A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary. Hard to believe! Now that we’re in Atlanta, we’re within pretty easy driving distance of a number of Southern cities, and we thought this was the perfect occasion to go out and explore one—namely, Asheville, North Carolina. I’d heard lots of rave reviews from friends who’d been to the little mountain town, but I had no idea just how great it was going to be. We didn’t have time to fit in all that Asheville has to offer (breweries, art galleries, etc.), but here are a few highlights from our first weekend in town.
Several friends recommended bigger hotels in town, like the Grand Bohemian and the Omni Grove Park Inn, but availability was low and prices were sky high because we were booking only a week ahead of our visit. I started researching B&Bs on TripAdvisor and found the Abbington Green, the one we ultimately settled on. And what a perfect choice it was! The inn’s owner and caretaker, Nick, greeted us at the front door (by name!), invited us inside, and immediately wished us happy anniversary. He gave us a brief but thorough rundown on everything from breweries and parking lots to the best dinner spots (we’d made all of our meal reservations prior to arriving and were thrilled when he applauded our choices).
We arrived in the early evening, and Nick had the Abbington Green’s sitting room all set up with wine, local cheeses, crackers, and cured meats, which, it turns out, he does every evening. He showed us to our room, where we found an anniversary card and a tiny box of local gourmet chocolates. I highly recommend the St. James’s Park room, where we stayed. It looks out over the beautifully kept gardens in the back of the house and has a fireplace and a great bathroom with heated towel bars and a jetted shower/tub. Nick also installed a water filtration system and only launders towels every other day, and we appreciated his earth-friendly efforts. We missed breakfast here our first morning, but judging by the breakfast we had on our second day, meals here are something you won’t want to miss. Nick, who has no formal cooking education, makes everything from homemade frittatas to fluffy French toast—even his own croissants and cookies. His table-setting skills are something to aspire to, too. As one reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor, we arrived here strangers and left as friends. (How often have you felt that way after checking out of a brand-name hotel?) And we can’t wait to go back.
I knew that the Biltmore Estate was located in Asheville, but I had no idea how spectacular it would be. When I bought our tickets online, about a week before our visit, I was given the option to buy a one- or two-day pass. “Why would anyone want to go there two days in a row?” I wondered. Well, it didn’t take long to find out. You can take a pretty extensive tour of the mansion itself, but the mansion and its grounds are also home to a winery, a farm, sprawling gardens and conservatories, shops, restaurants, walking/jogging trails, horse-riding trails, and even spots for fly-fishing, carriage rides, and kayaking. There’s so much to do!
When buying tickets online, I didn’t include the audio walking tour (an extra $10/person), but in hindsight, I wish I had. We still had a great time walking through the mansion and following along in the brochures we picked up at the entrance, which give a brief description of the rooms you pass through. If you have the time and the attention span, I recommend adding the audio option.
It was gray on the day of our visit, but the views were spectacular nonetheless, and it made for a comfortable walk around the gardens (where my phone died—alas, no pictures).
One of the Biltmore features that makes the $60/person admission price feel like a bargain is its free wine tasting program, located at the winery. We spent at least an hour trying out all kinds of reds and whites, and we walked away with a list of of our favorites to buy from the adjacent shop. (We bought a whole case!) It’s a really fun way to while away an afternoon, so don’t skip it!
My Biltmore summary: With this being our first visit, and us squeezing it all into a single day, I’m pretty happy with how we chose to spend our time there—tour, gardens, conservatory, winery, farm. We’ll have to go back again to see more, but this was a perfect introduction. And here’s a tip: Now through October 31, if you buy your tickets online more than a week in advance of your visit, you get $10 off the cost of your ticket. You can also get $10 off when you buy a two-day pass. Learn more about those and other special offers here.
Food was easily a highlight of the weekend. We kicked it off with dinner at The Admiral (above), a totally unassuming spot in West Asheville that will blow your expectations out of the water. That is, if you don’t blow right past it when you arrive in the neighborhood. It’s in what looks like a once-abandoned service station, but put that picture out of your mind right now, because it’s amazing. We shared the grilled naan with local tomato hummus; the grilled figs with honey mascarpone and cashews; and the hamachi and tuna crudo. I had the seared tuna entrée (served with the most ridiculous miso remoulade, oyster mushrooms, bonito flakes, and house pickled ginger), and my Mr. had the flat iron steak (squash hash brown, local poached egg, truffle foam). The next morning, it was breakfast at The Early Girl. Our service was on the slow side, but my quiche (green tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and cheddar) was delicious, and the dining room was comfy.
My favorite meal of the weekend was a long lunch at Cúrate (above), a tapas spot in the center of town. We booked lunch here because dinner reservations were taken for the entire weekend and I didn’t want to miss it. In fact, here’s another tip: Start your morning out at the Biltmore (take a tour and see the gardens), then take a break for lunch back in town, which is what we did in order to experience Cúrate. Afterward, head back to the Biltmore (your ticket’s good all day) to check out the farm and the wine-tasting room, which is a perfect pre-dinner warmup. Anyway, back to Cúrate. Here’s what we tried (and died over): fried Marcona almonds; mixed olives with lemon, rosemary, and thyme; pan con tomate (bread with tomato—think bruschetta) with added manchego cheese; ensalada de tomate y atún (kumato tomato salad with preserved Spanish bonito tuna, black olives, drizzled in extra virgin olive oil & reserve sherry vinegar); gazpacho; white asparagus tossed in lemon vinaigrette and served with house-made “light as air” mayo; and, my favorite, berenjenas la taberna, or fried eggplant with wild mountain honey and rosemary. Of course, we washed it all down with a whole pitcher of sparkling white sangria (below). If you’re not already in a food coma from reading all of that, then listen to me: If you go to Asheville, GO TO CÚRATE.
For our anniversary dinner, we opted for dinner at Rhubarb, and it was more of the same mind-melting goodness. The restaurant’s chef, John Fleer, is an alumnus of Blackberry Farm, the Tennessee culinary resort. So, we knew this place was going to be good. Ready? Try the chili-lime fried hominy, the goat cheese burrata (it comes with fried sage!), and, for God’s sake, whatever you do, the Looking Glass Goat Cheese Gnudi. (My husband also had the Octopus a la Plancha, and he enjoyed it immensely.) A side story that makes me appreciate this spot even more: My mother-in-law had the top tier of our wedding cake in her freezer in Maine since our wedding night, and she kindly shipped it to Rhubarb for me so that we could have a bite of it together on our first anniversary. The cake arrived in shambles, but Rhubarb’s pastry team reconstructed it, covered it in fresh whipped cream and flower petals, and sent it to our table looking and tasting divine. At Rhubarb, we had a good laugh, and a hell of a good meal. But we weren’t done yet…
Our final morning, we stopped for breakfast at Biscuit Head, another can’t-miss spot I found online. My husband has a thing for biscuits (and who wouldn’t?), so we couldn’t pass it up. The menu is limited in all the right ways, leaving the cooks to concentrate on a few fist-poundingly delicious dishes. The menu is filled with biscuit sandwiches, but I went with a regular biscuit and two sides—jalapeño pimento cheese and a stack of fried green tomatoes (above)—a combo I’ll be getting every time I go back. Bonus? There’s a bar filled with homemade butters (think mango-vanilla) and marmalades (strawberry-habanero), and you can order gravy flights if you’re feeling indecisive. We left Asheville as bona fide Biscuit Heads—and eager to return again soon.
Have you been to Asheville? Where should we go on our next return trip?