Asheville and Western North Carolina have long been popular destinations for southeastern coastal dwellers. They travel there to get a taste of accessible mountains, cooler summers, seasonal foliage color and impressive natural and man-made attractions within a day’s drive.
Some like it so much that they establish summer homes there for extended stays.
Once a small town famous mainly for its mild climate and the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, N.C., has emerged as a sophisticated and trendy destination with a burgeoning restaurant and craft beer scene. It is located in the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoys gardens, museums and a pleasant downtown art district.
The Biltmore Estate is still a major local attraction. It is the nation’s largest private residence.
Developed by railroad magnate George W. Vanderbilt, it was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and has a garden designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The 250-room French Renaissance-style chateau is located on an estate of more than 8,000 acres in Asheville. Touring the mansion using a self-paced audio recording takes several hours to do its impressive sights and history justice. Guides are also available for tours.
There are 10 eateries on the property, including a wine bar. It also boasts a working winery. Antler Hill Winery, located on the grounds in Antler Hill Village in a converted dairy barn, is the most visited winery in the U.S, complete with a bustling tasting room.
The estate has 94 acres of vineyards that produce grapes for the North Carolina appellation, and grapes are brought in from other vineyards in North Carolina and from several top-notch West Coast vineyards.
While North Carolina’s climate allows growing some vinifera grapes that are used in the wines made there, consistently producing the large variety of award-winning wines from Antler Hill wines requires importing more than 75 percent of the grapes, mostly from California.
After a day at the Biltmore, there are restaurants at Biltmore Village, a several square block area with restaurants and upscale shops adjacent to the Biltmore, as well as many good restaurants downtown. If you are not staying at the Biltmore hotel, the estate is conveniently close to most of the national hotel chains.
Chimney Rock and Lake Lure
A 45-minute 25-mile drive east of Asheville over a twisty but scenic road is Chimney Rock State Park. It is situated in a quaint mountain village along the Broad River, which flows into Lake Lure.
The park’s namesake and chief attraction is a 315-foot monolith located on the very edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains high above beautiful Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. It has 75-mile views in all directions and is situated in a park with hiking, a waterfall and lots of natural North Carolina.
Another 15 minutes along Route 64 bring you to the town of Lake Lure. The town has a Flowering Bridge, marina, shops, lodging and restaurants and offers boat tours of beautiful Lake Lure and the surrounding mountain resorts.
Before you go, check out:
Asheville can be reached by highway, air or train.
By car, Asheville is on I-240, off I-40 and I-26. It is 70 miles from Spartanburg, 130 miles from Charlotte and 28 miles from Lake Lure.
By train, the nearest Amtrak stations are at Greenville, S.C., 51 miles away, and at Spartanburg, S.C., at 56 miles.
By air, Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) is served by five airlines, including American and United. It is 13 miles from downtown.
When you are there for a short trip, tour the Biltmore Estate.
Check out downtown Asheville restaurants and craft beer emporia and the Downtown Asheville Art District.
Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the nearby Southern Highlands Craft Guild Folk Art Center.
If you have two or three days in town:
Must-sees for a short stay are:
A longer drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see gorgeous scenery.
Taking a day trip to Chimney Rock.
If You Have Several Days, Enjoy:
A few days at a cabin or resort at Lake Lure.
A day trip to Spartanburg (70 miles) or Hendersonville (25 miles)
Exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park (37 miles).
A ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad at Bryson, N.C. (65 miles).
Ginny O’s tips for dressing the simply smart travel way for Asheville:
Smart-casual is appropriate for touring the Biltmore or exploring downtown. Chimney Rock and Lake Lure are more outdoorsy and informal. Comfortable shoes are a must.
This destination at a glance
Mobility level: Low to moderate. Some easy walking is required.
When to go: Year-round. Summer is beautiful, fall color is gorgeous and winters are cold.
Where to stay: In Asheville, the Inn on Biltmore Estate or the Omni Grove Park Inn for luxury, many national brand hotels near the Biltmore. In Lake Lure, cabin rentals or resorts are available.
Special travel interests: Appalachian scenery, craft beer, the Biltmore Estate.
According to One Jewish Asheville, the area’s umbrella Jewish organization, (onejewishasheville.org), there are more than 4,700 year-round residents in Jewish-connected homes in Western North Carolina and at least another 1,000 seasonal Jewish residents.
About three-quarters of them live in Greater Asheville, and the rest are scattered around the region. About 60 percent moved there within the last decade and almost four out of five moved there in the last two decades.
Given this large Jewish population expansion, the Western North Carolina region now boasts a Jewish Community Center, a Jewish Community Federation, a Jewish Family Service, some Jewish social and business organizations and several congregations covering the spectrum of Jewish observances.
Asheville proper began growing rapidly in the 1880s with the coming of the railroad and the area’s first Jews, most of whom were merchants. The first congregation, Beth Ha-Tephila, organized in 1891. Like most communities, there soon was a split over the degree of orthodoxy to be followed, and that led to the founding of Congregation Bikur Cholim in 1899.
An excellent summary of Jewish life in Western North Carolina is maintained by the Ramsey Library of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. It can be found online at toto.lib.unca.edu/collections/jewish_life_wnc.htm.
Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Fla.