“This song is a reminder for someone in particular, but also to all of us: that you can always come back home … to Asheville, North Carolina!”
Ben Phan is starting to settle into his set now as the crowd at The Grey Eagle cheers wildly from their folding chairs; whether a local or a transplant, Asheville pride is a surefire crowd-pleaser. Phan, an Asheville-raised Latvian-Vietnamese-American with the folksy pipes of Ray LaMontagne, makes an easy poster child for this progressive community nestled in the sleepy south.
As the smell of pork barbecue (and vegan-friendly tempeh asada) wafts over the audience from the venue’s taqueria, Phan croons passionately about a variety of social issues—from gay and women’s rights, to addiction, to mental health—all in a seemingly incongruent southern twang. Oh, and like many events in Asheville, the concert also doubles as a fundraiser for the donation-based yoga nonprofit Asheville Community Yoga Center.
Founded in 1797, Asheville grew slowly with the expansion of the railway system in the south and came to national prominence with the completion of the Biltmore Estate—still the country’s largest private residence—in 1895. Today, with a population of fewer than 100,000 residents, Asheville has been called the “Paris of the South” and has made a name for itself in the national craft beer scene.
The year-round resort town is home to all kinds—creative types mingle easily with the fleece-clad mountaineering set who cross paths regularly with the area’s longtime farmers. One of the prized jewels of the South, Asheville is a living, breathing city that grows and changes daily. Here we offer you a snapshot of the city’s best experiences to have over a few days in this eclectic town.
Photo by Bridget Nurre Jennions
Start your day off at Vortex Doughnuts in the heart of Asheville’s trendy South Slope neighborhood where you can choose from a wide variety of “twisted” flavor combinations—from pomegranate matcha to the daily local beer glaze—that are baked fresh daily. Filled with a couple of America’s best doughnuts, drive a few minutes down to the Biltmore Estate, a must for any newcomer to the area. George Vanderbilt’s sprawling 8,000-acre property is as impressive as it is intimidating, so make sure to go in with a plan. You can save $10 off the $60 admission by buying tickets a week in advance. Even if it’s not a high-traffic day (which require reservations), make sure to get there early to beat any crowds.
Begin your visit with a self-guided tour of the Biltmore House, where a small fraction of the 101 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms are displayed for visitors as they looked at the turn of the century. Make sure to check out the bowling alley, swimming pool, and kooky Halloween Room in the basement before wandering out to explore the home’s immaculate gardens. Make the most of your entry ticket by driving over to Antler Hill Village for the included tasting of up to 20 of the Estate’s wines.
For an additional $19 fee, you can cover even more of the property by bus on the impressive Legacy of the Land tour, which offers more insight into the Vanderbilts’ construction process and access to parts of the estate normally closed to the public. With limited time on the estate, you can also plan your visit by choosing from the Biltmore’s suggested itineraries that are tailored to the interests of history buffs, admirers of art and architecture, wine lovers and more.
After a full morning of walking and wine tasting, head back to the South Slope to refuel with Asheville’s best rendition of Carolina barbecue at Buxton Hall. The pulled whole hog barbecue sandwich with a side of green beans is a triumph of southern comfort cuisine. Just a block away, you can walk off your food coma with a stroll through the numerous locally owned boutiques along Lexington Avenue. Don’t miss Lexington Glassworks where you can buy hand-blown glass and sip local craft beers while you watch them work. Next, ease your sore muscles and feet with a massage around the corner at Spa Theology, which offers a variety of treatments, including one “to uncover your personal spirit animal.”
Photo by Bridget Nurre Jennions
Feeling relaxed and refreshed, make your way over to Sovereign Remedies, a lounge with a chic vibe and an impressive cocktail list. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Asheville on the first Friday of the month, you can go from there to either the Downtown Art Walk or the drum circle that takes place in Pritchard Park every Friday evening.
Having worked up an appetite from walking or dancing, take the 15 minute stroll or quick taxi ride over to the historic Montford neighborhood for handmade pasta at Chiesa, a rising star on Asheville’s food scene that is set in a converted Pentecostal Church. With one of the husband/wife ownership team at the restaurant every night, the customer service is mind-blowing even in a town that’s known for it.