Asheville, One of A Kind

Asheville, One of A Kind

Downtown Asheville

Asheville has always been one of those places that has naturally drawn people to its streets. It’s sophisticated yet bohemian, upscale yet earthy, artsy yet natural. Set on a plateau in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers sights, sounds and tastes that aren’t easily found collectively elsewhere.

The Asheville art scene offers an eclectic feast for the senses. Downtown alone boasts more than 30 galleries, with nearly 100 sprinkled throughout the mountain town where artists have long come for inspiration. The River Arts District, just a few blocks from the town’s center, is filled with funky art studios in renovated warehouses and regularly hosts weekend “walks” that allow visitors to see artists at work. The Asheville Art Museum showcases 20th and 21st century American art, and the cultural heritage and contemporary art of Western North Carolina.

For those seeking antiques and collectibles, Asheville and surrounding towns are filled with quaint shops as well as sprawling collections where treasures may wait. Local crafts abound as well. And the town has strong historic roots that can be explored along its streets – including sites such as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial (the author is a native) and the Basilica of St. Lawrence – through a 1.7-mile “urban trail” with 30 stops.

Music is also a major part of Asheville’s art culture. From up-and-coming bands and major names at the Orange Peel to nightly jam sessions in local pubs, there is no shortage of musical talent. Even the street corners become stages for performers. Performing arts venues also host ballet, opera, comedy shows and theater performances.

The streets of this mountain city provide endless entertainment opportunities. Dine in the outstanding restaurants of this culinary paradise, where creative cuisine may be home-based or exotic. In a couple of blocks of Lexington Avenue, for example, you can go downhome at The Southern Kitchen & Bar, tackle craft brews and accompanying goodies at LAB (Lexington Avenue Brewery), heat up with Indian fare at Mela, eat healthy at Rosetta’s Kitchen or experience French cuisine at Bouchon (for lighter fare, try Crêperie Bouchon hidden in the courtyard).

After an impressive four-year reign as Beer City USA, the town has become a well-known center for craft brewing, with more than a dozen breweries in operation and more on the way. Most operate tasting rooms, but local brews abound for the tasting at local pubs such as the Thirsty Monk, Barley’s Taproom and Jack of the Wood. Those who prefer wine will relish the variety of 5 Walnut Wine Bar and Battery Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, where there also are thousands of books for browsing and purchase.

To work off the food and drink, get outdoors and play golf on one of the area’s challenging courses, or indulge in one of the many recreational activities such as zip lining, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting and fishing. There’s also nothing better than an evening of baseball with the Asheville Tourists.

Asheville is blessed with a wealth of natural attractions, making it the perfect gateway for outdoor enthusiasts to explore everything Western North Carolina has to offer. The town sits at the intersection of two major interstates and the Blue Ridge Parkway, placing a wide range of sights and activities within an easy drive from downtown Asheville.

Then, of course, there is Asheville’s crown jewel, Biltmore, an estate that showcases the world’s largest private residence, America’s most visited winery, and intricately managed forest grounds and gardens, Biltmore is the epitome of historic elegance, taste and beauty. The estate was the brainchild of 19th century industrial heir George W. Vanderbilt, who fell in love with Asheville on his first visit in 1888 and immediately purchased 125,000 acres to build his dream home.

Asheville oozes a confident, quirky charm that is always welcoming. Whether it comes from the rhythmic pounding of drums on Friday evenings in downtown’s Pritchard Park, the cool summer breezes as you dine on a restaurant patio, or the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains against the city’s unique mix of architecture, Asheville has an aura all its own.

Gary Carter

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