asheville, nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, a little over 2000 feet in elevation, has a fairly enviable mild four season climate. The population of the city has increased dramatically to over 90,000 in the last couple of years, but it still has the feeling of a manageable small city. It has few of the big city drawbacks and a lot of the big city pluses. Those pluses include a great culinary scene, the hottest boutique breweries in the south, an amazing and thriving arts culture and some very pretty architecture...Oh, and by the way the Biltmore Estate is pretty mind boggling too!
Asheville does have an airport and if you’re like our friends that joined us for the weekend, and have a private jet, then you can fly right there. For mere mortals like ourselves, flying to Charlotte and renting a car is probably the best way to get to this mountain town if your time is short. The drive from Charlotte is quite pleasant as the scenery just keeps getting more spectacular as you get closer to your destination. Obviously, if you have more time, this is a great road trip stop as well.
PLACES TO STAY
This place is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton; in other words you get a hip boutique hotel under the umbrella of Hilton. The rooms are comfortable and well appointed and the feel is all that is new and hip in Asheville.
THE WINDSOR HOTEL
This cool boutique property may not have all the bells and whistles (such as an on site gym and spa) but the rooms are huge, well appointed and feature kitchens that make one feel like they are staying at a friends nice apartment. Located two miles from the Biltmore estate, this is a great property.
THE CAMBRIA HOTEL
This downtown high rise property has mod rooms featuring mod furnishings and rustic brick walls. There is a better than average fitness center on site and a really nice spacious terrace open to all guests. Since downtown Asheville is a great place to be, this is a good choice.
INN ON BILTMORE ESTATES
Set on the spectacular Biltmore Estate grounds, this Hotel has all the potential to be a grand dame. Unfortunately it suffers from having a somewhat generic feel to it both in the rooms and in the common areas. This being said, the setting is amazingly beautiful and peaceful. And while you may not be blown away by hip design, the hotel has a very comfortable feel. Here, they do have all the bells and whistles as well, including a spa and fitness center, and then of course the estate is at your doorstep for riding, hiking and walking.
THE GRAND BOHEMIAN
During our recent spring trip to this fair city, we stayed at the Grand Bohemian. This Marriott property is set at the entrance of the Biltmore Estate in The Biltmore Village, which was constructed for George Vanderbilt to house his workers. The hotel is about a ten minute drive from downtown. The outstanding thing about this property is the people, from the valets, who were happy to assist us with the hotel car, to the hostess in the bar who remembered our drinks the second night, to the very helpful concierge, the staff was outstanding. The decor is something of a cross between hunting lodge meets “Game of Thrones” but seems to work in a quirky way. Unfortunately the hotel is built right up to the edge of an entire block which is at one of the busiest intersections in the city. And due to the style of the architecture, most rooms have tiny windows. A gracious valet showed us three dreary rooms and one with a larger floor plan and bigger windows. We chose this room, only to realize that the traffic woke us very early each morning as our room overlooked what looked like an L.A. freeway. Because of this, I can’t say we can recommend this place.
WHERE TO EAT
THE WELL BREAD BAKERY
Set in the charming Biltmore Village, this place, as you can tell by the name is not a destination restaurant. What it is, is one of those great places to get a quick and delicious afternoon snack and a pretty good coffee after touring the Biltmore Estate. There’s a pleasant patio and the staff is really friendly and happy to give you advice on night life etc.
This pleasant understated restaurant is a great place to start a culinary weekend in the city. Set on a pleasant small street in the heart of downtown, the decor is understated and soothing. There is a slick little bar and an open kitchen with a beautiful wood burning pizza oven. The menu is a tad confusing as it is on two sides of one page causing the guest to flip back and forth, but our well trained server guided us patiently through the more cutting edge seasonal menu and the more traditional page as well. The wine list is fun and well chosen and again, our server was conversant with it and happy to suggest good pairings.
Don’t pronounce the name of this place “cure rate”; it’s pronounced “Cure Raw Tay” darling! Otherwise they may not let you in. This eatery, created by James Beard nominated Chef, Katie Button, is Asheville’s hottest restaurant. The atmosphere, with its open kitchen where one can eat at the counter is fun and the feeling is lively once your party gets past the arrogant hipster dudes on the door. The food is good and well prepared. The suckling pig is especially delicious and of course it’s hard to go wrong with Iberico ham slices. The Spanish wine list is well chosen and interesting. Moreover our friendly and very competent waiter was well versed in its nuances. If you’ve spent much time in Spain you won’t be blown away by the food, but it will no doubt conjure up some good memories and if Spanish food is new to you, this is a pleasant introduction.
Trendy and busy, this restaurant set in the epicenter of downtown serves downright delicious food. It is obvious from just a cursory look at the menu, that Chef-Owner John Fleer is focused on the seasons. As our dinner unfolded, we found that the food was just plain delicious. We especially enjoyed the ramps presented in a “bag”, the perfectly cooked quail and the trout which our friendly waitress deboned expertly at the table. The atmosphere is energetic with a large open kitchen and peeling plaster walls. The cocktails are creative and the wine list well chosen. What more could you ask for?
Set in the pleasant Biltmore Village area, this well run restaurant makes one feel comfortable and at home the minute you walk in. There is nothing fancy about the menu; just think of it as well prepared southern comfort food. There is a patio for al fresco dining and a window lined dining room in side. Our waiter was friendly, well informed and the kitchen delivered excellent food swiftly. For us this is the perfect lunch place in Asheville.
THE BULL AND THE BEGGAR
Set in the rustic River Arts District, otherwise known as RAD, this shabby chic bi-level restaurant is a favorite among locals. The venue may be rustic, but the American fare is well executed. The vibe is young arty (oddly enough) and vibrant. Start your dinner with some freshly shucked oysters and move into the abundant charcuterie platter. The service is warm and convivial. In short, this restaurant is just another good reason to visit Asheville.
12 BONES SMOKEHOUSE
Well, when in Rome...and all that! President Obama loved this place so much he visited twice and it’s easy to see why. The atmosphere is simple and rough just like we all like our barbecue joints. It’s obvious that they take their food seriously here. Their motto “No nonsense barbecue made from scratch everyday” kind of sums it up! Need we say more?
PLACES FOR PRE DINNER COCKTAILS🍸
THE GROVE PARK INN
A first visit to Asheville would not be complete without a stop at the famed Grove Park Inn, and what better way to do this than with a cocktail in hand on the Inn’s gorgeous terrace overlooking downtown Asheville. Opened in 1913 the inn was the creation and brainchild of E W Grove, who made his fortune peddling his “Grove’s Tasteless Tonic” which by 1910 had sold 1.5 million bottles and made Grove a vast fortune. Created in just eleven months the expansive lobby walled with massive boulders and two immense fireplaces is alone a wonder to behold. The hotel has one of the largest collections of Arts and Crafts furniture in America, all of which was expressly created for the hotel. Sadly Omni Hotels acquired the property in 2013 and has done a splendid job of putting its robust generic stamp on this unique property. But if you look straight ahead from the terrace and enjoy your martini, the effects of the cheap looking new wings added, no doubt to maximize profits, are minimized.
THE INN ON BILTMORE ESTATES
Even if you’re not staying at this hotel, this is a great venue for an old fashioned civilized cocktail. Off the lobby is a pleasant lounge where a pianist is frequently found tinkling the ivories or if you prefer, take your drink out on the terrace which overlooks the vast Biltmore Estate. Even though the inn itself is a bit four star in feel and needs an update, it’s still a relaxing place to watch the sun go down and drink in the beautiful scenery.
THE PILLAR ROOFTOP BAR
Okay, it’s on top of The Hilton Garden Inn, but it is a fun bar! The bar perched on the sixth floor has a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is also an indoor section with huge windows, so even if you’re visiting in the winter this is a pleasant place to have that first cocktail
THE MONTFORD ROOFTOP BAR
This is probably Asheville’s favorite rooftop bar. On the eighth floor of (yes, you guessed it another hotel) The Hyatt Place. The view of the distant mountains is fantastic and the seasonally changing cocktail menu isn’t bad either! They even provide complimentary valet parking and sunglasses: now that’s pretty swanky!
THINGS TO SEE AND SHOPPING TOO
For many, quite frankly, the reason to visit Asheville is not the cities great restaurants, art scene, burgeoning brewery scene etc. etc. but Biltmore Estate. This incredible French chateau style edifice was commissioned by George Vanderbilt and was completed in 1895. It remains the largest home in America and is still one of the largest estates anywhere in the world, comprising over
8,000 acres ( the original estate was an astonishing 100,000 acres). Having just finished the book “The Last Castle”, about the estate, and the family that created it, I was excited to see this home. I was not disappointed, in fact both the home itself, it’s magnificent gardens, created by Fredrick Law Olmstead, and grounds meticulously maintained and framed by stupendous valleys and mountains, is pretty mind-blowing. You can purchase tickets online or your concierge can easily arrange to purchase them when you arrive at your hotel. Happily the tickets will allow you to visit the estate for two days, which is great since there is so much to see!
THE RIVER ARTS DISTRICT
I have to be honest, we thought that Asheville might have some arty things going on, maybe a smattering of good galleries but nothing too significant. So, it was a real shock for us to drive into The River Arts District in this amazing little burg, and find not a few galleries, but a huge area with a large working artist community! Spread over several miles of what were derelict warehouses along the railroad tracks is one of the more impressive artist communities in the country. You can almost feel the energy as artists have made an unusual commitment here to embrace the outer community of locals and visitors and involve everyone in the artistic process. Here you not only get to see potters potting and glass blowers blowing but you can join in and learn how to do it yourself! If that’s not your thing, that’s fine too; the galleries of the artist’s products are there for all to view and purchase. Another refreshing thing about RAD is there is none of the pretentious attitude of most fine art galleries: one is given a friendly greeting everywhere and if you are interested in the artist’s work he or she is usually there and happy to talk to you.
Scattered about the district are some great coffee shops, breweries and restaurants so you don’t need to leave the area to find sustenance. In fact All Souls Pizza, White Duck Taco and the famous 12 Bones Smokehouse (visited by President Obama twice) are pretty terrific places to eat. And, for evening dining, The Bull and the Beggar is one of Asheville’s hottest restaurants. All the galleries will provide you with maps of the RAD, which are quite helpful in deciding what to see. The area is quite spread out and although you can walk it, at times having a car could be helpful especially since many of the sidewalks are still pretty neglected. We found that the spectacular graffiti art/murals scattered about the district were impressive and worth the drive alone.
If you have ever been to downtown Charlotte N.C. and wondered where the retail outlets were and why it has such a grim corporate feel, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that Asheville’s downtown is the polar opposite. Walking in this downtown is great fun. First of all, at every turn there are musicians, jugglers and mimes. Music spills from outdoor cafes and everyone seems to be having a good time. Here you will find no vacant stores and derelict buildings, instead the place is chock-o-block with galleries, unique shops, trendy restaurants and cafes. It’s easy to spend a day just exploring in this downtown which should be an inspiration to city planners all over America.