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Discover Asheville, North Carolina’s Cultural Capital

Alive with art, design, and music, this magnificent mountain town has long been a draw for creative types and is ripe for exploration.

Discover Asheville, North Carolina’s Cultural Capital

Natalie Runnerstrom/Unsplash

Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your current—and future—adventures.

Thomas Wolfe set his famous novel You Can’t Go Home Again in a North Carolina town called “Libya Hill,” a thinly disguised version of the author’s own hometown, Asheville. Now home to a Wolfe Memorial Museum as well as the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site—yes, the great Illinois writer made his family home here and called it Connemara—Asheville’s literary pedigree is one of many reasons why it’s an artistic mecca. Music and literature lovers, art and architecture aficionados, and any combination thereof will savor the delights of a trip to Asheville, a haven for culture and those who crave it.

After all, Asheville was the birthplace of Black Mountain College, an experimental college where R. Buckminster Fuller built his first large-scale geodesic dome, Merce Cunningham formed his dance company, and John Cage staged his first musical happening. There’s art in that mountain air, and the cultural history of Asheville runs deep. Contemporary creatives, meanwhile, are putting their stamp on this profoundly imaginative city.

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The cozy Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville is well located for exploring outdoors and beyond.

Asheville’s artful living

Begin your journey to today’s avant-garde Asheville—and see for yourself why it’s called “The Land of Sky”—at the Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville where outdoorsy guests will especially appreciate the property’s proximity to Pisgah National Forest and breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Also nearby the Autograph Collection property, the Asheville Zoo, Botanical Gardens, and Chimney Rock State Park make good places to get inspired alfresco. The hotel’s five-star dining options include the Red Stag Grill, which serves a range of breakfast options, from hedonistic to healthy (buttermilk pancakes vs. berry banana smoothie), and is heaven for carnivores at dinnertime with dishes like the Bohemian Hunt Board featuring prosciutto, salami, sausage, and house-made charcuterie. Or feast on steak and wine in the red-hued Black Forest Wine Room, accented by a deer-antler chandelier.

Art fans will delight in touring the on-premises gallery, showcasing the work of local, regional, and international artists. You’ll experience creativity on display all over this extraordinarily aesthetic city. It’s everywhere, seen in galleries and museums and heard in music venues—Asheville is a major musical destination on the world map. And where else will you find both a Pinball Museum and a museum commemorating the world’s most famous synthesizer, the Moogseum?

Head to the Asheville Art Museum, whose collection holds works by Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers, and others who studied or taught at Black Mountain College, and then browse through the Downtown Art District and the River Arts District (former industrial buildings that now house artists’ studios). Just eight minutes from the hotel is one of Asheville’s architectural jewels, the Basilica of St. Lawrence with its famously domed ceiling, where Sunday Mass is offered in both English and Spanish. Another six minutes and you’ll discover Zealandia, a historic home completed in 1889 and doubling in size in 1908, adorned with murals in the style of the 15th-century Italian painter Benozzo Gozoli.

Delight in Gilded-Era design

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Photo by Stephanie Klepacki/Unsplash

For a heavier dose of decorative decadence, make your way to one of Asheville’s most cherished cultural attractions, the Biltmore Estate, which lets visitors time-travel to the glamorous Gilded Age. It’s the brainchild of George Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt (aka The Commodore), who first visited Asheville in 1887. At 25, he was so taken with the place that the following year he began purchasing property that would become this enduring destination.

Completed more than a century ago as the country estate of George and his wife Edith Vanderbilt, the 250-room French Renaissance chateau is simply breathtaking, from the gardens and grounds to the winery and horse-riding trails. Inside hangs 16th-century tapestries and original artwork by Rembrandt and Renoir. The family portraits, also on view, were painted by none other than John Singer Sargent. You may want to spend considerable time here, so fortify yourself with an early lunch or pick-me-up at The Well-Bred Bakery & Café in Biltmore Village.

Intoxicating sounds and suds

If microbrews are your preferred artform, you’ve found paradise. Asheville happens to be the destination with the most breweries per person in the entire United States—2.8 per 10,000 people. Options range from Highland Brewery, Asheville’s first brewery and an icon of its robust beer scene, to Burial Beer Co. in the South Slope Brewery District.

There’s also an abundance of bars, clubs, and pubs. “Keep Asheville Weird” goes the saying—aptly, the city is home to many musicians, including rock legend Warren Haynes, who grew up here. Haynes, who proudly reminds folks that his fellow musical North Carolinians include John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, produces an annual Christmas concert to benefit Habitat for Humanity that’s a highlight of Asheville’s cultural calendar.

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One of the murals on the Odditorium’s exterior. // Photo by the Odditorium

From classical to classic rock, Asheville has a music destination for most every taste in tunes. Iconic venues include The Orange Peel (formerly a ‘60s soul and R&B club), The Grey Eagle, Harrah’s Cherokee Center, Wortham Center for the Performing Arts (home of the Asheville Lyric Opera), and, to hear Jazz, Isis Music Hall. Prefer your live music under the radar? Asheville can answer that craving too. Check out Double Crown (it’s dog friendly!), Asheville’s punk, hardcore, alternative, and metal scene at Odditorium, and Salvage Station, a refurbished junkyard with an impressive view of the French Broad River. Meanwhile, Friday nights in Downtown Asheville draw crowds to the long-running Drum Circle.

For sustenance as creative as the culture scene you’re drinking in, check out Plant, where the internationally inspired menu features “vegan fare without borders” that’s 90 percent organic, often locally sourced, and mostly gluten free. Two highlights: Applewood Smoked Mushroom with a steak rub, served with cauliflower “risotto,” farm greens, fennel salad, and black currant steak sauce; and Lasagna Cruda, a raw interpretation of the hearty Italian meal with heirloom tomato, live herbed almond cheese, and arugula-pecan pesto.

With so much brilliant culture on offer, from cuisine and crafts to music and art, don’t be surprised if you become a regular traveler here—or join the legions of creative types who call it home—to dig deeper and discover more.

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