48 Hours in Asheville
BY Sandra Chambers
With the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop Asheville has morphed into more than a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Known as the “Paris of the South ” the largest city in western North Carolina is a hotspot for farm-to-table restaurants lively music arts and crafts upscale shopping and a wide variety of seasonal festivals.
Experience 48 hours in Asheville and sample its diverse cultural historical and culinary fare.
Asheville is renowned for the splendor of its mountain setting. But there’s more to the city than breathtaking beauty. Visitors can enjoy music world-class cuisine shopping art historic architecture and outdoor activities.
Morning: Discover Downtown
The downtown area is compact and easily explored on foot. Visitors can plan a route or follow the 1.7-mile Urban Trail. Pink granite markers embedded in the sidewalk identify the trail which includes 30 artworks that depict various aspects of the city’s heritage. Another option is the Grey Line hop-on/hop-off trolley that offers a 90-minute tour.
Nearby visitors will find the Montford Historic District an excellent example of Asheville’s architectural heritage. The district is dotted with historic locally owned bed and breakfasts that showcase the style of one of Asheville’s most famous architects Richard Sharp Smith who worked as supervising architect of the Biltmore House. The Woolworth Walk is Asheville’s largest venue of local fine art and crafts. Housed in the historic Woolworth Building it showcases local artists exclusively. Those who grew up in the era of five-and-dime stores will discover a touch of nostalgia in its restored old-fashioned soda fountain.
The Grove Arcade on Battery Hill is the largest building in downtown. In the 1930s it served as one of Asheville’s leading commercial centers. It reopened in 2002 following a five-year renovation. The building now houses offices and luxury apartments on its upper floors and a mix of locally owned shops galleries and restaurants on the ground floor.
The Battery Park Book Exchange is a delightful stop for any bookworm with its thousands of new used and rare books. Comfortable sofas and chairs are tucked into every available space with a nearby coffee bar. The establishment is welcoming to both people and dogs.
The old Fain’s Department Store building is an old-time mercantile emporium restored to its 1940s heyday. The store was once known for carrying everything from cradles to caskets. Today the building houses Mast General Store which supplies a wide variety of goods from outdoor equipment to clothing collectibles and colorful barrels of old-fashioned candy.
Tupelo Honey is one of Asheville’s flagship restaurants and a great place for fall outdoor dining. The menu is centered around fresh ingredients from more than 25 local farmers. Hot biscuits with homemade blueberry jam are delivered to the table as diners order drinks and peruse the menu. The signature shrimp and grits features large shrimp over goat cheese and grits with spicy red pepper sauce. The pan-seared Carolina mountain trout is another local favorite. For dessert indulge at French Broad Chocolate Lounge often called a chocoholic’s dream. A self-guided tour of the chocolate factory is available daily.
Afternoon: Hike Then Relax
Take a hike at Craggy Gardens located just north of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In October the Blue Ridge Mountains put on a spectacular show of color with views visible from the parking area near the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center and along nearby hiking trails. The Craggy Pinnacle trail is a short 1.4-mile round trip to the 5 892-foot summit where hikers enjoy a stunning 360-degree view. Asheville’s iconic mountain lodge the Grove Park Inn offers the ambiance of a AAA four-diamond hotel even without an overnight stay. Visitors can relax in a rocker in the great hall in front of two massive stone fireplaces play a round of golf on the Donald Ross-designed golf course or purchase a day pass to the 43 000-square-foot subterranean spa.
A local favorite 12 Bones Smokehouse serves authentic North Carolina barbecue shown at right. A great spot for a low-key evening of local music and pub-style food can be found at Jack of the Wood a cozy Celtic-style pub located in downtown Asheville.
Morning: Tour and Lunch in The River Arts District
More than 180 artists work in 22 former factories and historical buildings along the French Broad River. Artists’ work incorporates a wide variety of mediums including paint pencil pottery metal wood fiber glass wax and paper. Parking is free and a number of restaurants and cafes are dotted throughout.
Afternoon: History and Nature
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site is a must-see for literature and architecture buffs. The historic boarding house operated by Thomas Wolfe’s mother was depicted as Dixieland in Wolfe’s 1929 novel “Look Homeward Angel.” Wolfe’s realistic portrayal of Asheville and its citizens caused the novel to be banned from the local library. A visitors’ center offers exhibits about Wolfe and his family and an audio-visual presentation detailing the author’s life and writings. Guided tours of the “Old Kentucky Home ” as it was named by a previous owner are offered daily. Other historic and architectural buildings of interest include the 1909 Basilica of St. Lawrence which reputably has the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America (a self-guided tour is available) and the Smith-Dowell House the oldest surviving house in Asheville and the oldest brick house in Buncombe County. Nature lovers can explore 65 acres of cultivated gardens at the North Carolina Arboretum located within the Pisgah National Forest. The bonsai collection is one of the most renowned in the country and shouldn’t be missed. Another favorite the Quilt Garden features 24 small beds each landscaped like quilt squares that connect to the region’s Southern Appalachian heritage.
A relative newcomer to the Asheville food scene Nightbell Restaurant & Lounge is owned and operated by the same folks who own the well-known restaurant C?rate. Located in a 1925 warehouse the restaurant offers a twist on American classics served small-plate style. Unusual menu items include the deviled egg appetizer with warm sabayon smoked trout gravlax and trout roe and soy-glazed quail served with medjool dates duck fat roasted carrots and crispy duck skin.