Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains between the Blue Ridge Range and the Great Smokies, Asheville’s unique character is a curious blend of progressive and old-fashioned… lively and laid-back… big city and small town. This small city of about 84,000 has been a popular destination since 19th Century doctors prescribed the area’s fresh air, mild climate, hot springs and mineral waters as a prescription for rehabilitation and relaxation. The city became a popular health resort and drew a great number of rich and famous Americans like George W. Vanderbilt II and E.W. Grove. Asheville is frequently included in national rankings for a diverse variety of qualities. Recently, the city has been included on lists such as “America’s Top Arts Destinations”, “Most Alive Places To Live”, “Best Places to Reinvent Your Life”, “10 Most Beautiful Places in America”. CBS once described Asheville as a “new-age mecca”. Frommer’s proclaimed Asheville as one of the top seven places to live in the U.S. Rolling Stone once dubbed Asheville as the “New Freak Capital of the U.S.” While it is debatable whether Ashevillians are flattered by that title… 10 minutes of people-watching in downtown Asheville reveal its eclectic mix of people and lifestyles.
The 8000-acre Biltmore Estate is Asheville’s primary tourist attraction. The estate’s centerpiece is the four-story 250-room Biltmore House, the realized vision of George Washington Vanderbilt II, the son of William H. Vanderbilt and the grandson of railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Completed in 1895, the French Renaissance mansion was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and is billed as America’s largest private home. The exterior walls are made of Indiana limestone. The exterior features many highly detailed adornments including traditional “grotesques” or “gargoyles”. Its interior floor space covers about four acres. At a time when interior plumbing was a luxury and bathrooms were virtually unknown, the Biltmore mansion had 43 bathrooms and three kitchens. The building has 65 fireplaces, an enormous banquet hall and a huge library containing over 10,000 books. The common areas are adorned with intricate rugs, luxurious furniture and exquisite woodwork from floor to ceiling. Although modest by comparison to the rest of the mansion, the servants’ quarters and common areas appear quite comfortable and comparable in size to rooms in today’s typical American home.
An introverted and highly intelligent man, George Vanderbilt was the youngest of William Vanderbilt’s sons. George had little role in the family’s business operations, leaving him free to indulge his intellectual pursuits. During his extensive travels, he amassed an amazing collection of art, antiques and curiosities from around the world… still on display at the mansion. Visitors will see paintings by Renoir and Whistler, a print of Albrecht Durer’s rhinoceros, Napoleon Bonaparte’s chess set, Oriental rugs and tapestries and many other important and beautiful artworks. The basement includes recreational and fitness elements… including a large gymnasium filled with 19th Century fitness equipment, a large indoor swimming pool with underwater lighting, bowling alleys and about a dozen changing rooms for guests to put on their swimming and workout clothes.
Mansion visitors are each provided with a headset providing historical narration and details about the items and significance of each area. Biltmore representatives are available along the tour to answer any additional questions. The adjacent gardens feature a very large walled garden, azalea garden and a glass conservatory containing orchids, desert plants and cacti and many other exotic plants and flowers. A short scenic drive from the Biltmore House brings visitors to Antler Hill Village, a scenic shopping and dining area on the Biltmore Estate, and home to the Biltmore Estate Winery. The Biltmore Estate contains vineyards that produce over 250 tons of grapes annually. The Biltmore Estate Winery claims to be America’s most visited winery, and it is certainly very prolific. Wine tasting and winery tours are included in the price of the Biltmore Estate admission. About 20 wines are available for tasting. Their outstanding Wine Shop has gourmet foods, wine accessories, souvenirs and of course, Biltmore wines… at surprisingly affordable prices. The Biltmore Estate is still owned by the Vanderbilt family. It remains the area’s centerpiece attraction. It is easy to spend a day enjoying history, architecture, wine, dining, shopping, and great scenery in this unique place.
For those visiting Asheville for more than a day, a Gray Line city tour is an ideal way to soak in the city’s flavor. During the 1 ½ hour tour, visitors will see the art-deco architecture of downtown Asheville, the grandiosity of the historic Grove Park Inn, the grittiness of the thriving River Arts District and Biltmore Village, a shopping and dining district situated at the entrance to the Biltmore Estate and fashioned after an English country village. The tour points out many great dining and shopping opportunities and attractions that visitors may wish to explore further. The fully narrated Gray Line tour has unlimited hop-on, hop-off privileges and is a great way to begin your Asheville adventure.
Lodging is abundant and Asheville has facilities for all types of traveler. The Biltmore Village Inn, The Grand Bohemian and The Grove Park Inn and Resort offer local character, history and a dash of luxury. Tunnel Road on the northeast side is lined with more economical options. The city is dotted with many highly-rated historic bed and breakfasts. We chose the Brookstone Lodge, south of downtown, at the intersection of Sweeten Creek Road and I-40… just about a mile from the Biltmore Estate entrance. This recently-constructed 4-story hotel is relaxing and comfortable. Brookstone Lodge provides a complimentary hot breakfast, indoor swimming pool, hot tub, free parking and affordable rates. Brookstone Lodge is a perfect beginning and ending to a long day of sightseeing.
Asheville borders the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile scenic roadway linking Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks. Asheville is located within a short drive of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The area has countless opportunities for outdoor recreation like hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and zip-lining.
With a charming character that may seem slightly out of place, Asheville is a one-of-a-kind American city with a rich history, plentiful outdoor activities, a vibrant and inviting downtown area and great shopping and dining.
To plan your visit, the Explore Asheville website is the ideal place to begin!