Southern comfort in Asheville

After an artsy escape? Look to Asheville, North Carolina recently named the number one destination in the US to visit in 2017. And for good reason: the magical mountain town boasts eclectic architecture, an artistic community and a booming food and drink scene – all surrounded by spectacular natural beauty,        says Kaye Holland

The charming enclave of Asheville is the “no. one place on our Best in the US 2017 list for a number of reasons,” according to Lonely Planet magazine editor, Rebecca Warren.

“It’s been drawing creative spirits for decades and packs a big punch for a small city with its cultural offerings. It has its own symphony orchestra as well a plethora of other music venues. Plus the River Arts District now hosts more than 200 artists, making for an art-filled afternoon strolling around studios.”

In short, it’s a liberal oasis in what is otherwise a red state, that hums with the sound of a good time being had by all.

Little wonder then, that Asheville proved popular with the A-list likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, John Rockefeller and Thomas Edison back in the 20s and, more recently, the Obamas (who were forced to deny they had bought a house here) and Jude Law (who spent time in the mountain town preparing for his role as American novelist and Asheville native, Thomas Wolfe, in the 2016 film Genius.

Interest piqued? TNT has the low down on the bohemian North Carolina city.

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Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC, USA credit: AdShooter

Culture vulture

George Vanderbilt - an American art collector and part of the prominent Vanderbilt family - was so taken by Asheville, that he decided to construct a country retreat modelled on a grand chateau he had admired in Europe. Take a bow The Biltmore: an 8,000 acre estate that is today recognised as America’s largest private home and Asheville’s number-one tourist attraction. Tip: don’t skimp on time: there’s 65 fireplaces, a private bowling alley, 43 bathrooms, and 250 acres of perfectly manicured grounds and gardens to gawp at, so be sure to dedicate at least half a day to taking in its glory.

Once you’ve got the Biltmore out of the way, tour Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home - a 29-room downtown house that his mother ran as a boarding home, which was immortalised as ‘Dixieland’ in the writer’s debut novel Look Homeward, Angel. While Look Homeward, Angel - which recounts the life of a young man born in western North Carolina and his burning desire to quit his small town in search of a better life - made waves all around America it wasn’t, owing to its autobiographical nature, well received in Asheville where locals were angered by Wolfe’s portrayal of their town as a less than desirable destination.

  • Rhubarb, Asheville, NC, USA credit: Kaye Holland

  • Sunset Terrace at the Omni Grove Park Inn credit: Kaye Holland

Best bites

Asheville is a fantastic (and affordable) foodie town. TNT loves Tupelo Honey which has two locations (one downtown and one in the southern ‘burb) – both great places to taste Asheville on a plate. Whether you go for lunch, brunch, breakfast or dinner don’t miss out on the hot biscuits with honey.

Alternatively make for Asheville Music Hall (where every Sunday Mojo Kitchen and Lounge elevate brunch to the extraordinary), Rhubarb (run by James Beard and award winning chef John Fleer) and the Sunset Terrace at the Omni Grove Park Inn – whose pretty patio is the perfect spot to tuck into gourmet fried green tomato sandwiches and (more) Southern buttermilk biscuits…

Elsewhere, chocoholics scoring a cocoa fix should look to Lexington Avenue – home to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge but unless you like a queue arriver early or late.

After dark

Boasting more breweries per capita than any U.S. city, Asheville is arguably the best beer city in the America. We love Wicked Weed and Wedge (over in the edgy River Arts District) - two characterful, homegrown craft microbreweries that ooze character. Beer not your thing? Make a beeline for Ben’s Tune Up – a sake brewery, restaurant, convenience store & music hall where it’s hard not to feel hip.

However if you’re of the opinion that bubbles are best, pop into Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar - a marriage of two of life’s greatest pleasures, books and bubbles, side by side. Or perhaps page by glass…

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Best excursion

Fans of the great outdoors will be in seventh heaven as Asheville is surrounded by one million acres of forest including the Blue Ridge Mountains (America’s favourite drive).

Urbanites would be well advised to book a half day hike with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, whose mission is to make the wilderness accessible and enjoyable for all. The brainchild of North Carolina native, Jennifer Pharr Davis - aka the first woman to be overall record holder on the 2,168 mile Appalachian Trail - Blue Ridge’s likeable and knowledgeable guides will take you to thriving wildlife and Instagram-worthy frothing waterfalls, passing rare plant species and wildlife.

Best kept secret

As refreshing as Asheville’s boutiques, microbreweries, live music scene and ability to serve fab coffee is, it’s the friendly and fun loving locals who are arguably at the heart of what Asheville has to offer – everyone waves and says hello. Spend a while with them and you may never want to leave. Or as Wolfe - Asheville’s most famous son - wrote his sister Mabel in 1938: “I have a thing to tell you now: that is you can’t go home again….”

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Asheville, NC, USA credit: SeanPavonePhoto