On Asheville.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, North Carolina, seems to have evaded the economic problems of its other Appalachian neighbors throughout this past century. Perhaps William Henry Vanderbilt’s European Chateau of the 1800’s, or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal plans for the Blue Ridge Parkway of the 1930’s were building blocks to today’s Asheville, a city reliant upon tourism – not coal or steel – to keep her storefronts occupied and her schools funded. But it wasn’t the expensive views of the Biltmore’s 250 rooms or the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains that brought us to Asheville for our winter retreat. It was the beer.

Earning Asheville the honor of being voted Beer City USA in an informal online poll, Asheville’s nine breweries lured us down south to a city that welcomed us with much more than taps and growlers. Our visits to all nine breweries will be documented soon, but I’ll first present the Basics of Asheville.

Getting There

I used to joke that I-77 was the only route that Ohioans knew to escape for vacation. I did this until the state permanently swallowed up my father a little more than a year ago. Not funny anymore. While we mid-westerners are great at getting to the Outer Banks, we’ve mostly failed to realize how simple it is to get to western North Carolina. Even with inclement weather, it was a simple 7 hour drive to Asheville from Columbus. For anyone else, Asheville has its own airport (as it should, with all of North Carolina’s boasting of “First in Flight”) with several airlines servicing it. Take note, though: a rental car is a must. While Asheville’s food, music and art are progressive, public transit is almost invisible, and its attractions are spread out.

Staying There

The Asheville Chamber of Commerce has put together a novel of a site. It’s quite impressive. I spent an evening clicking through to every bed and breakfast, cabin and hotel available, looking to find the best deal. It wasn’t until we were actually in Asheville that I saw that the city hosts its own hostel. (Or three.) In retrospect, we could have saved money staying getting a private room at a hostel, but would have lost some of the charming touches of where we did stay.

Camping was out of the question for us, so we opted for a cabin for the first four days. Most of Asheville’s cabins are 15 to 20 minutes away from downtown, near Candler, to the west or Black Mountain, to the east. We stayed at Cabins of Asheville, a little past Candler for $100 per night. The bonuses of staying at a cabin were a full kitchen, being in the mountains, having a hot tub and a gas fireplace. The main drawback, however, was the dark, unlit and mountainous drive every evening. Each evening, the commute home was a driving-into-the-sun race against time, with the goal being to be up our steep driveway prior to darkness.

The bed and breakfasts of Asheville are scattered around town. We stayed at Carolina Bed & Breakfast on the near north end of town for our final two nights, and enjoyed the short commute home and the incredible breakfasts. (We saved some money by staying in the room on the bottom floor. Sound was rarely an issue; the only time we heard the other guests was when they came downstairs for breakfast – a perfect wake-up call.)

Things To Do (In the Winter)

Biltmore Estate: We didn’t go; a $59 entrance fee was too grand for us. The middle and lower classes probably spent little time in the place when it was built. Why change things?

Blue Ridge Parkway: Much of this roadway was closed, though we did drive a few miles and stopped for a short hike into the woods.

Biltmore Village: This is an outdoor mall with interesting architecture occupied by national chain stores and a few locally owned boutiques.

Biltmore Forest: Turn on the GPS and drive into this elaborate neighborhood to rubberneck at the giant mansions. Unlike the Biltmore Estate, no admission fee is required.

The River Arts District: If you go in the winter, dress warmly. “Inside” doesn’t necessarily equate to “warmth.”

• Visit the Galleries: We liked Blue Spiral, Woolworth Walk, and Atelier 24 Lexington. Asheville’s arts and craft scene, it seems, does not experience grand segregation. With galleries like Woolworth Walk and Atelier 24 Lexington, pieces of all styles and price levels live in harmony, allowing a visitor to take home affordable and quirky locally grown crafts while also perusing fine pieces for serious collectors.

• Eat: There are too many places to eat in Asheville, and most of them embrace the farm-to-table ideal. There’s an abundance of locally owned, local serving places in the city and I wish I’d made it to all of them. I can say, for sure, that not one meal was disappointing. Stay tuned for the culinary details of our trip.

• Brewery Visits: We visited all nine breweries in Asheville. As with the food, details of our adventures will soon follow.

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