Asheville, North Carolina
Southern Free Spirit
Miles from Naples: 776
The proper noun “Asheville” has morphed into an adjective, as in “that’s so Asheville.” It connotes a bohemian temperament, a strong foodie scene, distinctive arts, rugged beauty, and a youthful vibe. George W. Vanderbilt put Asheville on the map in the late 1800s. Today, it’s regarded as an unpretentious center for culture, dining, music, shopping, brewery hopping, and history. Its infectious energy spreads to newer, up-and-coming neighborhoods like the River Arts District and South Slope. To top all that off (literally) the Blue Ridge Mountains inspire fine craftsmanship, artisanal agriculture, and epic adventure. It’s no wonder Asheville is gaining a reputation as the South’s hippest tourism hub.
Stay: Vanderbilt began building his 250-room home, the largest private residence in the country, in 1889. Fast-forward more than 100 years and The Inn on Biltmore Estate (biltmore.com) now invites guests to live like a Vanderbilt, surrounded by posh digs all within walking distance to the Biltmore Winery.
Downtown, upscale chain hotels and charming B&Bs join the historic grande dame, Omni Grove Park Inn (omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park). Dating to the early 1900s, Grove Park Inn exerts a glam influence. Stay in rooms once booked by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, and dozens of other notables. Follow a tunnel through rocky cascades to the spa and golf a round on the 18-hole course surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Eat: Asheville has been doing farm-to-table since the Biltmore arose among a wreath of dairy and crop enterprises. Savor hyper-local fine dining at the romantic Posana (posanarestaurant.com), located downtown in a warehouse-chic setting. Or, follow Asheville’s international trend at Gan Shan Station (ganshanstation.com), an unexpected celebration of Asian cuisine in an unvarnished, repurposed gas station.
See + Do: The Biltmore house lets visitors peek into every facet of the Gilded Age lifestyle once enjoyed by the Vanderbilt family. Spring for the audio tour, and be sure to stop by the conservatory and gardens. You can also purchase a guided tour of Grove Park Inn for a lesson in luxury and the American arts-and-crafts movement.
Sample Asheville art at Grovewood Village (grovewood.com), an 11-acre complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Grovewood Gallery carries the work of fine craftsmen, which spills out into sculpture gardens. The village is also home to the Antique Car and Homespun museums.
End the day on the craft brewery trail on Asheville’s South Slope. Graciously gritty in that quintessentially Asheville way, this burgeoning neighborhood contributes to the town’s reputation for most breweries per capita in the U.S. Don’t miss Wicked Weed (wickedweedbrewing.com) for touring and tasting.
Shop: Head to the River Arts District (riverartsdistrict.com) for one mile of studios, galleries, and other shops representative of Asheville’s creative soul. Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse and meet local artists when you book an Asheville Art Studio Tour (ashevilleartstudiotours.com).
Don’t Miss: For an unforgettable demonstration of the sound of the city, take part in the Asheville Drum Circle, hosted every Friday evening at Pritchard Park. (exploreasheville.com)