Gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains
Across the street from Wolfe's old house is L.O.F.T (Lost Objects Found Treasures). There you will find a mix of funky antiques, kitschy furniture and handmade paper products. Walk past the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (a concert hall that has attracted the likes of Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Wilco in recent years) and into the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. This lavish bookstore allows you to thumb through leather-bound classics while savouring Old World wines.
Asheville natives also take great pride in their local food. Tupelo Honey Café, a popular spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner, gets much of its produce and meat from local farms. Try Tupelo's sweet potato pancakes or deep-fried apples. More tasty treats can be found at Salsa's, a Puerto Rican owned Mexican-Caribbean restaurant serving fresh, sustainable ingredients. Sip Salsa's housemade ginger beer soda or hibiscus-ginger tea while snacking on shrimp and cheese fritters with avocado salsa. For your main course, try the slow-roasted pork with orange fennel sauce, served in a hot molcajete (a bowl made of lava rock) or the jerk chicken with corn-pimiento relish.
Drinking locally is another great Ashevillian pastime. Craft beer is becoming a major industry for Asheville, which boasts ten microbreweries, five annual beer festivals and a craft beer store ranked the world's third best beer retailer by Rate Beer in 2010. Impressive for a town of only 83,000 residents. The craft store, Brusin' Ales, carries every local beer it can get its hands on, but it also offers a collection of 900 beers from around the globe, making beer geeks giddy.
Brewery tours worth checking out are held by French Broad Brewery, Pisgah Brewing Company and Highland Brewing Company, all three of which host free live music events. All of Pisgah's brews - yes, even its bacon stout - are certified Organic.
Out of town
Plenty of Asheville's transplants (who move from Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Florida, Washington DC, even Argentina) are drawn to the city by its many outdoor activities. Since Asheville sits between the Appalachian Trail's Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains, hiking, climbing and mountain biking are popular local sports.
For a nearby, relatively short hike, Mount Pisgah is just 25 miles south of Asheville. A wonderful jumping off point for longer hikes is Hot Springs, North Carolina, just 35 miles north of Asheville. True to its name, the area is famous for its natural mineral waters which rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot Springs has become a destination for weary hikers and tourists seeking a relaxing retreat. Hot Springs Resort and Spa offers everything from mineral bath treatments to massage therapy. Just south of the town, on the Appalachian Trail, is Max Patch Mountain, its summit at 4,629 feet. Farther south, Clingmans Dome, in the Smoky Mountains, peaks at 6,643 feet.
If man-made sights are more to your liking, one of Asheville's most famous attractions is a stunning work of architecture. The Biltmore Estate is a castle resembling something out of Disney (in a good way). Built in the 1890s by George Washington Vanderbilt, of the prominent 19th Century railroad Vanderbilts, the Biltmore is an 8,000-acre estate with a vineyard, gardens, restaurants, spa, inn and cottage. The space is sometimes used for luxury weddings and luxury vacations. Self-guided tours start at $40.
Like your favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Asheville is one of those places you do not want anyone to know about. At the same time, it is too good not to share, especially since sharing is part of the town's ethos. Warm, laid-back and always friendly, the locals make you feel like you belong. That welcoming atmosphere is perhaps the best part of this quirky southern town. No matter where you are from or what your interests might be, chances are, you will fit right in.