Saturday, April 27, 2013

Asheville's Best of the Best - #2: Amazing Food and Beer Scene

Reason #2 of my top five reasons to visit Asheville, NC is the never-ending, always changing, amazing Asheville Food and Beer Scene.  Asheville has awesome food and beer with a culture that supports "farm to table" dining.  And an abundance of microbreweries with fantastic tasting rooms, restaurants and bars - Asheville has been voted "America''s Beer City," the last four years in a row (beating out cities like Portland, Oregon and San Diego, California).  To sample what downtown restaurants and microbreweries have to offer, be sure and take the Eating Asheville Walking Food Tour or Beer Tour.  

These are wonderful ways to sample what the city has to offer in both food and drink as well as learning more about this fascinating city through a guided walking tour of the historic downtown area (with wonderful guides, I might add!).  Asheville has received numerous awards and national recognition for its wonderful cuisine as well as organic, vegan and vegetarian options at many of the restaurants, some with exclusively vegan or vegetarian menus - enjoyable by all kinds of "eaters!"

The community of Asheville is in support of the small independent restaurant, and independent restaurants are alive and well in this city.  Be sure and look for members of the  Asheville Independent Restaurants (AIR) and others supporting the farm to table culture.

Another not to miss destination is the French Broad Chocolate Lounge (often on the Food Tour)- check out the French Broad Chocolate Factory as well as the lounge, where cacoa beans are roasted right in downtown on Buxton Street, with the "parabolic trough solar concetrator" (aka, solar powered cacoa bean roaster!!).  Factory tours are on Saturdays at 2pm.  

Favorite and distinct Areas to drink and dine - check them out!   These are all very distinct areas within Asheville City limits, all within a few miles of each other:

Park in any one of these distinct area and walk around enjoying the sights, sounds, musicians and street scenes, until you are drawn to into one (or more!) of the many amazing restaurants and micro-breweries.

Microbreweries and tasting rooms abound in Asheville and the Asheville Area.  If you wish to get a quick overview, try a tour for an introduction and overview, or check out the Beer City Guide and take yourself on a tour to the one or many of the local breweries.  There is enough of a concentration in downtown Asheville to enable you to walk to several in a reasonable amount of time.  Some are further afield and worth the visit.  Many host live music, events and more.
Beer, tasting rooms, breweries, and yes even distilleries are what Asheville is all about. 

And if you don't want to dine out for every meal, or if you wish to take home local gifts and food, look for one of the many Tailgate markets in Asheville and the Asheville area.  Meats, vegetables, cheeses, jams, jellies, pastries, crackers, honies, flowers, local crafts and gifts, all locally grown and made, will entice you at every turn.  The tailgate markets are wonderful to find and a great place to shop - for gifts and for yourself!

If you are visiting Asheville and need a place to stay, try one of the many bed and breakfasts, Cabin or Vacation Rentals, for which Asheville is well known.  Just give our information and reservation offices a call, 828 994 2627, 9am - 7pm daily.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 2013 Best of Asheville's Best - Biltmore Blooms

Formerly the Festival of Flowers and now called "Biltmore Blooms," late April likely will be the best time to take in this annual extravaganza at the Biltmore Estate, and is our "best of Asheville's best" for the month of April. The "Biltmore Blooms" will continue on through most of May, so if your journey brings you here in May, it will still be a splendid time to take in the flowers and grounds of the Biltmore Estate.

Azaleas are just beginning to pop, Tulips are looking absolutely gorgeous.  Sunny days and cool nights are bringing out the fruit trees; the Dogwoods are blooming in mass.  Spring in Asheville is an absolutely gorgeous time of year - well worth celebrating.  The flowers and blooms in the Mountains of Western NC are dependent on the weather... and this year we're having a later bloom, and thankfully (SO FAR, KNOCK ON WOOD), no hard freezes to diminish the beauty of spring in the mountains. Again, "Biltmore Blooms" will continue on through May, usually until Memorial Day weekend when the summer season officially begins, so be sure and take in the glory of the Biltmore Estate's 8000 acres of grounds and gardens during this very special time of year.  

During "Biltmore Blooms," one day tickets to the Estate grounds can vary in price quite a bit and will range from $44 to $65 and possibly higher.  If you purchase your one day tickets more than 7 days in advance and online, you're likely to get the best deal.  And if you are staying at a local Asheville Bed and Breakfast, you can often get a two day pass right at your inn on the day of entry into the Estate (tickets are non-dated); and usually the two day pass is around $55 - which again, will be good for 
two consecutive days of entry rather than the one day pass you will get online or at the ticket center at the Estate ticket and welcome center.  
Be sure and plan for a good amount of time at the estate during "Biltmore Blooms," or any time of year for that matter.  Some people think the Estate and all things to do at the Estate are within walking distance in and around the mansion.  Not so.  The Estate is more accurately a driving park.  Because of its vast size, areas to see at the Estate are miles and miles apart.  Even driving to the mansion itself, once you enter the Arch at the entrance off of Biltmore Avenue, you will have 4 miles or so to drive before getting to the actual mansion.  And, while you will be guided by Biltmore staff to park your car in the main large parking areas - with shuttle pick-up and drop-off to the mansion, I recommend parking behind the conservatory - past the main parking area.  It looks as if there are just a few parking places there, but if you keep driving back behind the paved area, you will find plenty of overflow parking in a gravel area off the paved parking lot.  As you are driving in, when you see the parking attendant, just flash your lights and he/she will know you wish to park within the gates or elsewhere.  Parking behind the Conservatory puts you in a central location amidst the gardens, and just a few steps below the mansion.  Driving through the main gates is quite dramatic - enjoy the view to your right of the front of the mansion as you pass by ... it will take your breath away indeed.  The road winds you around the rose gardens in a funny way, to the back of the conservatory where you can park.  Paths and steps will take you up to the mansion, or trail heads abound from this parking area - to the bass pond and spillway, or to the Deerpark and Lagoon trail system over hill and dale - with wonderful views of the mountains and the estate that others rarely see.

                                                                             After visiting the main gardens and Bass pond, The Lagoon Area is a beautiful place to drive into with your car... plan ahead and pack a picnic, have your "soccer mom" chairs in the car, a blanket to spread out and your picnic basket with picnic supplies.  Most first time visitors just don't realize that the grounds are there to take in - hike the extensive trail system, visit the conservatory with beautiful orchids and palms, enjoy the rose garden and coi ponds, take the short hike to the Bass Pond and spillway, drive or hike to the Lagoon area (or both) - for the best views of the mansion and great photo ops.

And after your picnic, plan on time for Antler Hill Village and working farm.  Be prepared to walk and relax around the demonstration farm - and if you take in all the Estate has to offer, one day just isn't enough.  The working farm is a true charm.  Enjoy watching demonstrations of butter making, angora or sheep wool thread making.  Visit the chicks, horses and sheep at the farmyard.  Play checkers in the barn or old fashioned games on the lawn in the middle of the old barn.  Enjoy special craft activities
with your kids, all included in your ticket.  The winery is right at Antler Hill Village, and a self guided tour and wine tasting are included in your ticket.  The gift shop at the end of the wine tour often has ciders and dips to taste, along with wine and gifts to purchase.  The Bistro restaurant is a wonderful place to dine.  There are several other restaurants on property.

And remember, the grounds are pet friendly, so bring your pooch.  Fountains and ponds offer drinking water.  Take a longer hike and enjoy the Deerpark trail and many others - there's much more to explore on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate - and most guests stay close to the "castle," never venturing out to the vast grounds, so you can enjoy lovely and quiet hikes away from the crowds.  Enjoy spring in the Mountains for the Best of Asheville this April!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

5 Reasons to Visit Asheville, NC - 1st of 5: Vibrant and Historic Downtown Asheville

Asheville may be just a big little town, yet it is has a fantastic vibe along with an amazing culinary and microbrewery scene, all set in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina - with easy access on the crossroads of two interstates, I-40 and interstate I-26.  There are numerous reasons to visit this little city - I'll focus on my top 5 reasons over the next 5 blog posts:

1) Vibrant Downtown Asheville

2) Amazing Food and Beer Scene
3) Stunning Blue Ridge Parkway
4) Historic Biltmore Estate
5) Abundant Outdoor Activities

Here's the first of five - Look for blogs about the other 5, coming soon!

Vibrant & Historic DowntownAsheville:

Fans consider Asheville to be the "hippest city" in the south, with it's downtown vibrancy, street scene, abundant musicians (live on street corners), local arts and crafts, fantastic restaurants with farm to table culture, sidewalk cafes and microbreweries.  And, the historic downtown center is made for walking. 

Where to start?  Be sure and visit Asheville's Visitor Center on Montford Avenue.  This is an exceptional Visitors Center, with extremely knowledgeable staff and volunteers who are there to help. You can also catch the  Trolley Tour from the Visitors Center (with 2 day hop on hop off privileges) - a great way to get a quick overview of this charming city.  And perhaps, for a real glimpse and flavor of Asheville's history and charm, try the Lazoom Comedy Bus Tour - "get on the [purple] bus" for a hilarious view of Asheville.  

Historians and Architects will want to check out the Urban Trail, a 1.7 mile trail noting the history and architecture of Asheville as it meanders through and around the downtown blocks of Asheville.  Sculptures big and small, sidewalk markers, historical plaques, all point out little nuggets about Asheville.  As you walk you will have the opportunity to see street musicians and artisans, smell delightful hints of the fabulous culinary scene and shop at galleries and gift shops, many featuring local arts and crafts wares, and other fun and whimsical items.  

City parks and green spaces offer entertainment, people watching and often a moment of needed rest.  In summer months and with Children (or without), enjoy Pack Square Park and Spl-Asheville, or perhaps a special event, band or other entertainment that will often be featured in this City Park.  Pritchard Park, on Patton Avenue, is another not to miss park, (just across from the S&W Art Deco building) always a great people watching park - Tuesday evenings enjoy "hoop jam,"  and Drum Circle on Friday evenings.

For history and architectural buffs, be sure and check out are the St. Lawrence Basilica, if it is open, boasting the largest free standing elliptical tile dome in North America, built in 1905 by Spanish Architect, Rafael Guastavino.  The Basilica is located just across the street from the US Cellular Center (formerly the Asheville Civic Center).  Additionally, Asheville boasts having the 2nd largest number of Art Deco Buildings (2nd to Miami's South Beach) in the world, which are enjoyable to view as you walk through the downtown streets.  The old S&W Cafeteria is a favorite, as well as Asheville's Town Hall with it's iconic dome with pink granite accents. 

Literary buffs will likely enjoy visiting the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and Boyhood Home, which costs $5.00 to tour.  There is limited and designated free parking at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, and it can be a little hard to find, as the front of the home is located on a wide park-like sidewalk between the original boyhood home and the Renaissance Hotel.  The back of the home is the front of the Museum, with parking located on Market Street, just behind the Asheville Community Theater (great little local theater, be sure and find out what is playing there).  

Don't miss the revived warehouse area reclaimed by artists, now the River Arts District - view local artists right in their studios at work on their arts. Purchase small or large works of art. The Jonas Gerard Studio is often alive with interesting demonstrations, often combined with live music.  Or watch glass blowers at work at the Asheville Glass Center.  You can even blow your own glass ornament there.  Look for special Studio Stroll weekends, held on 2nd Saturdays and twice yearly, although studios are always open and welcoming to visitors.  Fun and funky restaurants are in and about the River Arts

District, including 12 Bones, White Duck Taco Shop, The Junction and Clingman's Cafe.  Walking through the River Arts District is enjoyable, but we recommend having your car, as it is quite spread out.  And, when your feet are tired and your tongue is thirsty, take a rest at the Wedge Brewery on Roberts Street.  No food here, but often one of Asheville's food trucks will be selling their sandwiches and other food delights.

Music and entertainment venues to consider include, The Orange Peel, a wonderful Music Hall on the south side of downtown, so be sure and check out their impressive music schedule.  For a variety of entertainment opportunities be sure and find out what is happening at The US Cellular Center and the Diana Wortham Theatre.  Additionally, many restaurants and breweries around and about town will have live music acts integrated into the evening.  And, for the baseball fan, or if you just want to have a fun evening out, be sure and take in a baseball game in at the Tourist Stadium, on the edge of Downtown.  "Thirsty Thursdays" are always a favorite!

Smaller venues to check out are The Grey Eagle, on the fringe of the River Arts District, is a smaller music hall venue, featuring many excellent local musicians,  the Magnetic Field Theatre is also a smaller theatre venue located in the River Arts District, and The Altamont Theatre, nestled on Church Street is in the middle of downtown, all featuring smaller more intimate acts. 

If you are looking for a place to stay in Asheville, be sure and check out Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, which is within 3 miles or less of all the places mentioned here.  Reservation and information offices are open daily from 9am - 7pm, just call 828 994 2627.