Asheville: Like No Place Else
From famous former residents to a party of thousands, here's what sets Asheville, N.C., apart.
America’s Largest Private Residence
When George Vanderbilt first laid eyes on the blue-hued mountains surrounding Asheville, he knew he wanted to create a dream house here. Dream house is a weak description of the gargantuan abode he built in 1895. Biltmore Estate (800-411-3812) has 250 rooms, 83 bathrooms, an indoor swimming pool and bowling area, just to name a few of the features. The stunning palace is open for tour -- a twelve-month pass for $99 is really economical for area residents. Vanderbilt’s heirs also added an award-winning winery and spectacular Inn on the property.
Asheville’s Biggest Party
The numbers always seems to be rising, but count on at least 300,000 people to turn out on the streets of Asheville the last weekend in July for the Bele Chere Festival. The street fair offers three days of live music on stages throughout town, arts and crafts vendors, a variety of foods and beverages and rides and activities for the kids. Residents generally fall into two groups: those who hate it and avoid the chaos at all costs, and those who don’t want to miss a minute of the fun. Bele Chere celebrates its 35th year in 2013.
A Famous Boarding House
Read through the pages of the novel "Look Homeward Angel" and glimpse Asheville through the eyes of one of its most famous former residents, Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe grew up in a boarding home operated by his mother, Julia, and he detailed his experiences and the people of his hometown in his book. Wolfe wrote about the people of a town called Altamont, a thinly veiled stand-in for Asheville and the real people there. When his book was published in 1929, some Asheville locals recognized themselves in it and threatened to tar and feather Wolfe if he ever set foot back in Asheville. But when he did return in the late 1930s, he was honored as a revered son. His childhood home is now open to the public as The Thomas Wolfe Memorial (52 North Market Street, 828-254-8304).
Dynamic Downtown That Defies Definition
Lots of people have tried to pin down Asheville’s attitude and charm as a catch phrase. Asheville has been called the "Land of the Sky," "Paris of the South," "Santa Fe of the East," "America’s Happiest City," and is routinely on lists of best places to live. There may be glimmers of truth in all of these names, but there is no one phrase that completely sums up this place, especially the Downtown area. This vibrant core features a diverse array of art galleries, eateries, stores and people. There is also a great collection of Art Deco architecture. A good way to check it all out is by traveling Asheville’s Urban Trail, a 1.7 mile walk through downtown punctuated by sculptures and interesting plaques.
World Class Inn and Spa
E.W. Grove, a St. Louis entrepreneur who made millions with his bottled remedy, "Grove's Tasteless Chill Tonic," moved to Asheville for health reasons. Like Vanderbilt, he showered his wealth on the city and opened his grand Grove Park Inn (290 Macon Avenue, 800-438-5800) in 1913. A full service subterranean spa opened in 2001, and has been touted as one of the best by Forbes and Travel and Leisure. You do not need to be a guest at the inn to book soothing spa appointments.