Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Asheville, North Carolina

There is something about a food city set in the mountains in the fall that is a total draw for us. Asheville has been labeled “Foodtopia” because of its burgeoning food scene with countless James Beard winners. It gained the superlative “Beer City U.S.A.” for its 16 craft breweries that lure beer enthusiasts from around the country. The splendid mountain scenery and rich Appalachian heritage inspires artists to pain, sing, and strum. Stellar mountain vistas as far as you can see have soft peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains fading upward into the blue sky. So who wouldn't want to spend a week in Asheville?

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We set up camp at an in-town RV park – something we normally don’t do but wanted to take advantage of the convenient locations. Downtown Asheville is vibrant and alive. Building space is full with funky shops, breweries, culinary gems, and galleries while live music shakes the sidewalk and a man dressed as a nun entertains onlookers in his green velour Lazyboy. Yes, this is what has made Asheville so popular and why it ranks as a great small town to live in.

One popular downtown attraction is the Grove Arcade, one of Asheville’s architectural jewels. The Arcade was the dream of Edwin Wiley Grove who envisioned a grand shopping arcade that was, and still is, the largest building in downtown Asheville (coming in at 269,000 square feet). Grove made millions by developing popular remedies for malaria and the common cold but left his mark on Asheville with the Grove Arcade. The arcade was closed to the public in 1942 when the U.S. Government took over the building as part of the war effort to win World War II. Today, the Grove Arcade is restored to its grandeur and displays a myriad of locally-owned shops, restaurants galleries, offices, and luxury apartments.

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Part of the lure of downtown is the award winning restaurant and bar scene. Beer City U.S.A. is an appropriate title for a city overflowing with local breweries many of which have a cult following. It is easy to pop into any number of them for a pint or flight. After all, this town has it’s own Beer Tour maps, four annual beer festivals, and we found cycling and canoe tours that intertwine stops at breweries in their schedule. Our day in the city got better when we sat down at the kitchen bar in Curate – a tapas restaurant with a James Beard honored chef. The food was amazing and there are no words that can describe the ecstasy our taste buds felt. Instead, I will leave you with some pictures of our feast.

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A couple of other downtown hot spots to hit are: the Pinball Museum where they have over 40 vintage pinballs machines you can play at your leisure for just $10. There are two chocolatiers – French Broad where you can take a factory tour and the Chocolate Fetish which has the most decadent sipping chocolate you buds will ever taste. Another popular eatery is Tupelo Honey CafĂ© and for unique dried herbs and spices check out The Spice and Tea Exchange.

If there is one remark I got when telling people we were going to Asheville it was “are you going to the Biltmore?” Duh, yah! The Biltmore Estate is "America’s Largest Home" and by far one of the biggest tourists attractions with some 1.2 million visitors walking through its doors last year. The steep ticket price of $59 (we got a $10 discount by buying our tickets at the downtown Asheville Visitor Center) does not seem to dismay many people. Visitors enjoy the self-guided tour at their own pace and history comes alive through an audio wand (an extra $10 but well worth it). The tour inside the home lasts approximately 90 minutes but to see all the estate has to offer will take you the better part of the day. (Sorry, pictures are not allowed inside the house but click here for a website that displays many.)

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This 250-room building is the family home of George W. Vanderbilt completed in 1895 after six years under construction. While Vanderbilt was a bachelor when he first moved into the house, that wasn’t to last for long. Three years after moving to Biltmore he married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and two years later their only child Cornelia was born. The idyllic setting which grew to 125,000 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains was a peaceful and tranquil place filled with opulence made homey by friends and family. The house was state-of-the-art for the times.  While most American homes at that time did not have a functioning bathroom, Biltmore had 43.  There was a bowling ally, indoor swimming pool, walk-in refrigerators, rotisserie kitchen, and many more features that kept the house running.  But it is the rooms used for entertaining that set Biltmore apart.  Expansive rooms are decorated with Flemish tapestries from the 1500’s, Italian paintings from the 1700’s, furniture from France, and extensive gold leaf.

George died in 1914 after complications from an appendectomy leaving Edith to run Biltmore while raising her young daughter. When economic hard times came in the 1930’s, Edith decided to sell 90,000 acres surrounding the estate to the federal government (which became Pisgah National Forest) and opened it to the public. Today, Biltmore remains a family business with the third and fourth generation running the company and has grown to provide plenty of activities for visitors. The grounds also include a hotel, conservatory and botanical gardens, winery (which happens to be the most visited winery in the country), an outdoor activity center (with horseback riding, biking, fly fishing and more), a farm, numerous eateries eateries (which range from casual cuisine served in a renovated stable to fine dinning with a James Beard award-winning chef at the helm to a creamery and assorted others), and a shopping district.

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Asheville certainly offers a lot to do and its energy is contagious. While we loved our time downtown we couldn’t neglect what the beautiful countryside had to offer . . . stay tuned for more Asheville in the next post.



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