Though it would be very difficult for me to choose a place to settle down, Asheville, NC, makes the short list. I never dreamed I would be saying that about a city in a southern state, but we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here.
Ashville is larger than I expected, with a population of around 80,000. Yesterday we drove into town to explore the historic downtown area. We had an official walking map in hand, heavily annotated by the visitor center staffer to make sure we didn’t miss any of the highlights. Being Sunday morning, we didn’t encounter much vehicular or pedestrian traffic, and spent a couple of hours exploring this truly wonderful city.
Asheville highlights its history through a series of 30 “markers” around town. These markers were artworks, mostly sculptures and metal works, drawing our attention to plaques set in the sidewalk detailing the history of the site. Numbers on our walking map corresponded with the markers, and a supplemental “Urban Trail” brochure provided more information.
“Buy Local” seems to work here!
Inside the renovated Grove Arcade building
We had a perfect day for the walk, sunny and mild. We missed a few of the markers, but had a fun time following the Urban Trail, past the boarding house where Thomas Wolfe grew up, the Grove Arcade (said to be America’s first indoor shopping mall), the beautiful Art Deco city hall, through newly renovated parks, past fountains and outdoor restaurants. It was a vibrant, lively scene, extremely enjoyable.
Entertaining the Sunday brunch crowd.
Note the foreground streetlight
I had read a description of Asheville as “North Carolina’s Austin”, and I understand the comparison. We passed more than one group of street musicians, and art galleries, interesting shops and public artworks abound. Tempting restaurants – Thai, Indian, seafood, vegetarian, upscale, casual, street food carts – beckoned. (We resisted – can you believe it??) Most of the shops and restaurants appeared to be independently owned, though we did see a few chain stores – Urban Outfitters comes to mind – and the businesses seemed to be thriving. It was a wonderful morning, spent in a memorable town.
Today we visited Asheville’s most-recommended “Must-See”, the Biltmore Estate. We had balked at the $60/person price, but finally decided to cough it up. WOW, was it worth it! But now it is time for dinner, so that for tomorrow’s blog.