NORTH CAROLINA

Experience Asheville

It was love at first sight for world-traveler George W. Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. In the late 1880s, he fell under the charm of western North Carolina's majestic mountains and Asheville. Purchasing 125,000-acres of land, he commissioned the much-heralded architect Richard Morris Hunt to build the most luxurious private residence in America. In 1895, the 250-room mansion, modeled after a 16th century chateau, was completed. It was known as the Biltmore Estate.

Perhaps Vanderbilt started a trend. You see, he wasn't the only notable American taken by Asheville. By 1929, the city was somewhat of a ''boom town” as it also became a resort home for both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

And today, visitors are still enamored by Asheville. The largest city in western North Carolina, it's one of the top 10 destinations in the region. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, more motorists exit and enter the Blue Ridge Parkway here than at any other point along the road's 470 miles.

However, there is much to do beyond the mountains. With more than 150 funky and eclectic boutiques, shops and art galleries, more than 50 diverse restaurants and a plethora of entertainment venues, there is something for everyone. And the best part  is you don't have to be a Vanderbilt or Ford to enjoy them.

Exploring the Lay of the Land

Filled with history and lore, the best place to learn about the city is through Urban Trail walking tour. The 2.5 hour tour makes a 1.7-mile loop of downtown and tells the story of Asheville interpreted through art.

Hop on and off  Asheville Historic Trolley Tours. Offering a narrated 90-minute tour packed with historical information, stops include Woolworth Walk, Grove Arcade and more. Architectural buffs must visit Smith- McDowell House, Asheville's oldest house, circa 1840. Tours inside of the Victorian era home includes a look into period rooms, history exhibits and spectacular landscaped grounds.

When author Thomas Wolfe who said that you never can go home again, perhaps he was talking about himself. A native of Asheville, no one was fooled when he depicted his mother’s boardinghouse as Dixieland in his novel  Look Homeward Angel and well, with the characterization of local citizens, Asheville wasn’t too receptive to the novel. In fact, the book was banned from the local library and Wolfe himself didn’t return to the area for about eight years. You can learn more when you tour Old Kentucky Home boarding house.

However, the piece d' resistance is Biltmore Estate. Many say you need to devote at least a half a day to tour the grounds. The house still contains its original collection of 50,000 furnishings, artwork and antiques. For an additional fee, you can take one of the specialty tours, such as a Behind the Scene Tours that provides a closer look at the inner workings of the house. A variety of outdoor activities, such as guided horseback rides and bike trails, also are available.

Enjoying the Arts

Whether you are a collector, or just like to look at art, Asheville won’t be a disappointment in this area. Arts and crafts are an integral part of this area.  Handmade in America, based in Asheville, highlights crafters and craft heritage trails through the back roads and small communities in the region. 

The city is also home to the Folk Art Center, the nation's top organization representing the crafts culture of the Southern Appalachians, the Southern Highland Handcraft Guild. In this facility, guild members' works are displayed and sold. During some visits, you can watch artists create their work. At Stuart Nye Hand Wrought Jewelry, there are opportunities to watch the artisan at work as they design jewelry from sterling silver, copper and brass.

There are over two dozen galleries, representing contemporary Southern folk art to authentic Appalachian crafts, all within walking distance.  Don’t forget about the River Arts District (RDA), another artist community. You can lose hours wandering through studios and shops filled with every type of arts and crafts available. The RDA also holds two annual Studio Strolls throughout the year.

Embracing the Outdoors

There’s fly-fishing, white-water rafting, canoeing, and kayaking – just to name a few outdoor activities. Oh, and then there is Blue Ridge Parkway as well – you can hike or bike the trails.  If you just want to enjoy the fresh air – grab a cup of coffee from one of the many places downtown and sit outside. The point is whatever outdoor activity – from soft adventure to pure relaxation – you probably can find it.

Ready to experience more? Go, and with one visit, you'll understand why so many fall love with Asheville.

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