Go to relax and enjoy the grand Biltmore estate, but stay for the upcoming food scene in Asheville, N.C.
Chances are you've heard of the Biltmore estate, and for good reason. The largest privately owned home in the country is worth the hubbub. Expansive grounds offer breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fantastic vinos made on site are a great way to wind down. And the home itself will leave you wishing you could have been a party guest in the late 1800s. The estate alone is worth a quick trip-with the girls or a significant other. But what you may not know is its city, Asheville, N.C., has an up-and-coming-food scene (with more than 250 locally owned eateries) that will make you want to turn that two-day getaway into a long weekend escape.The Biltmore
There are a few areas to the Biltmore estate to know: the Biltmore House and grounds; Antler Hill Village, a relatively new development with shops, restaurants and the winery; and lots of trails that connect them together, all perfect to run, bike or see on horseback. Here's what not to miss.
The Vanderbilt family's reputation for being gracious hosts doesn't fail them at The Inn at Biltmore Estate, the only hotel on the property. With roughly 200 rooms and suites, it's boutiquish, and allows the staff to cater to whatever you need. Use that extra time to take a walk or sit with coffee on the back terrace. Watching fog clear over the green acres of the property and mountains beyond is a great way to wake up in the morning.
Biltmore makes some fabulous wines--many of which are grown and harvested by hand right on the estate's 20 acres of vineyards--so don't pass up a complimentary wine tasting at the winery. Entering the winery, in production since 1957, you walk through what was the old dairy barn. It now houses the winery, as well as a large wine tasting room, a gift shop and wine bar where, for an extra fee, you can buy and sample some of the premier vinos and sparkling varieties (the latter is definitely worth it). For a fun wine experience, sign up for a wine class, such as Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting. Here, a wine pro pairs four Biltmore wines with four flavored truffles and explains why they go together so well. (It's a perfect time to pick up tips and tricks for that next wine soirée.)
Touring George Vanderbilt's grand 175,000-square-foot Biltmore House is a must. Take the audio tour of the home's interior (it's quick and full of interesting tidbits). Of the Biltmore's 250 rooms (there are 43 bathrooms!), you'll get good highlights--the grand dining room reminiscent of royal dining halls, bedrooms with the latest technology of the time, plus a dazzling marble spiral staircase that seemingly defies gravity. After the tour, wander the grounds and garden crafted by the architect who designed Central Park. Next to the house, the old stables have been converted into kitschy shops--an old-fashioned toy store, a chocolate shop, a Christmas boutique and a large gift shop full of Biltmore merchandise, including those from their own lines, Biltmore for Your Home and Biltmore Inspiration. (You can also find décor items at Traditions in Antler Village.)
Outside of the house, there are 8,000 acres on the property to explore with great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For a leisurely sightsee, take a horseback ride--a slow-paced, hour-long trail tour (great for the inexperienced rider) where you'll get a stunning view of the back of Biltmore House. Land Rover Experience Driving School excursions take you to a man-made, wooded course near the Inn. It's more instructional than adventurous, but fun regardless as a Land Rover rep gives a quick tutorial on the best ways to maneuver, then puts you in the driver's seat. You can also ride bikes or Segways on paved paths, go on a guided garden walk, fly fish or go clay shooting.
Local food is huge in Asheville, and it's no different on the Biltmore property, where much of the food is sourced from on-estate and local farms. At the Inn, upscale and formal The Dining Room boasts picturesque windows, an oversize fireplace and attentive table service that makes you feel like your waiter is a personal butler. The food, however pricey, isn't stuffy, offering farm to table tasting menus, pasta, game meats and great fish options. Check out the brunch buffet here, too. Upstairs, the Library Lounge feels exactly as its name says--it's a casual spot, with similar views, to grab lunch or afternoon tea.
At Antler Hill Village--a short bus ride or 10-minute walk away--try a casual lunch or dinner at Cedric's Tavern, a good spot for upscale pub fare and atmosphere to suit. They've got two of their own brews, along with a few local selections. Also at Antler Village is the slightly more upscale Bistro located next to the winery. It's a small, familiar menu with options such as fried calamari, wood fired chicken and filet mignon.Asheville
In Asheville there is something for everyone: The hipster. The hippie. The foodie. The beer or cocktail aficionado. The outdoorsy type. Or the I-just-want-to-relax-and-take-in-the-scenery vacationer. You can do it all here, and in a short amount of time. Downtown Asheville's easy-to-navigate and walkable streets are lined with cool shops, boutiques and bars. If you aren't sure which way to go, just ask.
Locals are friendly and always armed with a great recommendation.
While no big designer names may stick out at the handful of boutiques, it's the perfect spot to stumble across that unique, and probably inexpensive, find (I did at hippie chic dress boutique Virtue at 58 N Lexington Ave.) Wander the Lexington Park District, which is a bit less touristy than the College and Wall Street areas. With its classic, trendy feel, Minx Boutique (64 N. Lexington Ave.) is a must-stop. The uber-tiny Maison Mary (58 Broadway St.) carries limited designs by Yeohlee NY and vintage accessories. There will also be no shortage of art galleries, hippie shops and eclectic boutiques as you wander.
For décor inspiration, check out Mobilia (43 Haywood St.), which sells contemporary European furniture and décor items. Next door, Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St.) boasts two floors of artists' kiosks.
The Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar (1 Page Ave., No 101) is the coolest used bookstore you've ever seen with full wine bar, comfy leather seating and plenty of room to browse.
Dine & Drink
In a city that has a touted Foodtopia society, it's almost guaranteed any restaurant will boast locally-sourced ingredients. Some make farm-to-table their thing, such as downtown's Table (48 College St.) and The Market Place (20 Wall St.), the latter boasting a cool-meets-rustic vibe and a menu that lets you know exactly what was sourced within 100 miles. A few other popular spots (so much so, we recommend a reservation): the French Bouchon (62 N. Lexington Ave.), the Italian Cucina 24 (24 Wall St.), and Latin-American Boca (68 N. Lexington Ave.). We loved hip Spanish tapas bar Cúrate (11 Biltmore Ave.) where Chef Katie Button crafts some of the most authentic Spanish tapas we've eaten outside of Spain. There's plenty of meatless fare here, too, with the most popular vegetarian spot, Laughing Seed Café (40 Wall St.). Try the Omega Hempnut Burger ($10) with red pepper aioli.
If there was ever a restaurant good enough to motivate vacationers to get an early start, Sunny Point Café (626 Haywood Road) in West Asheville (a 5 minute drive from downtown) is it. If there's a wait, grab a cup of coffee and stroll through Sunny Point's large backyard garden. Order the Huevos Rancheros ($8.99)--savory black bean cakes, spicy chorizo, red skins and sunny side eggs topped with roasted tomatillo salsa. Delish and will leave you full all day. Downtown, visit Tupelo Honey Café (12 College St.) for classic southern comforts including a large, heavenly sweet potato pecan pancake ($5.95).
Asheville is known for its high concentration of microbreweries. Step into any bar and you'll find a few on tap. Bow into the Thirsty Monk (92 Patton Ave.)--both a brewery and beer-slinging joint--where upstairs it offers American and local crafts, and downstairs it pours Belgian-only beers to a more mature crowd. Irish pub Jack of the Wood (95 Patton Ave.) offers live music and is also home to Green Man Brewing Co. A few others to remember: Lexington Avenue Brewery (39 N. Lexington Ave.), Highland (12 Old Charlotte Highway, Suite H) and Pigsah (150 Eastside Drive).
In the mood for a good cocktail? Go to Sazerac (29 Broadway St.)--they mix both classic and creative in a loungy setting. Try the light and herby Thalia ($8), a refreshing mix of gin, pineapple, basil and bitters.
The Gourmet Chip Co. (43 1/2 Broadway St.) offers a dozen kettle-style and sweet potato variations. It's a fresh-made snack that'll leave you wanting to skip lunch. Try sweet and salty The Corsica ($4.95) with kettle-style chips, Belgian dark chocolate, apple smoked bacon and black sea salt. The Chocolate Fetish (36 Haywood St.) is known for its truffles. And French Broad Chocolate Lounge (10 S. Lexington Ave.) pairs freshly-made chocolates with a wine bar lounge and beverages to match. Head here for an after-dinner drink and dessert.