Asheville, North Carolina

Even though I grew up and went to college in Virginia and became quite familiar with the mid-Atlantic states, over the years I never made it to Asheville, North Carolina. Until last week.

For the past several years I’ve kept reading and hearing from friend about Asheville being a fun city to visit and a great place to live. So after Reunion Weekend in D.C., we headed down for a few days to check it out including having dinner with my cousin Ellen and her husband Keith. As is customary with my style of numbered takeaways of travel life experiences like this:

1. Asheville is well worth checking out; there’s good reason it keeps showing up in “Top 10 Best Places to Live” magazine articles. City has a terrific highway ‘beltway’ around the city for easy travel. Downtown has a 'hip’ area with nice shops and some excellent restaurants. Almost like a Portland of the South. Asheville was a major reason Barack won North Carolina, so for me it felt very comfortable!
2. We stayed at both The Grove Park Inn (long known as the grandaddy resort spot on a hill overlooking the city), and the Inn at Biltmore Estates (a continuation of the fascinating business model of the descendants of George Vanderbilt). The Grove Park Inn has that aging feel of a Homestead or The Greenbrier before their renovations, but has a nice spa. The Inn at Biltmore Estates is smaller(opened around 2001), newer, with a Ritz Carlton/Southern decor vibe, with great fews of the countryside.
3. Two standout restaurants: It’s very interesting that there haven’t been enough individual member ratings yet of any restaurants in Asheville to get rated on Zagats, but the two restaurants we went to are winners, with food ratings of at least 25, and excellent service: Rezaz and Cuchina 24.
4. If you’re visiting Asheville for the first time, you have to check out the Biltmore Estates (picture above). I had known about the story for a long time, but driving through the estate and touring the house, it’s just sort of surreal. Really incredible. And if you’re like me and always evaluating stuff in terms of a business model, absolutely fascinating how the descendants created sort of an attraction empire: winery, hotel, retail stores abound selling the Biltmore 'brand’.
5. Asheville is well known as a haven for artists, many who have set up studios in a very cool area called the River Arts District. Potters, painters, mixed media. Well worth checking out.