Asheville, North Carolina
This small funky city in western North Carolina — known for its burgeoning arts scene, outdoor activities, laid-back feel and acclaimed restaurants — has been ranked one of the best places to live in the United States. Rolling Stone has also proclaimed Asheville to be the “New Freak Capital of the U.S.” A freak city with a high quality of life? This we had to see for ourselves.
The landscape slowly became more mountainous along our 3-hour drive from Chapel Hill. We arrived a little after 9 a.m. and made our way directly to Asheville’s star attraction, the Biltmore Estate. This châteauesque style mansion was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1888 and 1895. It was, and continues to be, the largest privately owned home in America.
Our tickets — which we booked in advance online for $47 each — allowed us entry with the first group of the day. After driving up the 3-mile long approach, we parked and took a shuttle bus to the entry. Passing through the gate, it appeared before us. This was one big house.
The exterior details were quite eclectic — with gargoyles perched from the roof and intricate stone carvings over doorways.
More than a million visitors tour the Biltmore Estate each year. Luckily, on this early Saturday morning, it was relatively quiet. No cameras were allowed inside the house but we were impressed by its sheer size as well as features, like the bowling alley, 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool, two-story library and sleeping quarters for 50 servants.
The midday heat was becoming oppressive so we opted for an early check-in at the Biltmore Inn, which is located on the property. Having just undergone extensive renovations, it’s a pretty spectacular place with views of the rolling hills and Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
Our king room, on the top floor, was quite comfortable — it even had a pillow with Vanderbilt’s “V” insignia monogrammed on it. Baller!
The rest of the day was spent at the Inn’s infinity pool, which had stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Around sunset, we went for a short hike through the Biltmore Forest.
We made our way into downtown Asheville for dinner at Mela, a well-reviewed Indian restaurant. The lamb korma — in a rich almond and cashew sauce and topped with nuts and raisins — and chicken tikka masala were both delicious.
But my mouth is still on fire.