A secret mountain getaway offers music, meditation and more
looking for an escape from the harsh New York winter but tired of Florida’s beach scene? Why not split the difference (geographically speaking). Emerging as one of the most popular destinations for art, live music and outdoor exploring, Asheville, North Carolina has a rare moderate winter, which may be made uniquely hospitable by this year’s La Niña weather event. Great for enjoying the outdoors and picture-perfect long-range views of snowy peaks, visitors can enjoy a cozy rooftop fire pit downtown or a hiking trail among the highest peaks in the Eastern U.S.
“Edgy, artsy and inviting, Asheville is that type of unique, special place that lingers sweetly in your mind and memories for years to come,” Landis Taylor, Explore Asheville’s public relations manager, said. “The city’s rich architectural legacy with its mix of Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Neoclassical styles is the perfect retro-urban backdrop to the edgy energy that emanates from the locally owned-shops and art galleries, distinctive restaurants and exciting entertainment venues.”
“While Asheville is technically ‘the mountains,’ our winters are decidedly more Southern than mountain,” said NC Institute for Climate Studies Data Analyst Scott Stevens. “Our annual snowfall is not much more than 12 inches, and we rarely have single events more than six to eight inches, keeping our winters mild compared to anywhere in the Northern U.S. or the mountains of the West.”
Guests can experience Asheville’s century-old wellness culture by tapping into offerings like mountainside hot tubs, a subterranean spa with hydrotherapy waterfalls, a Chinese medicine tearoom, salt caves, forest bathing and sound-healing sessions.
“Asheville has a long history as an oasis for health-conscious, active vacationers in search of bucket-list adventures and inspiring retreats,” Taylor said. “Wellness goes back very far in Asheville, as the crisp mountain air and cool streams are long believed to make this area one of healing and relaxation. This haven for yogis and yoginis is surrounded by more than 800,000 acres of lush wilderness, with scenic vistas around the bend.”
Asheville Salt Caves recently opened a new location with a cave specifically designated for couples’ massages with mountain views. The wellness destination also opened a hammam (Turkish bath house) last fall.
The historic Omni Grove Park Inn is, of course, one of the most popular destinations for wellness in the area, as it has hosted a long list of celebrities (including U.S. Presidents).
“The Omni Grove Park’s world-class spa offers guests views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, mineral pools, an inhalation room, sauna and a eucalyptus-infused steam room,” Taylor said. “A trip to the inn is a great idea even if you aren’t staying there or booked for a spa experience. The property offers a number of great restaurants and Sunset Terrace shows up a skyline view of Asheville’s downtown.”
Of course, the main star of the city is the mountains, which offer hikes of all levels of difficulty, breathtaking views and wildlife immersion.
“The mountains are a big draw on their own. Surrounded by one million acres of forest, Asheville is heaven on Earth for outdoor aficionados,” Taylor said. “Blaze along hundreds of miles of trail through unfragmented wilderness in national forests, summit one of 40 peaks above 6,000 feet, cast for trout on a blue-ribbon stream or cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nation’s preeminent scenic byway.”
For this season, Namaste in Nature, a local wellness tour company, will continue their guided in-person waterfall yoga hikes — weather permitting, of course. Richmond Hill Park, recently opened after renovation, will also welcome mountain bikers and hikers to its five-mile skill development system. This year, hikers will also be able to use the Asheville Hike Finder on Amazon’s Alexa to discover views, trails and waterfalls at a comfortable skill level.
Making Musical Memories
Winter is sometimes known as the “secret season for music,” as many traveling local bands come home to the region to play shows and pop in to jam sessions. While things look different this year due to the pandemic, some venues are expanding their offerings outdoors to keep the soul of the city beating.
The South Slope district’s brand-new outdoor event venue Rabbit Rabbit will offer live music, movie screenings, local beer and food trucks this winter. The space is a collaboration between Asheville Brewing Company and iconic music venue The Orange Peel. The Grey Eagle will also host drive-in-style concerts in scenic locations, and Citizen Vinyl will offer an immersive music experience with independent record store, music café and bar Session.
While the city was once known as one of the bluegrass capitols of the world, its funky energy has helped an eclectic musical scene blossom.
Perfect for a rejuvenating getaway, the Peak Relaxation Package at the Foundry Hotel Asheville includes a welcome cocktail by the fire, private massage from Wake Foot Sanctuary, bedside breakfast and a romantic dinner for two at Benne on Eagle, Chef John Fleer’s celebration of the contributions of African American culinary culture on Appalachian and Southern food.
For guests with interests in Asheville’s rich history, Pinecrest Bed and Breakfast in Asheville’s historic Montford district is transitioning its unique al fresco dining offering for the upcoming colder months. Guests will still be able to order dinner from neighborhood Italian restaurant Chiesa and have the meal delivered to the inn. Guests can enjoy a private meal in front of the inn’s parlor fireplace.
The natural beauty of the Swannanoa Valley has a long history of attracting artists of all kinds. One of the most notable is author Thomas Wolfe, known for his autobiographical novel “Look Homeward, Angel.”
“As Asheville began its rise to prominence in the 1880s, it continued to draw visionaries, poets and explorers — a tradition that lives on today,” Taylor said.
Long-known as an arts colony with connections to the American Craft Revival and mid-20th-century avant-garde movements, the Asheville area features hundreds of fine artists, mountain crafters, folk artists, colorful arts neighborhoods and galleries that celebrate creativity.
The Asheville Art Museum features expanded gallery space, education facilities, an art library, a lecture and performance venue and a rooftop sculpture terrace and café with views of downtown architecture and the surrounding mountains.
The nearby Noir Collective AVL also has an important mission as a retail space for Black entrepreneurs, artists, makers and social activists. The shop is in the YMI Cultural Center, which has a rich history as one of the nation’s oldest African American institutions — dating back to 1893 — and is located on The Block, the city’s historic Black business district.
Of course, one of the most notable attractions of the area is the Biltmore, a 250-room mansion built by George W. Vanderbilt, which also houses a collection of spectacular artwork.
A Taste of NC
The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR) has been working throughout the fall to ensure a comfortable and safe dining experience despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. Chef Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani and Spicewalla Spice Factory recently announced the concept for his new space in Asheville’s Grove Arcade, and barbecue venture Ash & Brine has debuted as a pop-up restaurant at Asheville’s newest downtown brewery Dssolvr. Operating on Thursdays and Fridays, Ash & Brine offers all-wood-smoked meats and innovative sides and small plates like grilled radish with mint, pistachio and honey-truffle chevre.
To the delight of locals and visitors, Asheville Ethiopian restaurant Addissae recently reopened under new ownership after being shuttered during the pandemic. The restaurant serves traditional Ethiopian food in a family-style format. In addition, Chef Katie Button (with six James Beard nominations in the last eight years) has created La Bodega, offering takeout paella, favorites from her restaurant Cúrate and Spanish specialty food and wine.
“Asheville is also known for its modern Appalachian culinary scene,” Taylor said. “Asheville’s collaborative food community has a rich legacy of living off the land. Chefs work directly with regional cheese makers, bakers, apiaries, flower farms, foragers, potters, dairies and family farms in a melting-pot food scene that is innovating cuisine, unearthing tradition and nabbing more James Beard nominations than the average small city.”
The city is often referred to as “Beer City, U.S.A.,” Taylor added, as the city is packed with over 50 breweries, one of the highest per-capita rates in the country.
“I think the ideal day in Asheville combines the natural beauty that surrounds the city with the cultural highlights of downtown,” Taylor continued. “There’s something special about Asheville. This thriving mountain city features a funky and eclectic downtown, 30-plus art galleries downtown alone, a burgeoning culinary scene, a thriving live music scene and, of course, the awe-inspiring scenery of the Appalachian Mountains.”