Asheville, N.C. — When people think of what to do in Asheville, they focus on the Biltmore Estate. The sprawling estate is without a doubt worth spending an entire day exploring. (And the holiday decorations there are out of this world!) But there is more to this North Carolina mountain city than Biltmore. Here are 10 places to stay, eat, relax and play on your next trip to the area:
1. Bed and Breakfasts - The “Inn-Siders” package going on through Jan. 3 is a perfect way to get introduced to the area’s B&Bs. Your two-night stay includes a package of the inn-keepers’ cookies and a special card that provides discounts at local retailers. The best thing about staying at a B&B is that the inn-keepers are trying to be the ultimate concierges. They can help direct you to great restaurants, spas, breweries, etc. And since they have a local connection, they know all those great hidden gems!
Dry Ridge Inn - For this story, I checked out the package and stayed at two different B&Bs. I spent the first night at the Dry Ridge Inn, located in nearby Weaverville. Staying outside of Asheville can be a little more economical and offer you a chance to get to know another side of town. Run by the Howard and Kristen Dusenbery, this is one of the oldest B&Bs in the area. Not only is this place rich in history, but the inn-keepers go out of their way to make sure the stay is comfortable and enjoyable. The rooms are cozy, with many having fireplaces. You have access to snacks and a refrigerator downstairs, in addition to a fully stocked fridge in your room. Soda, wine, cookies, coffee and tea are all available. Kristen makes an outstanding breakfast that will keep you full until dinner! I had the banana nut bread, baked apple and eggs Florentine with a croissant. Bonus tip: Ask Howard to play the bagpipes for you! As part of the package, Kristen prepared her Molasses Crinkle cookies. So good!!! While you are in Weavervillle, hit the downtown area for great restaurants and shops. Mangum Pottery is definitely a must visit! The Dusenberys describe it as “Mayberry.” If you stay at Dry Ridge Inn, downtown is just a few blocks away so you can walk there.
Chestnut Street Inn - Local just a few blocks from downtown Asheville, this is a great B&B. You pay a little more when staying in the heart of town, but this B&B is a great place to make your home while in the area. The rooms have features including fireplaces and in some cases Jacuzzi tubs. I checked out the newly remodeled third floor, known as The Zen Retreat. This Japanese-themed loft has beautiful Asian-inspired decor, a fireplace, huge walk-in shower that doubles as a sauna and a king sized bed. Definitely, a great room to check out if you are planning a special trip! It is truly relaxing! In addition to the great accommodations, owner LaDonna Lasso and staff member Kris know all of the great places to dine, tour and enjoy in the area. LaDonna tipped me off to Vincenzo's, a great Italian restaurant and piano bar, nearby. Breakfast is pretty delicious. The morning I was there, the menu was fresh fruit and a Banana’s Foster French toast topped with two slices of bacon. Delicious! As part of the package, LaDonna made some Orange Chocolate Cookies. A great twist on the traditional chocolate cookie. Bonus tips: Check out Kris’ origami birds and other creations. And hang out with Pumpkin Pie, the cat that resides there.
2. The French Broad Street’s Chocolate Lounge - This was one of my “happy places” while in town. With decadent truffles, cakes, brownies and cookies, this is the perfect place to indulge your sweet tooth! Definitely try their hot chocolate. I got the truffle hot chocolate with salted caramel! It was awesome! I recommend getting a hot chocolate and a cookie to dip into it. Another chocolate shop to check out: The Chocolate Fetish.
3. Beer City USA - Asheville has held this title for the past four years because it boasts more breweries per capita than any other city in the country. While in town, I went to Wicked Weed Brewery. I had dinner there my first night in town and enjoyed a flight of beer and a really great turkey sandwich with cranberry relish. If you can, dine in the Funkatorium downstairs. For beer, definitely check out the TakeTake if it is on tap! Another brewery to check out: The nano-brewery, One World, at 10 Patton Ave. Some great beer! In addition to breweries, Asheville also has brew tours and brew cruises.
4. Relax at Wake Foot Sanctuary and Spa - This spa is located in the Grove Arcade and was a welcome break from a cold and icy day in Asheville. You get $10 off the Winter Warmth package when you use your “inn-sider” card. I was in heaven soaking my feet in a huge, hot tub of essential oils and water while sipping vanilla chamomile tea in the relaxation room. It was truly a unique experience. Shoulder, neck and leg massages are also add-ons to each package. Don’t forget to check out their gift shop which has a mix of local and nationally-made jewelry, soap, lotions and more!
5. Get naked in the woods at Shoji Retreat - This Japanese spa offers you the chance to enjoy an outdoor private hot tub with a view of the Pisgah National Forest. You can soak here in a private tub for $42 a person. The cold plunge (which I didn’t do!) and the cedar sauna are not private, though, so make sure to bring a towel or lose your modesty. The showers, which you are required to hit before you go into the tubs, are not private! There is one in each locker-room, which BTW don’t have doors, just curtains. It is is definitely worth going to this spa, but know that the only private area you are going to be in is your tub, which has a lock!
6. Dine - If you are craving it, Asheville has a restaurant serving it! The culinary scene is really taking off there. For the best places to go, ask your inn-keeper. My favorite places include Chestnut and Tupelo Honey Cafe (which just opened a Raleigh location). And if you are into the cuisine, enter to win the Farmer and Chef Asheville cookbook, which is devoted to the farmers that help preserve our Appalachian mountain heritage and the chefs who have made the city such a foodie destination.
7. ZaPow Gallery - Located at 21 Battery Park, this is the only gallery in the southeast focused solely on illustration and pop culture art. The current exhibit focuses on work inspired by strong women, villains and goddesses from fiction, mythology and history.
8. Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar - This Grove Arcade book store has a great menu of cocktails, beer and coffee. Browse the selection of used books and take a seat in one of the many leather couches. Bonus tip: Head upstairs where there are a lot of nooks to sit and read.
9. The NC Arboretum - Through Jan. 4, the Winter Lights exhibit is going on here. You need to see this in person! A former designer with Disney helped create this magical light show.
10. Grove Park Inn - Through Jan. 1, the winners of the National Gingerbread House competition will be on display here. You can stroll through the Sammons wing and view the houses and beautifully decorated trees. If you aren't staying here, visit the lobby and order some room-service. Sit by the fire and a drink. There are many tasty restaurants and lounges that offer great dining options and a beautiful view of the mountains. And if you are feeling adventurous, take the elevator behind the fireplace to the fifth floor and look for the ghost of the "Pink Lady."