In western North Carolina, the charming town of Asheville sits nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains, a subset of the larger Appalachian Mountains. Along with outdoor pursuits, Asheville has emerged as a bona fide foodie and craft beer destination (it boasts more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city). Concentrated in the River Arts District, where 300 artists and makers create in former warehouses, Asheville also has a long-standing arts legacy. A fall visit ensures plenty of leaf-peeping opportunities as you hike to cascading waterfalls or drive the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.
Settle in at the 128-room Kimpton Arras, opened a few years ago and in the heart of downtown, making for an ideal base as you explore Asheville and the surrounding mountains. With floor-to-ceiling windows, colorful textiles and hexagon-tiled baths, rooms are minimal yet cozy. (Quick tip: Book a corner suite for some extra space and light.) A testament to Asheville’s thriving arts scene, the hotel’s many art pieces, including the stunning oversized ceramic leaves in the elevator bank, are all locally commissioned.
On the way to dinner, stop in at the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, known for its elliptical dome, stained-glass windows and beautiful frescoes. Architect Rafael Guastavino, who came to the region during the late 1800s to work on the Biltmore estate, designed the Spanish Baroque-style church. Incidentally, Guastavino went on to contribute his unique vaulted-tile ceiling and arches to thousands of buildings in the United States, including Boston’s Public Library and New York’s Grand Central Terminal.
A short walk away, Chai Pani, helmed by executive chef and founder Meherwan Irani, was recently awarded the top honor of best restaurant in the country from the James Beard Foundation. The establishment serves up flavor-packed Indian street food. Dig into bhel puri, puffed rice mixed with potatoes and doused with tamarind, cilantro and garlic chutneys; pav bhaji, a spicy vegetable mash eaten with pillowy bread; and uttapam: savory crepes served with sambhar, a lentil soup, and coconut chutney. Follow with a pint of the Peachful Ale (or beer flight!) from Highland Brewing, whose taproom sits within the historic S&W building nearby.
Grab coffee and pastries from the hotel’s restaurant before heading out for a private, half-day guided hike with Blue Ridge Hiking Company, founded in 2008 by Jennifer Pharr Davis, a renowned backpacker and outdoors expert. Admire the fall colors as you visit three cascading waterfalls in the 10,000-acre DuPont State Recreational Forest – a relatively easy 3-mile trail connects Triple Falls, High Falls and Hooker Falls. The hiking company can also arrange longer hikes to the Pisgah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
After an active morning, reward yourself with brews and tasty banh mi sandwiches, salads and wood-fired vegetables at Sierra Nevada’s impressive 230,000-square-foot brewery, a sprawling complex of production facilities, indoor and outdoor taproom space, as well as an edible garden. This LEED-certified eastern outpost of the California brewery is as committed to sustainability as it is to beer, with solar panels, rainwater collection for irrigation, composting and vegetable oil converted to biodiesel.
After lunch, drop in at French Broad Chocolate, named for the river that flows through Asheville, for a bean-to-bar tour. Visitors learn how cacao pods grow, see the chocolate-making process from roasting cacao beans to tempering bars, and finish with a chocolate tasting. Grab a few Strawberry Balsamic and Cardamom & Pistachio bonbons for later.
End your day with dinner at Plant, a 47-seat restaurant that has established a solid reputation thanks to its elevated and inventive plant-based dishes. The gorgeous vegan cheese plate is a must, with aged cashew, almond ricotta, pickled vegetables, black garlic oil and housemade bread. The ravioli, featuring cremini mushrooms and kabocha squash alfredo, is also a standout.
Rise early to tour the Biltmore estate before the crowds descend. The vision of George W. Vanderbilt, the 8,000-acre Biltmore estate is the largest privately owned residence in the United States. Vanderbilt intended the estate to serve as a retreat in the picturesque western North Carolina mountains. While the property features forested trails, manicured gardens and even an on-site winery, the jewel of the estate is the 250-room Biltmore House, a French Renaissance-inspired chateau designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1895. Take a tour of the house before strolling the gorgeous gardens, planned by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect behind many U.S. parks, most notably New York’s Central Park.
Having spent the morning at the Biltmore, refuel at Harvest Pizza in Asheville’s nearby South Slope neighborhood. Set in a loftlike space with a rooftop patio, the pizzeria does brisk business in Neapolitan-style pies — accompanied by local beer and wine of course. Order the fantastic Spicy Yuma, made with a chipotle-spiked tomato sauce, corn, jalapenos and topped with cilantro. You won’t regret it.
There’s always room for dessert, and Vortex Doughnuts’ location just across the street will make it hard to resist. Grab a latte and an Apple Cinnamon Pecan donut to share.
Come afternoon, take a guided walking tour through the River Arts District with Asheville Art Experience. Meet ceramicists as they work at their wheels at Odyssey Clayworks; chat with a painter who is keeping the art of pysanky, batik decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs, alive; and watch glass blowers at North Carolina Glass Center.
For your last meal in Asheville, grab a table at Posana, which prides itself on its seasonality and local relationships. Chef Peter Pollay sources from dozens of area farms, including Hickory Nut Gap, Three Graces Dairy and Clem’s Organic Gardens, to name a few. Even the grits, cornmeal and rice are sourced within North Carolina. The results: thoughtfully made dishes using the highest-quality ingredients.
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