Treat yourself with a trip to one of the South's coolest cities this summer. Asheville blossoms with hip shops and galleries, satisfying eateries, and the grandest estate in America. Get out your walking shoes, and explore this ultimate weekend destination.
The Biltmore Way
The grounds sparkle with colorful blossoms this month at the historic Biltmore Estate. Even if you've toured before, be sure to try the two new in-depth tours that escort guests into unrestored areas and up to the roof for bird's-eye views of the 250-room château ($45 weekend general admission, $15 behind-the-scene tours).
Galleries and Shops
Asheville is synonymous with fine arts and crafts. The contemporary Blue Spiral 1 may look like a big-city museum, but it's actually an affordable gallery, featuring exquisite paintings and sculptures. Walk a fewdoors down to American Folk Art & Framing, the best place for wood-fired pots by Daniel Johnston, a modern Seagrove potter.
Visit Grovewood Gallery, near the grounds of The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, for stoneware, handmade furniture, jewelry, glass, and fiber works. We like the selection of face jugs and walking sticks at downtown's Appalachian Craft Center.
Take a side trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Folk Art Center, which sells pieces by more than 300 members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.
When you satisfy your yen for art, go to Malaprop's Bookstore, one of the best indie shops anywhere. Then stroll through the Grove Arcade for home furnishings. Don't miss the shops at Biltmore Village, just outside the estate. The owners of one favorite, Blue, design fine jewelry.
For breakfast, sit in the sunny back room at Early Girl Eatery, where house-made granola ($4.95) accompanies daily egg specials. A few blocks away, opt for a sidewalk table at Over Easy Cafe, home of Asheville's best smoothies.
For lunch, we can't resist Tupelo Honey Cafe, where homemade pimiento cheese and tortilla chips ($4.50) can serve as a complete meal.
Enjoy international tastes at Salsa Mexican-Caribbean Restaurant, which features lunch and dinner specials of empanadas and quesadillas ($7-$10). Zambra dishes up an exquisite array of tapas along with live music in a gypsy-inspired setting ($3-$13). For dinner, Left Bank's French and American fusion pleases the palate with coffee-rubbed sirloin ($19.50), coquille St. Jacques ($22), and bacon-wrapped quail ($8).
Where To Sleep
We love the convenience and styleof the renovated Haywood Park Hotel in a former department storedowntown (1-800-228-2522 or www.haywoodpark.com; rates $200-$425). Its 33 individually decorated rooms and suites await. When you prefer a simple yet comfortable chain hotel, go to the new Country Inn & Suites near downtown, which features an indoor pool ( 254-4311; rates from $84).
For more information: Contact the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 36 Montford Avenue, Asheville, NC 28802; 1-800-280-0005 or www.exploreasheville.com.