As a Travel Writer for almost 25 years, I’ve been to a lot of places—to say the least—each providing their own unique flavor and flair that makes you want to experience more. But it is not that common that I fall in love with a destination from almost the instant my foot hits the local ground. Asheville, North Carolina is one of those places.
“The Land of the Sky”
For the past five years or so, Asheville has been gaining major nods from a variety of tourism industry folks, from food writers and cuisine-centric television shows, to craft and beer scene aficionados, art and culture devotees, outdoor enthusiasts and weekend warriors, sustainable lifestyle lovers, and others that have continued to descend upon this hip, cultured, unapologetically quirky and drop-dead-gorgeous mountain town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains just one hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the hills of Western North Carolina.
The region’s first inhabitants were the native Cherokee Indians, a prosperous peoples until the arrival of the Europeans led by Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who first laid eyes on the territory here in the mid-1500s. Overcome by diseases heretofore not experienced here and forced submission, many of the Indians died or were driven out (large numbers as a result of siding with the British during the Revolutionary War), leaving a hunting-based society until officially settled through a land grant by Colonel Samuel Davidson, an early explorer in 1784.
Davidson’s “tenure” was short lived (no pun intended), as he was killed by a group of the Cherokee that still remained; his twin brother and brother-in-law eventually coming to re-settle the area (historians differ on whether it was them or another entity). The name “Asheville” came later in honor of Samuel Ashe, the governor of North Carolina in the late 1700s.
Like many early U.S. towns and cities, the advent of the railroad played a significant role in the area’s growth, as well as industry and financial entities, and by 1900 Asheville was the third largest city in the state. The Great Depression took its toll here, but not before Asheville’s architectural landscape was peppered with gorgeous Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Neoclassical styles, much of which has been retained today, particularly in the Downtown area.
Drawing in new locals—"Ashevillians”—at a growing rate (another nod to the city’s acclaim as one of the best places to live) and scores of annual visitors, Asheville is unlike any other city in the U.S., and they work hard to make it stay that way.
As the 12th most populous city in the state, the population here hovers somewhere between 86,000 and 89,000 denizens, with some 425,000-plus in the greater metropolitan area—all dispersed over approximately 45 square miles.
Described by some as edgy, eclectic, artsy, inviting and even weird, Asheville’s “quirk” also comes from its pride in its Appalachian Mountain (part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province) history found in the cuisine, music and culture. So, if you are, or are comfortable with folks running the gamut from alternative-lifestyle seekers to “tree-huggers,” hippies, funky artistic types and more, you would feel most welcome here!
The year-round weather in the Asheville area is an interesting mix of what you’d find in other regions of the country—warm and humid in the summer as is typical for the East Coast and Midwest, although with cooler temps topping around 83 degrees; brief and very cold, the mercury often dipping below freezing denoting the winter season; while mild and beautiful (albeit sometimes wet and partly cloudy for long stretches) is what you’ll find in the spring and fall months.
A great way to get an overview of the city and all that is has to offer is to embark upon a Gray Line Asheville tour which starts at the fabulous Explore Asheville Convention & Visitor Bureau main building. The Hop-On Hop-Off tour takes you on a nostalgic trolley ride to 10 exciting stops and attractions from downtown to the Biltmore Village, with a fully guided narration of the historic sites and stories that make the city what it is today. Other tours available through Gray Line include the Ghost Tours for haunted history and murder mysteries, and the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley Tour (mid-November through December).
Check out my “Hood”
Because Ashevillians have gone to great lengths to preserve their history and culture, you won’t find much of the typical “suburbs” with tons of chain coffeeshops and the like here, rather cool and funky neighborhoods dotted all around the area that each offer their own special taste and appeal.
From Downtown, the entertainment hub, to West Asheville for the laid-back and chill among you, Fairview, dotted with picturesque farms, the River Arts District (“RAD” to the locals) where some 200 artist studios occupy the former mill warehouses, to Black Mountain, set against a rolling mountain backdrop, just to name a few, you’ll find a wide array of local and mom-n-pop bistros and restaurants, bars and coffeehouses, art galleries, live music venues, inviting bookstores, spectacular open green spaces, family and gay-friendly entities and activities, and some of the warmest and most welcoming people in the world.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what you’ll find in beautiful Asheville!
Check out these other great Asheville features!