When you ask locals and visitors to describe Asheville, North Carolina, they all describe it as eclectic, diverse, funky, and artsy. We agree. From hippy to highbrow, Asheville has a large spectrum of experiences to satisfy everyone in your group, no matter how diverse their tastes are.

Located in between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains, Asheville has a regional airport just 15 miles south of downtown. The most scenic way to get there is on the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially in the fall when leaves change colors and nature becomes art. The spectacle truly is something to behold.

There is so much to do here, you will need a long weekend at the very least. You might even need more time than that.

Image courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com

The Biltmore

The Biltmore Estate is what put Asheville on the map. Built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, this French Renaissance chateau is the largest privately owned home in the country. The specs: 180,000 square feet, 250 rooms (including 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms), and 65 fireplaces. The Biltmore Estate gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same architect that designed New York’s Central Park, and they are nothing short of spectacular. The rose garden alone has over 250 varieties. You can stroll the gardens at your own pace, walk along the French broad river or meander along the 2.5 miles of paths on their manicured gardens. With a winery, spa, shopping and dining, there are plenty of other activities on-site, as well.

If you really want to get the full experience of what it’s like to vacation like a Vanderbilt, stay at the Inn or the Cottage on Biltmore Estate. They are the only lodgings on the same grounds as the estate, which means they have the same breathtaking views and a taste of Vanderbilt hospitality.

Downtown Asheville

The Biltmore Estate is only once facet of this amazing town. The scene downtown is alive and thriving with music, art, shopping, and dining, at all times of day and night. It’s a great city for walking, which is one of our favorite ways to get the feel for a destination.

Asheville also is a great spot for food. We love the farm-to-table movement; here they marry that with southern comfort food.

Take Early Girl on Wall Street. Their motto, “Made from Scratch,” is the cornerstone of a menu that features items such as sautéed local-mountain trout topped with pecan butter, or meatloaf prepared with hormone-free beef and topped with tomato gravy. Side that up with baked Lima beans, homemade macaroni and cheese, and a dining room alive with conversation and laughter, and you feel right at home.

Biscuit Head is where you’ll find traditional southern favorites with a unique spin, including biscuits as big as a cat’s head. This husband-and-wife-owned biscuit lovers’ paradise serves up home cooking with dishes such as pulled pork biscuit and jalapeno pimento, bacon, egg, and maple syrup, or the fried green tomato biscuit topped with Brie, tomato, poached eggs, and smoked-tomato Hollandaise sauce. These comfort-food options might not be heart healthy but they sure makes your heart happy. And if these dishes aren’t enough to get you watching reruns of Steel Magnolias, the strawberry-rhubarb biscuit crumble, baked until golden brown and topped with blueberry ice cream, will have you reenacting scenes from Gone with the Wind.

Viewfinder Tip: Visit Asheville in fall for a spectacular glimpse of leaves changing color and nature becoming art.

With executive chef and James Beard “Rising Star Chef” finalist Katie Button at the helm, Curate is a must for authentic Spanish tapas. Don’t miss the bocadillo Serrano (tomato bread with olive oil), jamón serrano, manchego cheese, gambas al ajillo, or the menu’s superstar, jamón Ibérico fermín (which is cured ham from the famous black-footed Ibérico pigs of Spain).

Every trip deserves a little indulgence, and there’s no better place for that in Asheville than French Broad Chocolates. Here you can titillate and tempt your senses with a cache of cocoa; the owners use small-batch, artisanal methods to create chocolate concoctions comprising ingredients thoughtfully selected for their integrity. Quintessential chocolate cake, flourless chocolate truffle torte, pot de crème, and brownies are just a few of this shop’s delectable menu offerings. On Saturdays there is a factory tour where you can see the entire process from cacao harvest and fermentation to the final product, the chocolate bar. Tours cost $10.00 and reservations are recommended.

Image courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com

Elsewhere in town

Elsewhere in Asheville, there are four-star resorts, mansions, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds, and cabins to lay your head, each with its own welcoming personality. You can play golf on tree-lined fairways, hike, bike, fish, mountain climb, and kayak. Art abounds; the city has dozens of art studios, and under one of the highway overpasses sits a mural painted by local artists. The Asheville craft beer scene is bustling and has more craft breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. That alone is enough reason to visit. There is a Fine Arts Theater that features art and independent films, as well as the Orange Peel, a renowned club for live music, street musicians, and music festivals.

Asheville is a passionate community, a city in motion with a little bit of everything and a lot of southern charm. It’s no wonder the city is one of our favorites.

What would you do for a long weekend in Asheville?