From saké to art pumpkins, Asheville’s cooler than ever
Start humming the tune to “April in Paris,” then transpose the words to “Autumn in Asheville.” As I write this, the sky is delphinium blue and a light breeze is ruffling the just-turning leaves. It’s the ideal time for a gorgeous road trip to our sister city in grooviness—Asheville.
Even frequent visitors to the North Carolina music and arts mecca have some new reasons to pile in the car and head for the hills.
Turn, turn, turn
The whole Southeast is hoping for an extra-beautiful autumn after our extra-rainy summer—but the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a project that appeals to both foliage fans and science buffs. Multi-media “The Science Behind Fall Color” (exploreasheville.com/science-behind-fall-color) explains the theory behind the transformation, including answering, “What do the trees get out of it?” As the site points out, “Western North Carolina has an enormous variety of trees—the Smokies, in fact, peppered with microclimates, have some 120 species of trees, the greatest variety in the United States. That variety gives the southern Appalachians a broader spectrum—a patchwork quilt of color.”
There’s also a time-lapse video showing the progression of color, and a guide to scenic drives in the region.
While you’re happily tootling through the colors, you can stop at several places to enjoy the bounty of an Appalachian harvest. Travel up the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile marker 328 and discover The Orchard at Altapasss, home to 280 acres of heirloom apples, apple butter, mountain music and hayrides.
Artisan cheesemaking is flourishing in the area around Asheville, just as it is here at home. If humming “April in Paris” has brought out the French in you, then by all means get as cheesy as possible along the WNC Cheese Trail. Farms participating this year include Blue Ridge Creamery, Daddy's Girl Dairy, Heritage Homestead, Looking Glass Creamery, Mountain Farm, Oakmoon Creamery, Round Mountain Creamery, Ripshin Goat Dairy, and Yellow Branch Cheese. You can download a map at exploreasheville.com/foodtopia/food/adventures/wnc-cheese/trail. Note that some of the farms are open to visitors by appointment only, so you may need to call ahead. (Personal note: Sampling delicious handmade goat cheese while getting to know the frolicking goats themselves needs to be on your bucket list if it isn’t already.)
When you hear “pumpkin festival,” your reaction might be, “seen one, seen them all.” Not so, pumpkin lovers! From October 5-26, in the stunning Pisgah Forest outside of Asheville, Stingy Jack’s Pumpkin Fall Festival will astound you after night falls with its Illuminated Pumpkin Trail, featuring scenes crafted completely from pumpkins by local artists, and lit up, grinning and grimacing in the dark. (stingyjackspumpkinpatch.com)
I confess I did not know Asheville was known as “Beer City USA.” For some, I need say no more. But the city has some other beverage offerings as well, including Blue Kudzu Sake, which just opened in the River Arts District and is only the fourth craft sake microbrewery in the U.S. A whole list of craft sakes includes offerings such as “Renaissance Kanazawa” and “Zen Tokubetsu.” Visitors can also sample Asian cuisine-inspired small plates and entrees, and the menu is promised to keep growing. (bluekudzusake.com)
The first hard cider producer in western North Carolina is Asheville’s Noble Cider. Also brand new, Noble was created when in May 2012, four friends asked themselves, “If Western North Carolina is NC’s apple country, where the heck are the commercial hard cideries?” Their answer to this question now produces its own hard cider blends, without using artificial colors, artificial flavors, or artificial smell. They do use all local apples, and, as their site points out, “We know the farmers that grew the apples for our hard cider. This year, we’ve been up close and personal with these apples. Hand-washed and hand-pressed by yours truly.” (noblecider.com)
And then there’s Troy and Sons, according to them, “the first female-owned moonshine producers.” Gotta love that! Founded by Troy Ball, her husband Charlie and their three sons, the distillery uses only locally grown corn, notably an heirloom variety from the 1840s called “Crooked Creek Corn,” which is now being grown specifically for them. Along with their T&S Platinum and T&S Oak Reserve, Troy and Sons has created a new style of American whiskey called “Blonde,” which has captured even non-whiskey drinkers. Perhaps the perfect Christmas gift for the spirits connoisseur? (troyandsons.com)
Biltmore lux redux
Of course, the magnificent Biltmore estate remains one of Asheville’s top destinations—but even if you’ve been there, a return visit is in order to see two “re-imagined” rooms, restored to their 1895 splendor. The “Living Hall” opened in September after extensive efforts in conserving the furnishings, recreating elaborate window treatments and making structural changes. For example, the furniture’s original upholstery was reproduced in France, and the room’s green velvet draperies took two years to embroider by a local textile artist. Two John Singer Sargent portraits have been returned to where they originally hung.
On October 1, the Biltmore also opened the restored Salon, which is one of the few rooms in the 250-room house not completed during George Vanderbilt’s lifetime. The Salon now tells the story of how it has changed during its history. (biltmore.com)
Food, art and music
Asheville continues to offer some of the South’s best restaurants, alongside its humming arts and music scenes. It also boasts an outstanding array of great places to stay. For up-to-date, comprehensive information on all of this, the Asheville CVB is your friend. Visit them at exploreasheville.com, or give them a call at (828) 258-6101.