My First Taste of Asheville
"Gradually and silently the charm comes over us; we know now exactly where or how." - Fredrick Law Olmstead [famous architect, a designer of Biltmore]
Do you have a travel bucket list? I do! Asheville, this beautiful city nestled in the eastern mountains of North Carolina, has been near the top of it for many years. At first I was interested in Asheville because of the famous Biltmore Estate, the largest home in America from the late 1800's. But as I did more research about the area, I also became very interested in the city of Asheville itself! It's focus on arts, specialty shops, and mountain feel spoke to me.
I'm happy to report, it was as charming as I imagined it would be!
School is starting up again soon here in Kentucky. So myself, my Mom [who is a teacher], my second sister [who is also a teacher] and my youngest sister [who is still in school] decided to take a small trip to cap off the summer for them. My Mom and I had discussed many times about going to Biltmore over the years, and since it is only a few short hours away, we decided it was a great option. We procured tickets to Biltmore, booked a room at the Holiday Inn Asheville Biltmore West [which was nice and quite adequate for our needs], and picked our dates. I had reservations about going in the peak of summer, to a large house with no air conditioning and many outdoor gardens to peruse, and an entire downtown I wanted to explore. Heat and I do not mix AT ALL. But the weather turned out to be absolutely perfect the entire time we we traveled!
Our trip started on a Sunday afternoon. After a long, back road detour off the interstate to avoid a backed-up collision, we rolled into our hotel right outside the Asheville city on a late Sunday afternoon. We began to search for where we wanted to eat. There are SO MANY OPTIONS. One thing I have found that my family and I cannot handle is making firm, decided choices when lots of options are present, so it was a hard row to hoe. Finally, my Mom stumbled upon a highly-rated Korean restaurant. My youngest sister is absolutely obsessed with all things Korean, so to the heart of Asheville we went!
The first thing I noticed about Asheville downtown is that it simultaneously had a big city and small town feel. Lots of people, locals, and tourists, were walking about the streets, enjoying themselves. The picturesque Appalachian mountains were in the back ground, glowing on the tops against a blue sky, as the sun was beginning to grow dimmer. It felt welcoming, but also urban. Hard to explain adequately!
Korean House was a great restaurant. We were nervous - none of us had ever dined Korean before - but it was really good! I ordered the Bulgogi Stone Bowl. Bulgogi stands for a dish made with sliced beef, and this selection was a thin cut ribeye. The whole meal was very unique. The main portion - with the meat, bean sprouts, lettuce, zucchini, mushrooms, and rice - arrived in a 450 degree hot stone bowl, with the rice at the bottom that crisped up from the high heat of the stone. It came with these tiny side dishes to compliment the main dish - things like sweet potatoes and kimchi. My favorite was the pickled radish!
We then headed over to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for dessert. This specialty chocolate restaurant was on my "must go" list, and it was very unique also! There was a slight line to get in, but it was not too long of a wait, and we were able to grab a booth to dine at. The building itself is super impressive and decorated with a rustic-modern flair, I absolutely loved it.
There were so many scrumptious options to choose from - from cakes to ice cream to the famous drinking chocolate, which I was dying to try. I ordered the cold drinking chocolate and a smores macaroon. It wasn't as awesome as I'd built up in my mind, but it was still really good. It tasted very authentic, as everything is homemade. My sisters had the banana pudding trifle [with lavender!] and a chocolate trifle, while my Mom got a hot drinking chocolate and a chocolate snickerdoodle cookie. While the desserts didn't blow us away, the whole experience of gourmet chocolate was special, and it's great for chocolate lovers like myself.
It was getting late and dark, so we headed back to the hotel and got up early the next morning to start our Biltmore day! We tried to get into Biscuit Head, a Asheville favorite restaurant that obviously is biscuit based, but it was packed and a line was waiting out the door. So instead, we stopped by Starbucks in the Biltmore Village and enjoyed coffee and a light breakfast.
We didn't have time to peruse Biltmore Village as we wanted, but it look so neat. All of the buildings and stores have a "English countryside town" architecture and feel, and again, it's just so unique! That is really the word I think of most when I think about Asheville! The next trip that I make [yes, there will be more!], I will make sure to spend more time looking at the stores and sights of Biltmore Village!
I will admit, I was not adequately prepared for my trip to the Biltmore Estate and Grounds. Of course I knew a little bit of basic history about the estate and the Vanderbilts who constructed it, and knew that it was sprawling and had a lot of entities. But the vastness of the whole Biltmore property - with its winery, farm shops, two hotels, paths, and a whole passel of other things I did not get to see and can't even remember right now - was just an unknown to me!
First of all, it gorgeous. From the second you drive through the large brick gate leading into where they check your tickets for entry from your car [there was a bit of a wait in line], you know this is not just going to be some plain valley road you'll be driving. There is so much to see! Carefully placed flowers, trees, and small bridge areas through a winding forest make the journey to the parking areas particularly interesting. We were parked in lot C and took the shuttle to the main estate. Everything was easy to access, and the shuttle takes you right up the steps of the Biltmore Estate.
Really, there are no words to adequately express the beauty and grandeur of the Biltmore Home. It's like entering a fairy tale castle. I loved everything about it - from the gargoyles, copper roof, and other architectural elements of the outside, all the way to the arches, wood carvings and art on the inside. It has been so well preserved, it's almost hard to remember sometimes in the halls that the house is no longer in use as a residence. The rooms are decorated specifically for the time period and perfectly close to their original uses and decor, so there's no mistaking that this was the gem of the Gilded Era.
Here are some gorgeous pictures of the outside of the Estate:
The tour was crowded, much more than I would have expected for a Monday morning. Sometimes it made it harder to view rooms in all their splendor, and really reflect on them and notice all the details - it almost felt like you were being herded at times. The audio tour was very popular, but we did not take any of the specialized tours, and I believe it was a good option, since it was my sisters and I's first visit. I really want to go back when it is less crowded so I can soak in all the detail, and also to participate in the rooftop tour, which allows you to see more rooms and rooftop balconies that are closed off on the basic tour. It was hard sometimes to not resist the urge to deviate from the basic tour and sneak through a hallway that was roped off, just to explore!
Here are some pictures from inside the Estate:
My favorite rooms of the house were the library and the loggia. I could have stayed in either of those spaces forever!
From the stable turned restaurant and shops, to the expansive and gorgeous gardens, to the conservatory with all it's many plants - Biltmore just keeps going on and on with the inspiring and beautiful landscapes and expansive attractions. We grabbed lunch at the conservatory lunch cart and then we made our way back to the car, and took the scenic drive to Antler Hill Village. The road winds by the estate, through the gardens, past the man-made bass pond, and through fields and meadows that are breathtaking with the mountains as their backdrop. It was gorgeous!
By the time we headed towards Antler Hill, it was mid afternoon, and we were exhausted after being at the estate for about 5 hours. The village was crowded, so we decided to skip it. Sometimes you just have to know when to stop, and we wanted to spend more time in Asheville that night, so headed back to the hotel. After some rest, we drove back downtown to do a little more perusing!
Downtown was as pretty as ever.
We first went to Malaprop's Bookstore and briefly looked around. Then we walked on down to the Chocolate Fetish to check out their delicacies. There were cases of unique creations to choose from. We decided to first eat supper before buying our chocolate [you know, melting], and we walked to Tupelo Honey.
Tupelo Honey was another one of those "must go" restaurants that I kept seeing on every website and Pinterest pin that existed about Asheville. The place is very small, and crowded quickly once the dinner hour came along. But, it was all well worth it, because the food was absolutely delicious!
Tupelo Honey specializes in southern food with a twist, and everything is locally sourced and homemade. We had the pimento cheese nachos for an appetizer, which were great, everyone enjoyed them. Their biscuits were melt in your mouth, with homemade blackberry jam. I had the sweet tea grilled chicken, the corn jalapeno coleslaw, and the baked mac and cheese. The portion was generous and was SO GOOD. I would eat there again in a heart beat!
We went back for our dessert at the Chocolate Fetish, and I settled on a couple of items for myself [dark chocolate marshmallow square and a peanut butter and chocolate disk], and then got a couple of things for Travis. The chocolate was delicious, so creamy and high quality. It was not too pricey for specialty chocolate, either. I would also go back there!
As tired as we were after dinner, and the chocolate was already melting, but we had to seek out the local Ulta so I could select a new foundation for my Mom [She got the IT Cosmetics CC cream, by the way]. And luckily, there just happened to be a very large Barnes and Noble Bookstore right beside it. So we visited both!
We got back to the hotel right at dark and we all slept well that night for our long drive home the next day. Yes, it was a very short trip, but it was refreshing to get away for just a little while, spend quality time with some of my family, and see things I had never experienced before. I was impressed by Asheville, and I want to explore so much more! And I'm now highly enchanted by Biltmore. I don't think I could stay away now if I tried!
Have you ever been to Biltmore or experienced Asheville? Did you enjoy your time? Let us know in the comments!