City Spotlight: Asheville

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By Asif Lakhani

Nestled in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has emerged as a hub for some of the best arts, culture, nature, culinary, and craft brewing experiences America has to offer.

“Asheville is a destination on the rise,” says Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. The city not only has doubled the number of available hotel rooms in the past few years, but it also finds itself with more than 50-percent occupancy of those rooms for the majority of the year, she says. The visitor’s bureau expects those numbers to continue rising steadily.

One major project that the Asheville tourism center is really excited about in 2019 is the opening of the Foundry Hotel, part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, in the historically African-American district of the city known as “The Block.” The boutique hotel offers Tesla Model X house car-chauffeured visits to breweries, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the historic Biltmore Estate.

The Biltmore is a stunning, 250-room French Renaissance castle located on 8,000 acres. It was built for the Vanderbilt family in the 1890s and is now one of North Carolina’s largest tourist attractions. In addition to a tour of the mansion, visitors also can stay at three different locations (inn, hotel, and cottage) and visit its winery.

Outside of the Biltmore grounds, the city of Asheville has become the beneficiary of organic and well-executed development. As a result, funding for tourism not only has gone up but also been allocated very efficiently as a result, Brown says.

In 2001, a half-percentage-point tax increase created the Tourism Product Development Fund. With that, 75 percent of the occupancy tax has gone into tourism promotion, which brings customers to small businesses, and the remaining 25 percent has been routed into the fund. In total, $44 million in grants has been invested into 39 projects, spanning infrastructure improvements to sidewalks, greenways, and more in the River Arts District, to building sports venues, and improving other, already established cultural centers throughout the city. On average, the city has nearly $7 million to use for improvements annually.

What Asheville has learned and gotten right in this process is funding places and projects that entice visitors but also allow residents to take full advantage of. “They’re all quality-of-life improvements to Asheville,” Brown says.

Dining in Asheville can be a true treat as well. The city is home to four James Beard Award nominees whose influence is spread thoughtfully throughout the scene. Another unique element of Asheville dining is the proximity of the restaurants to the farms themselves. In Asheville, when restaurants say farm to table, it can often mean that the chef is communicating with the farmer directly. It’s not uncommon to have milk or meat in your meal from farms that are only a few miles away.

After dinner, visit one of the four haute rooftop hotel bars that downtown has to offer – all with amazing views. The total route for all four stops is just over a mile long and one of Brown’s favorite ways to spend an evening. Another option is to visit one of Asheville’s craft beer breweries, of which there are more than a dozen.

From the patios, you can see the natural scenery of Asheville, which is simply majestic. Mountains can be seen from downtown, highways, and on the outskirts of town, which makes Asheville a nature lover’s paradise. A favorite hike for many Asheville visitors and locals is Max Patch. While the trail itself is located about an hour away from Asheville, in Hot Springs, it’s certainly worth a visit for anyone who appreciates the great outdoors even a little. Visible from the bald mountain top at Max Patch are 360-degree views of the Appalachian Mountains, including the Blue Ridge and Smokies.

The drive to get to Asheville and back takes you through the lush Pisgah National Forest. Be sure to plan some time for a soak at Hot Springs Resort and Spa on the way back. A natural mineral-water jacuzzi, with views of the French Broad River, holds six comfortably and is great relaxation for the body and soul, especially after a hike.

Asheville is a town that truly has something for everyone. It’s great for families, for friends, and for business.

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