Asheville, N.C. — more than the Biltmore

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Beth J. Harpaz

The Smoky Mountains surround downtown Asheville, N.C., home to a variety of attractions for tourists — from the Biltmore, to breweries, to a honey bar at a shop that sells more than 50 varieties of honey.
Photo by Derek Olson Photography/Shutterstock

Asheville, N.C., is an old soul of a city renewed by a hipster vibe. Attractions range from new beer breweries and a honey bar (!) to the 120-year-old Biltmore mansion. You can see artists at work in the River Arts District, then go for a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

For some time, Asheville’s funky River Arts District has been home to artists, entrepreneurs and eateries in the old industrial area around the French Broad River. But the neighborhood continues to add interesting venues.

The Smoky Park Supper Club, built from recycled shipping containers and specializing in wood-fired cooking, opened in September. The Smoky Mountain Adventure Center, which features an indoor climbing gym as well as rentals for bikes, kayaks, canoes and other gear, opened in November.

And while the Asheville area already has more than two dozen beer breweries, a $175 million New Belgium facility with a tasting room is expected to be brewing by January. Other breweries range from the artsy hole-in-the-wall Wedge Brewing in the River Arts District, to the gleaming, modernist Sierra Nevada brewery near the airport. Sierra Nevada, which opened earlier this year, also has an excellent restaurant.

Downtown, the Black Mountain College Museum at 56 Broadway has expanded. Through exhibitions and programs, the museum celebrates the ideals and legacy of a remarkable experimental college founded outside Asheville in 1933.

The school lasted just 24 years, but its faculty was a Who’s Who of avant-garde artists and intellectuals, including Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Buckminster Fuller.

Don’t miss the honey bar at the Asheville Bee Charmer, 38 Battery Park Ave. The shop sells 50 varieties of honey, many from North Carolina beekeepers, but also imported from France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland. You’ll be stunned by how different honey can taste — fruity, woodsy, earthy, spicy — depending on where bees collect their nectar.

The Center for Honey Bee Research and the “Bee City USA” initiative supporting pollinators and beekeepers are also headquartered in Asheville.

Classic attractions

For a look at life in the Gilded Age, visit the 250-room Biltmore, built by George Vanderbilt. It’s the largest private home in the country, and it attracted 1.5 million visitors in the past year.

The grounds, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, are also spectacular. They include waterways, winding roads, gardens, farms, a winery and gorgeous mountain views. The new Village Hotel on Biltmore opens on Dec. 1.

Nearby, the North Carolina Arboretum, located on 426 acres in the Pisgah National Forest, offers serene gardens, wooded trails, art exhibits, bonsai and more.

Downtown, take a stroll around Pack Square Park, and then tour the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, which includes the writer’s birthplace and a nearby boardinghouse run by his mother. Wolfe’s barely fictionalized depiction of his hometown in his 1929 best-selling novel, Look Homeward, Angel, upset the locals so much that it was initially banned in Asheville.

Actor Jude Law visited the memorial to prepare for his role portraying Wolfe in a movie due out early next year. The movie is called Genius, and it tells the story of Max Perkins, the New York editor who championed the work of Wolfe and other famous writers of his era, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Fitzgerald also spent time in Asheville, notably at the Grove Park Inn, a beautiful old resort established in 1913 when Asheville was a destination for those seeking the healthful effects of mountain air. Drop by the inn even if you only have time for a cocktail on the Sunset Terrace or a quick look at the lobby’s massive stone fireplaces and grandfather clock. The front desk offers free pamphlets for self-guided tours; displays tell the story of visits by presidents and celebrities.

If you go

You can explore the River Arts District or downtown in a few hours, but you’ll need nearly a full day to do the Biltmore justice.

Arrive hungry: Asheville has great food. Favorites include barbecue at 12 Bones Smokehouse, 5 Riverside Drive; upscale fare at The Admiral, 400 Haywood; fried chicken at Rocky’s, 1455 Patton Ave.; heavenly biscuits and comfort food at Tupelo Honey Cafe, 12 College St.; and cocktails at the sophisticated Sovereign Remedies, 29 N. Market St.

Make time for the great outdoors. Even if all you do is drive a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the scenic overlooks
will lift your soul. For hike recommendations and other visitor information, go to www.exploreasheville.com.

Asheville is 470 miles from downtown Washington. The least expensive flights to Asheville’s small airport from the Washington area start at $255 roundtrip on Delta from BWI Airport.                           

— AP