Whenever you stay in Ashville a day trip to the magnificient Great Smoky Mountains covered by forests is a must. It's a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountains, I know from my geography classes at school.
I drove some 50 miles west of Asheville to enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park (FREE entrance, no fee!) and passed the park and North Carolina - Tennessee state line driving U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road). I stopped at numerous lookouts. Views over the mountains are spectacular, never to forget especially in peak fall season. I was lucky to be there (half-late October usually). I took some hiking along the Appalachian Trail, too.
Warning: check the weather forecast before you go and plan your trip on sunny day if possible. Foggy and rainy weather is quite common in the Great Smoky Mountains. Only some parts of Washington state and Alaska get more rains.
Chimney Rock Park is a privately owned park in Chimney Rock, 25 miles southeast of Asheville. Wow, I am very happy I hit my car there! If you are in Asheville, relax, book a room in Chimney Rock and stay there for one day. You will be impressed! Take time to smell roses!
I enjoyed a lot hiking outstanding rocks, climbing net of unbelievable pretty and unique wooden stairs and platforms fixed to the steep rocks and passing narrow passages between the rocks. Add underground waterfall inside a cave, and spectacular views of surrounding mountains with the town, river and lake down (if it's not foggy though). Strolling along town full of beautiful, old, wooden houses, shopping in local shops lined along winding street with a mountain river in backyard was a blast!
This 17-floor high rise building in classical style (Neo-Classical Revival) has powerful granite columns at the entrance and on the facade and to my suprise houses Buncombe County Courthouse since its completion in 1928. All local courthouses in the USA I have seen look quite different. First of all they have never been tall, second they usually have reminded me less or more classical ancient temple with columns and round cupola.
Buncombe County Courthouse was the tallest local government building in North Carolina in 1928 and I think it was also one of the most extravagent courthouses in the USA. I was told that its interior and main hall instead of being modest as usual in local courthouses, was richly ornamented with marble, bronze, glass and plasterworks. And it is one of the best-preserved and most elegant Neo-Classical interiors in the state.
Unfortunatelly the court was closed to public when I was there. But you may see at least the lobby during office hours: 8.30 am to 5.00 pm Monday through Friday. Address: 60 Court Plaza (map: follow the 1st link below). By the way, whenever you visit county seat in North Carolina look for county courthouse. These buildings are always interesting for every old architecture lover (map: follow the 2nd link below).
S & W Building in downtown (56 Patton Ave.) - one of Asheville's most recognized art deco landmarks - was built in 1929-1930. It was deseigned by Douglas D. Ellington, an architect then living in Asheville (born in Clayton, NC). He designed numerous buildings in Asheville and also the University of Pennsylvania, and the famous Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. S & W Building houses S & W Cafeteria which is worth of short visit for art deco interior or coffee break. Pay attention to the use of pink granite, gold leaf, glazed terracotta, metal, and polished marble.
Just in case you have $2.9 mln to spend :-), the property is for sale. Follow the link below for details. But think first how many great travels you may experience for that money :-).
Strolling around Asheville downtown I easily found a few blocks of red-brick houses with well preserved old commercial writings and names of various companies written on them. Some of these houses are a bit neglected and don't look to be inhabited but some are pretty renovated. Whenever I see something like this I think that these houses are very American (or maybe English as well?) remains of the industrial era and were built for workers, mainly poor farmers and immigrants who came and settled in Asheville in search for job, money and better life. Boring? Well, not for me as we don't have it in Poland.
While Asheville prospered in the 1910's and 1920's, the Great Depression of 1930's hit Asheville quite hard. Most of Asheville's banks closed. The "per capita" debt held by the city (through municipal bonds) was the highest of any city in the nation. Rather than default, the city paid those debts over a period of 50 years.
Lake Lure was a filming location for scenes from the movies Dirty Dancing (1987). Do you remember that famous musical and romance film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey? It's a little, mountainous town and old (as for the USA - 1927) spa located along the very beautiful lake with deep green waters, sandy beaches around, rocky and covered by forest mountains up around. National Geographic has called Lake Lure one of the most beautiful man-made lakes in the world and they are right!
There is Lake Lure Pavilion on a lake peninsula. It's a wooden, pretty located building that people rent for various meetings, reunions etc. It offers a beautiful view of Chimney Rock Mountains, the beachfront, and the marina. Town of Lure is only a short drive (some 3-4 miles) from Chimney Rock and only 28 miles southeast of Asheville.
This charming and unbelievable beautiful lake surrounded by trees in fall colours, mainly in yellow is called the Bass Pond. In late October it remained me what is called the Gold Polish Fall (Autumn) which I had seen in Poland a few weeks before. I felt like at home in this place. Well, some deer should cross my path, but they didn't :-).
The Bass Pond is located in the Biltmore Estate but off the beaten path: in the most southern part of the Biltmore Gardens. That's why there were no, even one, visitors when I was there. What a nice contrast with the crowded Biltmore House. From the Biltmore House take a trail southwards called then the Bass Pond Path and walk down some 40-50 min. On the way you have all other gardens and may amaze the first managed forests in America.
hendersonville is a small town located about 20 miles southeast of asheville. hendersonville has a very nice downtown historic district. hendersonville's main street has a collection of shops, restaurants, bars, and two museums. hendersonville is a very worth while side trip when in the asheville area. from downtown asheville take I-40 to I-26 east. on I-26 east exit on to US 64. see my hendersonville pages for more information.
The Biltmore Inn, the four stars hotel and the only accommodation at the Biltmore Estate is skipped by most visitors to the estate. That's why I include it in the off the beaten path category. You may stay there if you can spend over $200 - $400 (depends on a season) per night for two people. If not, like me, do stop and visit its impressive interiors and gardens around. You will be welcome by a smiling doorman opening doors leading to the lobby :-).
I didn't like the building exterior. They should create something more old-fashionable in style in such place, I think. But the spacious lobby bar designed in style of the early 20th century really impressed me. I liked especially the stone wall with two fireplaces and a lot of space around and above me. Add that smiling doorman dressed in a suit opening entrance door for you :-) I also liked gardens with some wooden passages and garden structures covered by climbing plants.
There was no vacancy for my second night in Asheville. Therefore I had to drive south to South Carolina. The next morning on the way back driving US-25 as soon as I noticed large direction sign: Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site I followed it and I was lucky to discover one of the most beautiful places in North Carolina - a place of silence, peace, beautiful lake, fresh mountain air, pretty trees in fall colours - where I was also lucky to get to know more about life of a famous American poet and his family, to see how he lived and to take time to smell roses.
Carl August Sandburg (1878 - 1967) was an American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer and folklorist, born in Illinois from Swedish parents. At age 67 his family moved from the Midwest to the Connemara estate, in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Wow! This beautiful, peaceful hilly area with pretty lake surrounded by trees in fall colours really amazed me. The Sandburg's white house on a top of a hill overlooks mountains up and meadows below. I enjoyed a short but interesting guided house tour as well as a stroll around the property with barns, farmyard, animals grazing etc.
I'm glad we took that short little trip. We stopped along the French Broad Overlook at 2100 feet (640 m.) above sea level for a photo opportunity. If you think my pic is good, wait until you see Mark's. We ran into a guy on a bicycle who had just moved to the area from the Poconos in Pennsylvania. This is a great area to camp and backpack. If it looked this nice in early spring, I can only imagine it in autumn.
During my long visit to numerous attractions of the huge Biltmore Estate I found a few unbelievable beautiful trees off the beaten path.
They were unique, at least for me, as we don't have them in Poland or Europe or I have never seen them. Add some trees in wonderful fall colours and some beautiful and hidden flowers/fruits in the Biltmore Gardens. I think they should add an exposition on trees and forests of the estate with pictures and information on various tree specious. Some trees looked georgeus in fall colours.
lake lure and chimney rock village is a very nice side trip from asheville. lake lure is a beautiful mountain lake and chimney rock village is home to chimney rock state park. the lake lure area offers boating, fishing, hiking, and a number of good bars and restaurants. lake lure is located about 30 miles east of asheville. from downtown take I-40 to I-26 east. on I-26 exit US 64 north. for more information see my lake lure and chimney rock pages.
Take a ride on the parkway and you'll see so many impressive views of the surrounding landscape. This photo was taken from a lookout point on the southern end of the parkway. I spent a few minutes talking to a cyclist who was stretching his legs before heading up the mountain for a ride. He was telling me that he had moved from the northeast and despite the fact that most of his family had moved down to Florida, he just couldn't pull himself away from the mountains. He said, "the beaches are for vacations, the mountains are to live." I tend to agree.
The views were nice, but they're even better if you come in the fall.
We found that if you are the first to arrive in the mornings - say around 9 or 10, if you go to the gardens first you can have them practically to yourself. Most tourists go straight onto the house first. Since the house is pretty much just a jawdropping shuffle through state of awe it doesn't matter if you get there first, or get caught up in a line.
The rose garden though is magnificent. To have it all to yourself in the morning, with just a gardener or two pruning and snipping quietly down at the far end, you can almost imagine you are a Vanderbilt yourself, wandering the grounds. Obviously having all those huge gardens empthy is good for taking photos as well!
If you venture past, and on down by the ponds though? Be sure you have mosquito spray on you. You'll be into them before you know it and it's uphill trying to get back out!
There's also a parking lot behind the nursery which you will pass as you leave the estate. You can buy plants and then load them up on the way out. As locals we buy the year round pass and when we feel so inclined but we often go in past the parking lots and straight through to park at the nursery. But it's limited spots - don't do that if you are going to be doing the house tour.
If you are budget minded and you like picnics, consider bringing your own. If you can squeeze in the estate and gardens before lunch - head back to you car. As the drive takes you on to the winery (and later out of the estate) it passes by a lovely quiet picnic area by the river. You may have to share it with some geese and ducks, but the estate people don't mind you doing a picnic hamper.
Biltmore Estate has alot to offer. If you are going to be in town a few days? Buy one of those year passes (they aren't expensive) and plan on coming severaldays in row, but just for a few hours. The house one day, the gardens the next, the winery and all the other things after that.
Finally - consider the behind the scene's tour if you have time and extra money for a little extra off-the-beaten-path punch.