Asheville, NC, has become the artisanal DIY center of the South, making it a premier destination for visitors to experience unique food, art, and music. And its location along the Great Smoky Mountains makes it an unbeatable destination for nature lovers, lending the perfect backdrop for experiencing the culture Asheville has to offer. Perhaps Asheville's DIY spirit comes from its original do-it-yourself family, the Vanderbilts, who built the massive Biltmore Estate. They ran Biltmore Dairy Farms and raised poultry and cattle so the estate could be self-supporting. Later on, a vineyard and winery were opened on-site, which are still functioning today.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore the grounds and magnificent gardens, before or after you visit the house itself. Then stroll through the Antler Hill Village & Winery, where you can enjoy a complimentary wine tasting.
Watch Art Being Created
In the River Arts District you can visit various artist studios, including painting, pottery, and glassblowing. Some even have workshops you can participate in. Stop by the railroad tracks -- not as sketchy as it sounds -- to hang outside with the locals at Wedge Brewing Company, where "beer is art."
Follow Your Stomach to the WNC Cheese Trail
Western North Carolina is home to dozens of creameries, and in 2013 the WNC Cheese Trail was created so visitors could experience cheese-making up-close. Take some time to follow the self-guided cheese trail -- one of just a handful in the USA -- to area creameries.
Make sure to stop at Looking Glass Creamery in Fairview, N.C., about 30 minutes from Asheville. With its idyllic setting and charming shop and café, you'll want to spend all afternoon there. And make sure to buy a loaf of Farm & Sparrow's bread in their shop to go with the cheese. It's made with local heirloom grains and stone-ground flours that are milled onsite at their bakery and mill.
Eat Handmade Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
Local favorite French Broad Chocolates' works directly with farmers in Costa Rica, Peru, and Nicaragua to procure their beans. They then process them in their factory in Asheville, turning the beans into delicious chocolate bars, truffles, and baking chocolate. Their nearby Chocolate Lounge is always packed, offering treats like mocha stout cake, a seasonal trifle, and chocolate mousse in a relaxed environment.
Find Natural Beauty
Take a leisurely drive along the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, which is magical in any season. The 469-mile scenic road offers stunning vistas and mountain meadows, and is also home to numerous campgrounds, picnic areas, and trails.
Go Above It All
Driving too inactive? Fly among the trees on a zip-lining expedition with Navitat Canopy Adventures. Try the new Blue Ridge Experience where you'll fly 350 feet above the ground on zip-lines that stretch as long as 3,600 feet.
Buy Handmade Gifts
Charming Wall Street, a cobblestone street situated above an old city wall, is home to several artisan shops. At Paul Taylor, you can order custom, handmade leather sandals and you'll find handmade art deco-inspired jewelry at Overstrom Studio. At the new aSHEville Museum's shop you can buy arts and crafts made by women from the region and around the world.
Forage for Dinner
No Taste Like Home leads foraging expeditions around the region. You'll forage the area for mushrooms, greens, and other ingredients and learn what's edible -- as well as what actually tastes good. Take your findings home with you and cook up a feast.
And if you don't feel like working for you dinner, Market Place always has seasonal and local offerings on the menu, like foraged mushroom gratin in the fall and an arugula and strawberry salad with locally made goat cheese in spring.
Hear Music Everywhere
There are several street buskers playing all manner of bluegrass, folk, and other music around downtown on any given night. If you'd rather be inside, stop by the Orange Peel for varied local and national acts like Delta Spirit, Chromeo, and Kacey Musgraves.
Rest Your Head
Charming bed and breakfast Crooked Oak Mountain Inn is just 15 minutes from downtown but you'll feel worlds away as you drive up the winding mountain road and find yourself surrounded by trees. Enjoy owners Bear and Patti's homemade breakfasts, and in the afternoon relax on the porch with a glass of wine.
If you'd rather be in the heart of the city, book a room at Haywood Park in the historic Bon Marché and Ivey's department store building, which exemplifies the tradition and glamor of years past.
Art lover? Try Hotel Indigo near the River Arts District, which features sleek design, large format murals, and modern art.