First known as an art colony, a healing resort and a home to notable luminaries, statesmen, and bohemians, Asheville is one of the most welcoming, vibrant cities in America. The city is a unique place that finds its way into your mind and memories for years to come. Its architectural legacy is a glorious mix of Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and Neoclassical styles that is the consummate backdrop to the eclectic locally owned-shops, art galleries, distinctive restaurants, and exciting entertainment venues.
On this sojourn, we flew into Atlanta and took our time getting a feel for the area while driving. to Asheville. Just about 3 hours later after exploring quaint Southern towns and their famous hospitality we arrived at the Haywood Park Hotel in downtown Asheville that opened its doors in 1985. After taking time to relax in our luxurious, spacious Deluxe City View King Suite featuring a luxurious king-size bed and separate sitting area it was time to explore this historic hotel.
The Haywood Park is in the historic Bon Marché (1923-1937) and then Ivey’s (1937-1975) department store building. Renovations began and there was no question that the classic-revival style was to be kept. The heritage of Asheville’s first department store had to be brought back to life. Having undergone a modern conversion into a boutique hotel that represents over 90 years-this location has been a flagship destination for those seeking the finest in quality and service. We felt it the minute we walked through the hallowed entrance doors.
When the Bon Marché opened in the 1920s, dignitaries and celebrities from throughout the world ventured to fashionable Asheville seeking roaring good times and sweet mountain air. It was a time in history that showed off innovation, style, consumerism, individual fame, and fortune. Hometown favorite author Thomas Wolfe was quoted as saying, “the Bon Marché is such a landmark in Asheville life…I know that it has always stood with the women-folk at home for the best in merchandise and fashion…” It was the Jazz Age then, the days of flappers, prohibition, speakeasies, and the Charleston; and rightfully so, the Bon Marché ushered in Asheville’s Golden Age of style and fashion.
Asheville was the center of Stylish southern living and attire and continued when Ivey’s Department Store took over occupancy in 1937. The store remained at the forefront of good taste until it relocated in the mid-1970s. Not a bad run since Ivey’s was founded in 1900.
Isa’s Bistro, located just off the front desk reception serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, as well as Sunday brunch, Isa’s celebrates the freshness of local Western North Carolina’s seasonal harvest and fresh local produce. Chef de Cuisine, Peter Crockett brings his culinary artistry to your plate by preparing, seasonally inspired, new American cuisine. Pro Tip: Guests at the Haywood Park get a complimentary breakfast with any choice of any menu you desire including a Bloody Mary!
Just down the street, Dinner at Hemingway’s brings traditional Cuban Cuisine with touch of Asheville Flair. Our first meal found us overlooking the Sunset while dining on empanadas, tostones, ropa vieja and vaca frita.
When in downtown Asheville Hemingway ‘located on the 4th floor of the Cambria Downtown tops the list some of the best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
So, what is extraordinary about Asheville? People worldwide are just now beginning to discover how special it really is. Asheville in a word is thriving. High in the blue ridge mountains visitors can explore over 30-plus art galleries in just downtown alone, a growing culinary scene, thriving live music scene and the ancient awe-inspiring scenery of the Appalachian Mountains. Asheville is the ultimate playground, featuring a wide diversity of outdoor adventures and the ideal destination for an adventure at any level.
Why not Zipline in Ashville? View Asheville from a whole different angle- by soaring hundreds of feet above the ground. From tree-based courses and even courses for your little ones, there is a course for you. If you are a thrill seeker head out on the Blue Ridge, experience the Navitat Canopy Adventures, a side-by-side experience that features zips as high as 350 feet and nearly three-quarters of a mile. For even more heart-pounding action, just a 40-minute ride from downtown Asheville, visit The Gorge, the steepest and fastest zipline tour in the country.
The Gorge features 11 ziplines, three towering rappels, a sky bridge, and drops 1,100 vertical feet from start to finish, earning its moniker as the fastest zip in the nation. It winds through 120 acres of forest-offering breathtaking views of more than 14,000 acres of lush mountain scenery and the Green River.
You really cannot talk about Asheville without talking about the renowned Blue Ridge Parkway. The parkway is part of the National Park Service and is known as America’s Favorite Scenic Drive.
The 469-mile road weaves around the peaks of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains connecting Shenandoah National Park (Virginia) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina).
As the Parkway approaches Asheville, it offers spectacular views of some of the highest peaks east of the
Mississippi River and access to the area’s best hiking trails. And better yet, it is easy to explore with no admission fee and frequently paved overlooks.
On our journey, we stopped and hiked and explored many of the best hiking trails in the nation. Whether you are looking for a short, easy hike or a more challenging one, you will find it on the Parkway. The forested trails lead to everything from 360-degree views to thundering waterfalls.
Asheville has become a culinary mecca of the region. “Foodtopia” is what locals call their food scene and certainly worth indulging. Dining in Asheville -run the gamut from the Mediterranean to vegetarian, four-star cuisine to down-home cooking. It certainly goes well beyond its Southern cooking roots. Expect the extraordinary at a classic spot for date nights in Asheville. The Omni Grove Park Inn Sunset Terrace, one of the only places in town where you can dine while watching the sun set behind the western mountains. Their menu is innovative, earning them the AAA Four Diamond Award 18 times. In addition, Zambra is Asheville’s original tapas restaurant, one the most romantic spots in town. Share small plates, enjoy a bottle (or two) from their extensive wine list. Pro Tip: make sure to reserve one of their tables in the back for a more private dining experience.
Zambra was also featured as one of America’s Most Romantic Restaurants by Travel + Leisure magazine. Inside the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Biltmore Village, you will find a fine dining restaurant that is exceptional, incredibly special, in fact it is like no other in Asheville. The best way to describe the décor at Red Stag is rustic hunting lodge meets modern chic. Pro Tip: splurge for the tasting menu, a four-course meal paired with a wine for each dish.
When many people think of American food, one name often comes to mind: James Beard. Julia Child called him the “Dean of American Cuisine,” and he was. Three decades after his death, The James Beard Foundation continues his work by recognizing regional chefs who are taking American Cuisine to new heights. It comes as no surprise to see Asheville’s “Foodtopians” honored by the Foundation.
Being nominated for a James Beard award is an honor many aspire to but very few achieve. In the most recent round of awards (May 2020), the James Beard Foundation announced that two Asheville chefs/restaurants were among the shortlist of nominees: Ashleigh Shanti, Benne on Eagle – National Rising Chef Star of the Year and Katie Button, Curate – Best Chef Southeast.
Away from the bustling energy of downtown, in a tree-lined neighborhood, it was highly suggested, by many locals that we visit Jettie Rae’s Oyster House, so how could we resist? They were correct-Jettie Rae’s really is a neighborhood destination where families and friends gather. Jettie Rae’s Oyster House is in a renovated Gulf Gas Station first opened by “Steamer” Edmonds. The location has become a fixture in north Asheville for close to 70 years. We ended up spending most of the day with Eric Scheffer, owner, and Chef. He truly has an entrepreneurial spirit-combined with his passion for food, wine, and people.
You can see the joy in his eyes with operating Jetties Rae’s over the past 19 years. Joining us at the table over cocktails Scheffer elaborated, “This is a place to celebrate life, to toast after a long day of hard work, and to enjoy the finest oysters and freshest fish available. We offer quality cocktails and honest food done well in a relaxed and casual environment.” Jettie Rae’s without question gives a Nod to Coastal Heritage. It takes you back in time to beach-side small venues combined with a modern touch of a classic oyster bar. “As a serial entrepreneur, Scheffer proclaimed-I intend on dying exhausted- everything starts with a great idea, that it’s all about the experience, and that everything you present defines who you are.”
Executive Chef Will Cisa knows coastal cuisine better than most. A native of Charleston South Carolina, he moved to Ashville, but it took him two trips. On the first trip he left without his lifetime collection of cookbooks except one, a well-worn copy of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. Cisa is well-traveled a well-rounded chef. He began cooking in the kitchens of local fried seafood restaurants in his hometown at 18 years old.
Passion struck early and attended the Culinary Institute of America followed his first job as a cook at FIG in Charleston. He then moved to Portland during the chef-owned farm-to-table boom and helped open several restaurants, followed by work as a restaurant consultant for a few years before he realized he needed a break to reconnect with his love of cooking. Leaving the US, Cisa decided to take a trip to Southeast Asia. He bought a motorcycle and spent the next year and a half traveling to Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, and Cambodia while stopping to enjoy the food along his way.
Upon returning to the US, Cisa’s talent and coastal heritage caught the eye of Eric Scheffer, who asked him to take the helm of a new seafood concept: Jettie Rae’s Oyster House. Cisa gladly came full circle to return to his roots as head chef at Jettie Rae’s, crafting and sourcing seafood with an honesty and authenticity that comes from growing up on the shores of South Carolina. And the rest is culinary history.
Jettie Rae’s Caviar Service is notable featuring American white sturgeon, traditional accompaniments, and potato chips which lends to a tasty beginning. They are especially known all over the region for their Oysters.
Try the incredibly unique Oysters Bienville, topped with shrimp, pecorino, and crème fraiche. Who doesn’t enjoy a good Oysters Rockefeller? Crispy bacon, green herbs, spinach then finished with pernod. This is a dish that should not be passed over. Both talented chefs insisted we try two of their biggest sellers so how could we say no?
The Lobster Roll is probably the best we have had. The combination of the finest fresh knuckle & claw, flaky roll, and drawn butter creates a true meal memory. For a perfect side between courses, the Blue Cheese Potato Chips is a house favorite with creamy Danish blue, buttermilk, and chives.
Asheville has been called “the Paris of the South,” because of its outdoor dining options. In these days and times, the locale renders a great way to maintain social distancing in an open-air environment. Most warm evenings pull up a seat at one of the many outdoor venues hidden away into courtyards featuring fire pits. Enjoy the mild mountain climate with world-class cuisine. Some of the relative newcomers include rooftops, decks, and riverside retreats. Explore the Foundation building area of the River Arts District. Make a reservation for the extremely popular 12 Bones Barbecue. The cornerstone its large patio decorated with street art and murals done by local artists. The Wedge brewery, which shares the building with 12 Bones, has its own patio area as well. Not far out of Asheville, dive into some real Barbecue at Bonfire Barbecue. Pull up a seat on the patio, complete with colorful sunshades. Partake in Barbecue and live music.
It not all about incredible cuisine in Asheville. In fact, Asheville has more than 40 craft breweries with outdoor seating areas. One of the most popular craft beer bars is the Thirsty Monk and certainly worth stopping in for a pint. Renown New Belgium Brewing’s Liquid Center tasting room overlooks the French Broad River is a welcome addition to the area. Also, relatively new on the river, French Broad Outfitters’ Riverside Bar, which Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine named the “Greatest New Bar in Asheville” is superior.
Get a brew, order some tacos and sliders, and relax to the live music and summer sun at Salvage Station. According to many locals, Wicked Weed Brewing has two of the best patios around. The space in front of the brewery and restaurant engages visitors with a large fire pit and high-top tables. The downstairs space in the back of the building offers picnic tables, complimentary pretzels and corn-hole sets for casual hangouts.
Pro Tip : if you get a food craving, breweries that do not have their own kitchens often welcome food trucks in the evenings and on weekends.
For the oenophiles, why not explore Western North Carolina’s Wine Country. Believe it or not, the Biltmore Estate Winery is the most-visited winery in the United States. More than 400,000 people tour a portion of the winery and end at the 300-person tasting room that is part of the price of admission to Biltmore Estate.
It all began with William A. V. Cecil, grandson of Biltmore founder George Vanderbilt, who had the vision to make the estate self-sustaining in the modern world with programs such as winemaking. The vineyard was planted in 1971. But the first vintage did not turn out as expected so Cecil traveled to France and hired a veteran winemaker Philippe Jourdain of Provence a sixth-generation winemaker.
Many years later, the unique climate and terroir of Western Carolina brought Pennsylvania native Sharon Fenchak to the area and joined as Winemaker in 1999. Currently Biltmore Estate Winery produces Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot all of which have proven to be particularly well-suited for the North Carolina mountain terroir and the micro-climate of the estate.
Asheville has many mysteries and surprises for visitors to explore. It is like a treasure hunt that takes one deep into its Southern Heritage with surprising gems to find and enjoy. Some of these treasures can be found throughout Asheville’s tree-lined neighborhoods.
There are many quaint, fine, bed and breakfasts residing in beautifully maintained Victorian homes, pre-Civil War mansions, and country retreats. Many of these places have a remarkably interesting past like homes designed by Biltmore artisans, and a mansion that once housed the famous Hope Diamond. Check into the Pinecrest Bed & Breakfast and enjoy the amenities of this elegant five-bedroom inn on the National Register of Historic Places, after checking in, stroll through its acre of lush gardens in the desirable Montford historic district. The property is conveniently located only one mile to downtown Asheville and three miles to the renowned Biltmore Estate.
The Omni Grove Park Inn has been around for over 100 years.
Guests and their families come to this historic Inn for relaxation, Golf, rejuvenation and to breathe in the clean mountain air. Located high atop Sunset Mountain, guest rooms feature spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and its Donald Ross-designed golf course.
Pro Tip: Choose one of the Inn’s oldest rooms in the Main Inn furnished with Roycroft Arts and Crafts decor. Ask for something larger with more modern amenities such as a suite located in the newer Sammons and Vanderbilt Wings, including the swanky, exclusive Club Floor.
Any visit to Asheville – whether just passing through, staying overnight or longer include a day at the Biltmore Estate. This regal estate, the luxurious family home of George and Edith Vanderbilt is a wonder of elegance and charm, as splendid today as it was more than a century ago.
Preserved and adorned with original furnishings and masterpieces of art. There is no other residence in America that offers a more authentic and inspiring view of golden age life but showing that the Vanderbilt’s and their guests still feel right at home. Walk in their footsteps and travel back in time through rooms of the Vanderbilt family, guests, and employees through displays of vintage clothing, accessories, art, and furniture.
Get up close and personal with original art by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent. Be in complete awe admiring magnificent 16th-century tapestries, a library with 10,000 volumes, a Banquet Hall with a 70-foot ceiling, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, and even a bowling alley. Almost all are from George and Edith Vanderbilt’s personal collection.
The American industrial genius first visited Asheville in 1887 in search of a possible location for his country home. On a second visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains with his mother in 1888, he became more intrigued by the idea and began purchasing land for what will become Biltmore. Finally, On Christmas Eve, 1895, the country retreat George Vanderbilt spent so long planning is marvelously decorated and full of festivity and finally moved in. Currently, the finished home contains over four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.
Sadly, George Vanderbilt passed away at the age of 51 in 1914 and is buried in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum on Staten Island. He left a legacy of philanthropy that continues to this day. In 1930, Cornelia and John Cecil open Biltmore House to the public and responded to requests to help increase area tourism during the Depression, to generate income, and preserve the 87,000 acres of the estate they sold land United States Forest Service for less than $5 an acre.
Among its many secrets, many people do not know that in 1942 the Biltmore House stored art during World War II. During the war, the house stored priceless works from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. After the war, the art was returned to Washington with no storage fee!
Today the estate offers its visitors many options to “reflect and restore tucked amid 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty”. Be certain to walk through the magnificent Conservatory. Observe orchids blooming as well as a vast selection of exotic tropical plants.
Take your time and stroll through acres of formal and informal gardens designed by America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. From the gardens’ year-round beauty to the majesty of the nation’s first managed forest, Biltmore’s breathtaking landscapes are a tribute to Olmsted’s genius.
As Asheville native and writer Thomas Wolfe said, “Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” Ashville embodies the beliefs, dreams, and vision for a community that thrives with its superb culinary offerings, outdoor activities, history, world-class accommodations, and good old legendary southern hospitality. Learning and experiencing this gem of the South was just the beginning we can’t wait to come back and revisit our beliefs in the beauty and culture of Asheville.