This past weekend, North Carolina became my 18th state. I thought I would hit Atlanta or Myrtle Beach before I found myself in North Carolina, but I had a three day weekend for Martin Luther King Jr. day, my mom was in town, my best friend was free, and the opportunity presented itself on a silver platter.
Me: Do you want to spontaneously drive to Asheville today?
My best friend: Let’s do it.
Everyone else: Asheville? Why?
We had less than 24 hours in Asheville, so I didn’t do much, but what we did was phenomenal.
Asheville, NC is about a 4 1/2 hour drive from my current home in Nashville, TN. Asheville is most famously known for Biltmore – the largest private home in the country, owned for centuries by the Vanderbilt family. The town also has an adorable downtown area with three different chocolate shops, multiple book stores and record stores, and plenty of restaurants to choose from.
The drive into Asheville from the west is gorgeous, and I imagine it’s not ugly coming in from other directions because the city is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains in the east and the Smokies in the west.
After checking into our hotel, we parked in a municipal lot downtown and explored the various shops. Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday night, so we didn’t make it to the record store or coffee shop before closing time. Those are two things that I’m counting on seeing next time. One of the few open stores was Urban Outfitters (where I finally picked up a copy of Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me?). We also checked out (and fell in love with) the local bookstore, Malaprop’s. We book-nerded out a bit. They house an impressive collection for a small little village bookstore. Plus they have a coffee shop. Plus it’s adorable.
Once we were able to pull ourselves away from there, we headed over to this semi-hidden little tapas place called Zambra. The vibe in this place makes you feel like you’re in some exclusive, underground NYC bar. I don’t think you can go wrong with anything on the menu, but we ordered and loved the cheese plate, mixed greens salad, gnocchi, grilled calamari, and lamb (this was a good portion for three reasonably small women, and you can always order more).
There are three chocolate places that are walking distance from Zambra. I’ve talked about Kilwins in my Babylon blog, so you can read my love letter there. We weren’t able to get into The Chocolate Fetish before closing, so let me know how that is if you go. We did, however, enjoy the best chocolate cake the great world has to offer at French Broad Chocolates. They also have all sorts of brownies, cookies, and hot chocolate but we each ordered a slice of the “Quintessential Chocolate Cake” and did not regret it. If you’re in town on a Saturday, you can even tour their factory.
On Monday morning, we headed over to the Biltmore estate. Biltmore is the largest privately owned home in the country; owned by the Vanderbilt family. The house sits on 8,000 acres (you read that right) and has 250 rooms. You can tour the main part of the house with an audio tour and learn about life in the late 19th century and the Vanderbilt family. You’ll walk through leisure rooms like the billiards room, the bowling alley, and (my favorite) the indoor pool. You’ll see the family’s bedrooms and guest bedrooms as well as changing rooms, the staff quarters, and the kitchen and laundry facilities. The best part though, I think, is the view out the back windows. You’ll feel like you left North Carolina and landed on the set of the Sound of Music.
At the end of the tour, much like a Disney ride, you’ll find yourself surrounded by gift shops. There’s a chocolate shop, a toy store, and one of those gift shops that sells everything from ornaments to scarves to wine. At the end of that row, you’ll see a The Stable Cafe which is much better than an amusement park restaurant. We tried the turkey sandwich, the burger, and the BBQ pork. The fries have a great seasoning. All was juicy and delicious.
After you’ve seen the inside of the house, you can drive (about 5 miles) through the property to the farm and stable area, where you’ll also find the winery (wine tasting included in your tour ticket), several gift shops, restaurants, and live animals.
Asheville may seem like a completely random place to road-trip to, but there’s actually a lot to see. Granted, most of it is on the property of Biltmore, but you could spend and entire day there, especially if the weather permits it. We were freezing but still enjoyed it. I mean, even the drive from the ticket booth to the parking lot is gorgeous. We definitely played “Circle of Life” which may or may not have skewed our experience. If I go back, I will go in the late spring or summer for sure.