Head to Asheville this fall for a sensory overload
The natural beauty that made George Vanderbilt fall in love with Asheville 120 years ago draws visitors time and again. While every season offers an abundance of events and activities, fall—and its lead into the holiday season—gilds the area in a way that leaves visitors breathless.
Hit the road this autumn and discover a tapestry of color, quiet elegance and memorable adventures.
“The Blue Ridge Parkway is the number one place to start,” says Mark File, developer of RomanticAsheville.com travel guide. “There are plenty of places to stop and plenty of hiking trails along the way.”
If the leaves aren’t as vibrant as you had hoped, just keep going. The area’s wide variations in elevation mean the seasonal color varies as well. “You can have totally green leaves and then, two miles up the road, have peak color,” File explains.
The scene can be enjoyed from the comfort of your car, but getting out and about offers access to hidden waterfalls and other surprises. “Hiking can mean a stroll or an all-day, ten-mile hike,” File says. “There’s something for everybody.”
Zip lines even offer views from above the leaves, while rolling rivers are perfect for whitewater rafting. File says that while fall is a great time to explore Asheville and the surrounding areas, it should be kept in mind that excursions do require a little advance planning. Pack some food, which may be tough to find once you hit the trail, and prepare for all sorts of weather.
“Temperatures can vary a lot,” File says. “The top of Mt. Mitchell can be 20 degrees cooler than Asheville. Take a hike and take time to enjoy.”
The stuff of American royalty
Biltmore Estate is nestled along the French Broad River among spectacular views. “There are 8,000 acres you can roam around on,” spokeswoman LeeAnn Donnelly says. “We have hiking, biking, Segway tours, fly fishing, Land Rover Driving School—it’s great for outdoor activities.”
Visitors shouldn’t miss the winery, once home to the estate’s dairy. Classes and tours are available, and a tasting room offers samples of the wine behind the iconic labels. The Red Wine and Chocolate Seminar (offered twice daily, $20 per person, ages 21 and older only) is a sensory delight and the perfect addition to a romantic Asheville getaway.
But the centerpiece of Biltmore Estate is the Vanderbilts’ sprawling, castle-like home, outfitted in grand scale and permeated with history. Spend the day winding through elegant bedrooms, a period kitchen and even an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley. Save time to explore the gardens, which are extensive and layered with color, no matter what the season.
Or you can choose to extend your visit to the property and live like royalty with a stay at the Inn on Biltmore Estate. “For decades, people would ask if they could stay in the house,” Donnelly says. “In 2001, when the Inn opened, it became the answer to the question.”
The elegantly appointed inn reflects the style of George Vanderbilt’s home, inside and out. “We want people to feel like they are a guest of the Vanderbilts,” Donnelly says. “It’s a really lovely experience.”
An arts and crafts haven
The Omni Grove Park Inn is such a part of Sunset Mountain that it blends seamlessly and elegantly into the wood and stone of its natural surroundings—and it’s done so for 100 years. Founder Edwin Wiley Grove’s vision was one of rest and respite from the city. “We do it a little differently than he did, but that’s still what we do,” spokeswoman Tracey Johnston-Crum says.
The arts and crafts design of Grove Park Inn is reflected throughout and is enhanced by the $25 million renovation completed this year. It houses the world’s largest collection of arts and crafts pieces, many of which are located in guest rooms.
The locale can serve as a home base for exploring in the fall. “The leaves pop with color here,” Johnston-Crum says. “It’s kind of painted all around us.”
Visitors can enjoy that view on the inn’s 18-hole golf course or relax at the world-class spa on site. Seasonal offerings abound, including Halloween events—the inn’s mascot, modeled after a Teddy bear left behind by the Roosevelt children, is part of the fun—and culminating in the National Gingerbread House Competition.
But fall is definitely high season for this resort, whose panoramic views of nature’s show are a highlight. “I don’t want to call it a backdrop because it’s all around us,” Johnston-Crum says.
Asheville’s diverse food scene—dubbed “Foodtopia”—includes unique local restaurants and a thriving food culture. “We have over 250 independent restaurants and great chefs,” says Marla Tambellini, the Asheville Convention and Visitors’ Bureau’s deputy director.
Farmers markets are active almost every day of the week, connecting artisanal food producers and local farmers with chefs that create memorable experiences. “We like to say we have not rock star chefs, but real foodies,” Tambellini says. “We believe it’s about more than just the food. Food is an extra special part of the experience.”
Learn more about hotel packages, elegant dining and outdoor activities online at www.RomanticAsheville.com, www.biltmore.com, www.groveparkinn.com and www.ExploreAsheville.com.
ExploreAsheville.com, a website of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce and the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, offers a weekly report on fall leaf color, directories of zip line and rafting companies, nightlife, tours, dining, area accommodations and much more.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVE ALLEN AND COURTESY OF THE GORGE ZIPLINE, PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE BILTMORE COMPANY, PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE GROVE PARK INN, AND PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF RED STAG GRILL.