I spent last week with my family in the area in and around Asheville, North Carolina. We had a great time. Part of what I noticed was the friendly attitude of a lot of the people that we met. We also found lots to do.
Highlights for the week included riding the Blue Ridge Parkway in the area around Asheville, visiting the famed Biltmore Estate and just hanging out in the downtown area.
I previously blogged about the Blue Ridge Parkway here. I have no new pictures to add -- my camera battery ran out of charge -- but we did drive an additional 30 miles or so though the southern part of Asheville. Over by Craggy Gardens, where there are great views on both sides of the road, the shadows of the fall season gave the area south of us a totally different look than I remembered seeing in the spring. As you come down off the 5000 foot elevations to around 3000, the views of Asheville residential areas running up to the sides of the mountains are spectacular. Most of the leaves were down, but there were still some very pretty rust, pale yellow and auburn colored leaves. We then continued on, passing several side roads before getting off of the blue roads about 10 miles north of Asheville airport.
The Biltmore Estate was all decked out for Christmas. We did the tour of the main building, which included view of some seventy plus Christmas trees, but the building itself is still the real star on this interior tour. Here's a photo of the Biltmore when rendered as a gingerbread house.
After the tour of the house, we booked our place at the Stable Cafe. The stable from the estate has been re-purposed as casual eating establishment and the stalls have been converted to booths. Just as I remembered, the food was wonderful. I had a lamb burger with lots of tasty trimmings and my family members also enjoyed hearty choices such as a meatloaf sandwich and the hefty Heritage Burger. This became our main meal of the day. Afterwards, we walked on the grounds, taking a very colorful route through pathways that eventually brought us to the glassed-in conservatory.
Here's a view that caught my eye.
On the weekend, we'd gone to a local church in Asheville called Jubilee, where the minister preached about winter gardens, a fine metaphor for the work of the winter season, where root vegetables burrow deeper and trees extend their roots, awaiting the brighter seasons. Here at the Biltmore, we saw how the gardens of spring turn into a toned down version for the fall, in preparation for the fallow months ahead.
Here's a glimpse of unusual hothouse flowers seen inside the conservatory.
The grounds of the Biltmore were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the amazing landscape architect who also played a large role in the development of New York's Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace. Here's a view of what the main house looks like when seen during a walk in the gardens.
Later, we got in the car and drove along the long, twisting road that heads toward the exits. On the way, we stopped off at the Biltmore Winery. We'd noticed that the estate didn't miss a trick when it came to commercial opportunities, but the winery was almost purely commercial. Our tickets did give my wife and I access to a wine tasting. We queued up -- sometimes this felt like Disneyworld for adults -- then a group of us were led to a long oak bar for a tasting. The selection was ample, with a broad choice among whites, reds and roses. We tasted their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. All of the wines were of reasonably good quality; the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were my favorites for this round of tastings.
Throughout the visit, downtown Asheville served as both a destination and resource. We ate several meals in town, including lunches and dinners, and took advantage of the eclectic cuisines available. Two favorites were:
Mela, which had a fine selection of Indian food, including some spectacular custom flavored Naans (the delightful flat Indian bread) and variations on favorites like lamb curry that sated my appetite. All of this was complemented by a fine pale ale from the local Pisgah microbrewery.
Mellow Mushroom, which has a nostalgic late sixties vibe and makes terrific pizzas with a wide selection of possible ingredients. Here we continued our symbolic tour of the local microbreweries and enjoyed more of the local products, guided by a friendly waitress.
Asheville is also a great place to connect to the cyber world. My youngest son and I each carried our Ipods with us and usually were able to connect to the 'Net using one of the ubiquitous wifi connections to be found in restaurants, bookstores and just about anywhere else in the downtown. Want to check the upcoming weather, check the New York Times for the day or otherwise link up? No problem.
I'm now back in the Boston area and the dreary late fall weather, but I'm still buoyed by our one week sojourn to one of the most interesting destinations in the southern US, Asheville, North Carolina. I'm already looking forward to the next visit.