When visitors to western North Carolina crave a taste of the (relatively) big city, they head to Asheville, population 83,393, with its rollicking art, music and restaurant offerings.
There are many reasons Travel + Leisure named Asheville No. 10 on its 2015 list of “World’s Best Cities” in the U.S. and Canada. The city’s exploding microbrewery scene has brought a flood of award-winning restaurants and hotels. Several big music halls present everything from bluegrass and mountain music to jazz, rock and even Michael Jackson tribute bands.
Nearly 20,000 people turn out for four days each July and October for the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. Sponsored by the nonprofit Southern Highland Craft Guild, founded in 1930, it showcases the highest level of pottery, weaving, jewelry making and more. Six colleges and universities have a presence here, including the University of North Carolina Asheville, and that means lectures, concerts and other public events that add to the city’s rich cultural fabric.
And no trip to Asheville is complete without touring the house, formal gardens and winery at the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate. Built by the Vanderbilt family in 1895, the Biltmore House—at 178,926 square feet—is America’s largest privately owned home, and rivals Downton Abbey in its many splendors.
Asheville’s burgeoning River Arts District, a collection of repurposed industrial buildings along the French Broad River, is home to more than 200 artists in nearly every medium. Painter Mark Bettis grew up in Sarasota, graduated from Ringling College, and moved to Asheville eight years ago to open an art studio and gallery there. “The arts scene has gone crazy,” he says. “I get visitors from California to New York, and from Sarasota all the time.”
Nonstop flights on Allegiant Air to Asheville from Punta Gorda and St. Petersburg three days a week in the summer and one day a week in the winter make Asheville an easy long-weekend getaway.
Places to Stay
Dozens of choices, from campgrounds to bed-and-breakfasts, resorts, hotels and vacation cabins. Try the hip and happening Aloft Asheville Downtown, Asheville’s newest hotel; or splurge and stay at one of the Biltmore Estate’s three hotels.
Where to Eat
Cúrate, 11 Biltmore Ave.; a popular tapas restaurant from the kitchen of James Beard Foundation award finalist Katie Button.
The Admiral, 400 Haywood Road; a gourmand’s mecca in a cinderblock building in hipster west Asheville, with a global menu that changes daily. theadmiralnc.com
Limones, 13 Eagle St.; chef Hugo Ramirez combines his training in French-influenced California cuisine with his love for his native Mexican food. limonesrestaurant.com