The week before Easter, my fiance and I took a trip to North Carolina to visit family and have some fun. Splitting our time between Asheville and Raleigh, we enjoyed an action-packed week of sight-seeing, delicious meals, hiking, and…mermaid princesses!
We flew from Alexandria to Atlanta, and from there to Asheville, spending our 3-hour layover exploring the Atlanta airport and dining at P.F. Chang’s. Nick and I enjoyed flying together–we talked, read the Sky magazine, and chowed down on Cheez-its, Biscoff cookies, and ginger ale. It was so fun and exciting to fly on an airplane (even though our first flight had lots of turbulence due to a huge storm coming through the southeast).
Nick’s aunt and uncle hosted us for our time in Asheville. Their beautiful home is located in Biltmore Forest, a dreamy neighborhood located on land that was previously part of the Biltmore Estate (the Vanderbilts had to sell this acreage when their fortune began to dwindle). This woodsy, hilly area is only a mile from the Biltmore Estate, and adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The blooming redbuds, dogwoods, and cherry blossom trees made me feel I was in a fairy-tale.
Our first morning, the four of us wandered to a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea trail accessible from their backyard for a 3-mile trail run/hike before exploring downtown. Nick’s aunt and uncle made excellent tour guides, pointing out the popular spots and telling us all about the history and culture of the city.
We visited the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, where I got an iced mocha and shared a brownie sundae with Nick. One thing I love about Asheville is that the local restaurants have environmentally-friendly practices, like using paper straws and biodegradable to-go cups, locally-sourced ingredients, and having recycle cans. Another thing I like is that you can bring your dog anywhere with you. Maybe we should move there…Nick and I both drive a Subaru–we’d fit right in!
We walked in and out of art galleries, local craft markets, and breweries. At one point we split up, us girls going dress shopping while the guys played pinball. We met up at 5 o’clock for Palm Sunday mass at St. Lawrence Basilica, followed by dinner at Strada Italian. Their ravioli dish is out-of-this-world!
We made our way to a hotel lounge where there was some live music, but soon left downtown to hit Highland Brewing for flights (a beer sample with four 2-oz cups in your choice of brews) and more live music. This is what you do in Asheville, the brewery capital of the U.S.
The next day was spent at the Biltmore mansion. But remember that storm I mentioned earlier? Part of it swept through North Carolina that day, making for a very rainy, cold, wet visit to the Estate. We saw the gardens first, then toured the house and conservatory when the rain hit. The theme of the tour was A Vanderbilt House Party, which immersed visitors in the daily life of the Vanderbilts and their workers–entertaining guests, preparing grand meals, enjoying the swimming pool, bowling alley, gardens, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I felt as if I were in an episode of Downton Abbey.
The following day was designated for hiking and exploring the Pisgah National Forest south of Asheville. Riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway, our first stop was the Pisgah Inn, where we enjoyed a scenic overlook. It was a beautiful day, but at this elevation of 5,000 feet, the temperatures were in the 30’s and the wind was blowing. We layered up and drove to our next stop, the Mount Pisgah Trail.
This 3-mile round trip hike took us to the summit of Mount Pisgah, where a large news tower was hailing down icicles every time the wind blew. Our next hike was the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail, where we stopped to eat a picnic lunch on some boulders at the foot of a waterfall.
The next stop was Cradle of Forestry, a National Heritage Site which houses what was the first school of forestry in the country. George Vanderbilt recruited German forester Carl Schenck to come up with sustainable practices for this forest land (which, at the time, was being logged at unsustainable rates). Schenck then founded the school, where forestry students spent long days in the classroom and the field, and roomed in abandoned houses left behind by settlers.
Our last stop in the forest was Looking Glass Falls, where we saw a double rainbow. Then we headed to the town of Brevard, known for its white squirrel population, for some urban hiking in the quaint downtown district. We saw some white squirrels, as well as a groundhog. Feeling satisfied with the day, we drove back for our final meal in Asheville: dinner and flights at the huge Sierra Nevada Brewery.
There are so many reasons to visit Asheville–the farm-to-table restaurants, breweries, the arts scene, endless hiking options, and the Biltmore. What used to be country is now a rapidly-growing hipster scene due to the influx of young people and new businesses. We had a wonderful three days there and will definitely be back.
Stay tuned for a post on Raleigh and princess mermaids!