3/5/2012 - Road Trip! Desination: Asheville, N.C.
by Alice T. Carter, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Each year, Asheville plays host to about 2.9 million overnight leisure travelers.
Some come for the enduring architecture. In addition to Biltmore, the area's grandiose landmark 1895 French-style chateau and the 1913 Arts and Crafts-style Grove Park Inn, downtown Asheville has more art-deco architecture between the late 1920s and the early 1930s than any other southeastern city outside Miami.
Others are drawn by special events that fill the calendar, from the Winter Warmer Beer Fest in January to the National Gingerbread House Competition in December. July's Bele Chere Festival and the Biltmore Festival of Flowers in spring are annual multi-day events.
Details: 828- 258-6101 or www.exploreasheville.com
Consider making an Asheville Food Tour a first-day priority. The two-and-a-half hour walking and eating tour introduces the history, heritage and eating places of the pedestrian-friendly downtown. Tours run March through November, and are limited to 12 guests to encourage interaction with the tour host, chefs and merchants. Food and beverage samplings at eight to 10 stops generally add up to a meal for most. Guests receive a discount passport to merchants visited, plus seasonal recipes to try out at home. Advance tickets required. Details: 828-273-0365 or www.ashevillefoodtours.com
Yes, it's legal. Although, at one time, a forbidden pleasure created by secretive backwoods entrepreneurs and sought out by revenuers and connoisseurs of corn liquor, moonshine now is available for sipping in restaurants, bars and suburban backyards. Troy & Sons Distillers makes this most American of liquors in small batches from non-genetically modified, pure American corn that's been planted and harvested by the same Western North Carolina family for more than 120 years. At 5, 6 and 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, visitors can learn about the history, lore and manufacture of white lightning. Tours end with a sample in the tasting room with food and live music. Details: 828-575-2000 or troyandsons.com
Festival of Flowers
With more than 250 rooms to explore, Biltmore, George Vanderbillt II's 1895 French-style chateau, always is a tourist draw. But from April 2 to May 15, Biltmore's annual Festival of Flowers shifts attention to the estate's 8,000 acres of gardens and woodlands. Originally designed in the 1890s by famed landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted, the gardens continue to mature and evolve each year. More than 100,000 tulips will adorn the estate's entrance and the Walled Garden. Those who come mid-festival will see snapdragons, poppies, dianthus and digitalis, as well. Additional festival activities include live music daily in the Conservatory and Winter Garden; an "Ask a Gardener" station featuring Biltmore's horticulture experts; an art show and daily seminars on topics. Details: 800-411-3812 or www.biltmore.com
For three days each July, Downtown Asheville transforms itself into what may be the largest outdoor street festival in the Southeast. Live, original music plays all day and into the night as 200,000 or so festivalgoers sample the art, cuisine and music of the region. Artists and crafters from around the country sell their wares alongside artisans from across North Carolina. Named after the ancient Scottish phrase for "beautiful living," the Bele Chere Festival will run July 27 to 29. Details: 828-259-5800 or www.belecherefestival.com
More than 165 artists with studios in the River Arts District along the French Broad River welcome visitors daily. But, on the second Saturday of the month, there are added reasons to visit, as artists hold museum openings, gallery receptions, music, theater and dance performances and open studio days that showcase the creators and creations of Western North Carolina. Among upcoming second Saturday events are a glass-blowing workshop at Asheville Glass Center on April 14, Mountain Skies Electro Music Festival workshops and performances on May 12, and a River Arts District Studio Stroll on June 9. Details 828-252-9122 or www.riverar tsdistrict.com
Get outta town
There's an abundance of state and national parks within a short drive of Asheville. Depending on when you go, you'll find a variety of guided hikes and special events. For example:
o Travel 25 miles southeast of Asheville to Chimney Rock State Park for an early glimpse of spring. Through March 31, free guided one-hour hikes are offered to Hickory Nut Falls, the tallest waterfall on the East Coast. Along the trail, guides will offer insight into animal and plant indications that spring definitely is in the offing. Details: 828-625-9611 or www.chimneyrockpark.com
o Those arriving in early summer can find a spectacular tunnel of pink and purple rhododendron on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a short drive north of Asheville to Craggy Gardens Visitor Center on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. One of the most dramatic viewpoints on the Blue Ridge Parkway can be seen from the parking lot. But with the investment of just a little more energy, you can follow the Craggy Pinnacle trail, an easy 1.5-mile round trip that leads walkers through the tunnel of rhododendron blooms to a summit with a 360-degree mountain view. Details: 828-298-5330 or www.blueridgeheritage.com