Asheville, NC

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    The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smoky Mountains are bursting with trails, waterfalls, mountaintops, wildlife and scenic overlooks | Photo courtesy exploreasheville.com

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    A hot air balloon is just one way to enjoy the region's sights. | Photo courtesy exploreasheville.com

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    Fall is a great time for a hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway | Photo courtesy exploreasheville.com

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    Asheville offers stunning vistas galore | Photo courtesy exploreasheville.com

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    Shopping at one of the city's farmers markets is one way to experience Asheville's flavor | Photo courtesy exploreasheville.com

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    The 250-room Biltmore Estate was built as the country home of George W. Vanderbilt | Photo courtesy of exploreasheville.com

A Blue Ridge Mountain City with European Flair

Story by Tonia Meek • Photos courtesy of exploreasheville.com

Have you ever dreamed of a European vacation filled with picturesque scenery, exquisite castles, flavorful food and wine, scenic hikes, and soul-stirring art and music, but felt the sting of disappointment as the dream remained a dream due to distance and cost? What if I told you there was a way to take in all these charming experiences, just a short car ride away in the heart of the Smoky Mountains?

Take a moment’s pause, find a spot to relax, and join me as I paint a picture of the dream getaway – Asheville, North Carolina.

Asheville is a city that wraps beauty, culture, history and taste into one package. As you explore, the city will envelop you with its charm,  leaving you with a lingering fascination and a longing to return. Asheville has more to offer than one can devour in one sitting, so let us savor a few bites at a time.

Asheville began as a primitive outpost in 1797, with frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett exploring their way through the area. The railroad transformed the area into a seasonal resort in the late 1800s, attracting the interest of many, notably including George W. Vanderbilt.

This brings us to the first and most famous attraction Asheville has to offer – the Biltmore Estate. Vanderbilt arrived in Asheville in the late 1880s and quickly discovered the ideal location to build his country home. After purchasing 120,000 acres, he embarked on the largest undertaking in residential architecture, a 250-room French Renaissance chateau. A whole community came together over the next six years to create a home and estate like none other in the United States. The finished home is immense and offers 4 acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. You’ll delight in the remarkable architecture, artwork and much more from the Gilded Age.

Driving through the gates of the estate, you instantly feel as though you have arrived in another world. The estate is a destination of its own. You can savor the estate at your own pace, whether in one day or an entire week, depending upon your time, interests and finances. Stroll acres of formal and informal gardens designed by America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

Hike the grounds’ extensive network of trails. Explore the Outdoor Adventure Center’s activities – such as biking, horseback riding, carriage rides, Segway tours, Land Rover off-roading and even relaxing float trips, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding along the gentle French Broad River.

For a more refined afternoon of wine, food and shopping, savor the Biltmore experience at the Antler Hill Village and Winery. This newer portion of the estate connects its past and present with dining, shopping, exhibits, world-class food and wine and more. Enjoy complimentary tastings of more than 20 of the estate’s handcrafted wines, taking you on a journey through reds, whites and rosés. Stay at one of Biltmore’s several lodging accommodations to extend your visit.

Having seen the Biltmore Estate, you might feel you have experienced Asheville in all its grandeur, but you’d be wrong. This region is filled with enticing activities, sights and adventures galore. Let’s explore.

FIND DELIGHT IN DOWNTOWN

Take a stroll through the city’s heart and you’ll notice that Asheville likes to do things differently. With a unique mountain vibe, this city’s hub brims with independent shops, farm-fresh eateries and an array of craft breweries. You can learn snippets of Asheville’s captivating past with a selfguided historical walking tour along the sidewalks of downtown. With the help of a map, walk 1.7 miles to 30 stations, each with a piece of art and a bronze plaque that commemorates the city’s most significant cultural, educational, social and architectural points. If you don’t want to walk, hop aboard either a historic trolley, winding through the city streets and taking you on guided tour of the city’s highlights, or a purple LaZoom bus for a comic, albeit a bit irreverent, glimpse into Asheville’s colorful history.

RIVER ARTS DISTRICT (RAD)

Along the riverbanks of the French Broad River, an industrial zone east of the railroad tracks has been converted into a trendy artists’ hotspot. The RAD is easily navigable with a full-on color guide categorized by medium and artist. See local artists at work, take a class, acquire a one-of-a-kind piece of art, and grab a bite and a beer.

A REGION RICH IN HERITAGE

Stroll through the historic Montford neighborhood and discover a collection of architectural treasures from Asheville’s cosmopolitan past. Visit the childhood home of literary legend Thomas Wolfe, which he memorialized in his autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Take in an educational afternoon visiting one of Asheville’s classic, and in some cases, quirky museums, such as the Asheville Art Museum, the Pinball Museum, the Asheville Mystery Museum or the antique car museum.

BOUNTIFUL BEAUTY OUTDOORS

For the nature lover, the trails at the North Carolina Arboretum and the Botanical Gardens of Asheville are home to numerous indigenous species of mountain flora. The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smoky Mountains are bursting with trails, waterfalls, mountaintops, wildlife and scenic overlooks. You can also spend a day enjoying activities such as golfing, ziplining and biking.

ENTICING SOUNDS

From locally crafted beers, wine and cocktails that draw from the background and culture of the region. Asheville has a dizzying array of beverages. The city was named Beer City USA in 2009 and has swept the competition most every year since. It boasts more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. and roughly 100 local beers.

DIVERSE TASTES TO SAVOR

This culinary hub is a magnet for pioneering chefs and food artisans, making it difficult to choose where to eat. Sample tastes from numerous restaurants by signing up for a walking food tour. Participate in a guided foraging food expedition through the mountains. Visit multiple local farms to taste and purchase the freshest meats, veggies and cheeses in the mountains. Experience the flavor of each of the city’s districts by shopping at one of the multiple farmers markets around town.

TAILOR-MADE STAY

After a long day of sights and sounds, melt your stress away in the hot tubs of Shoji spa, experience the healing properties of a salt cave, or visit one of the many day spas throughout town. When it comes time to rest your weary head, there is a spot for every traveler’s style. Wake up to scenic mountain views from a resort such as the historic Omni Grove Park Inn, a secluded mountain cabin, a vintage 1950s camping trailer, a quaint bed and breakfast, or a hotel, hostel or campground.

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Living in Southeast Ohio provides many delightful benefits; one of my favorites is the ability to travel by car to a variety of destinations from my own front door. We do not have to go far to explore, find an adventure and make memories. Choosing Asheville as one of those destinations will not disappoint. You may find you have discovered that taste of a European vacation you have always dreamed of – one delicious morsel at a time.

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Tania Meek spends her days as many of us do – endeavoring to balance family, faith, community and friendship, only to feel as if she might be getting it right just a sprinkling of the time.