My first trip to the Asheville area and the Great Smoky Mountains was when I was a freshman in high school. That summer, my dad rented one of those simple fold-out campers and hooked it up to our purple Ford Falcon station wagon. The family piled in and headed down south from our home in Andover, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and the KOA (Kampgrounds of America), for some beach time.
After an exhilarating week of body surfing, fishing, and devouring the freshest seafood you can catch, we packed up and traveled due west, towards the Cherokee National Reservation. During the almost ten-hour haul from seashore to reservation, I sat in the third seat staring out of the back window as the camper and station wagon chugged up into the Smoky Mountains. Whenever we could, we’d stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway and take snaps of the awe-inspiring vistas.
My older brother recently relocated to the Asheville area and upon visiting him, it brought back all of those fond memories.
I asked local real estate broker Elizabeth Byrd Etheridge of Beverly-Hanks Realtors why she lives in this part of the country. “The gentle lush mountains, the cool crisp rivers, as well as my family keep me in Asheville. Our family goes back 5 generations in the Asheville area. I guess you could say it is in my blood.”
And hikers, don’t forget that the Appalachian Trail passes through the Asheville area.
We can’t mention Asheville without giving a nod to The Biltmore Estate. In 1888 George Vanderbilt traveled to the Smoky Mountains, fell in love with the area and consequently purchased 125,000 acres of forest and farmland. In 1889 he started construction on his 250-room house, The Biltmore Estate.
Designed by Richard Morris Hunt with a strong French Renaissance influence, when completed it had 4 acres of floor space, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. One room after another is extravagantly decorated. The over-the-top castle also features a bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool. Upon Vanderbilt’s death, his wife sold approximately 87,000 acres of forest to the government, which eventually became the creation of the Pisgah National Forest. There were still many acres left for the estate and Fredrick Law Olmstead, of New York City’s Central Park fame, designed the gardens and grounds. In 1930, this private house went public for all to enjoy.
But Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains are much, much more than just the Biltmore. So much so that it draws more visitors each year than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon combined!
Within the Pisgah National Forest is the Cradle of Forestry historic site, the first school of forestry. There’s a comprehensive Museum center and from there you can walk the miles of peaceful trails dotted with historic buildings and even an old logging train.
On top of Mount Pisgah, at an elevation of 5,000 feet, you’ll discover the Pisgah Inn which offers casual, simple lodging clinging to the side of the mountain. Each room has its own breathtaking view. The restaurant also offers spectacular vistas. Even President Obama and the First Lady fell in love with the Asheville area when they stayed at the Grove Park Inn back when he was prepping for a Presidential debate with Senator John McCain. If you happen to visit during the Christmas holidays, don’t miss their famous gingerbread competition. The creations will astound you.