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Navigating the Carolinas: Asheville

  • Published
  • By Emily Smith
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Asheville is one of those cities that almost everyone has a preconceived notion of - free loving 'hippies' wearing Birkenstocks standing next to English majors carrying leather satchels and overly caffeinated cappuccinos. 

However, Asheville is anything but a cliché. City skyscrapers stand beautifully juxtaposed with the blue-ridge mountains, ornately designed brick buildings mix in with the sweet smell of ever-blooming flowers and the sound of a saxophonist playing on the sidewalk. An Ashevillian's carefree lifestyle is a testament to older times, an age not dominated by iPods that hold too many songs or cell phones that know your blood type. A weekend getaway to Asheville will rejuvenate the soul and rekindle the spirit. 

My husband and I made the short four-hour trip this past weekend. Luckily, we happened upon Asheville the same weekend as its hugely popular Bele Chere Festival (Bele Chere translating to 'beautiful living'). The festival, the largest free street fair in the southeast, was celebrating its 30th anniversary and was chock full of simple pleasures. 

Local artisans sold their handmade pottery and jewelry, vendors sold fudge and homemade lemonade and Asheville natives told stories of the mountains. The festival was expected to draw nearly 380,000 people over its three days, and I have no doubt that that goal was accomplished. Even so, I never found the festival to be uncomfortable or crowded. Go ahead and mark your calendar for next summer's festival (always held the last weekend of July). I already have. 

We also made a trip out to the famous Biltmore Estate. George Washington Vanderbilt, a member of the very prominent Vanderbilt family, built the mansion. The home was finished in 1895 and has 4,000 acres of living space (in addition to the 4,000 acres of immaculately kempt gardens). The estate also houses a winery, an indoor pool, a large-mouth bass pond and walking trails. The attention to detail showed in the home's construction is evident and breathtaking. This was my first time visiting the estate but I'm sure I would notice even more details should I go back. 

A city called "Land of the Sky" surely lives up to its name. There wasn't a minute I was there that I couldn't feel the sun on my face. The possibilities of outdoor activities are endless: Camping, hiking, horseback riding, even a hot-air balloon ride. A particular favorite of mine is an adventure I remember taking when I was 10 years old. My family spent a week camping at Maggie Valley (a few miles outside of Asheville in the Pisgah National Forest). The highlight of the trip was going to the natural sliding rock. It's a 60-foot expanse of rock that has been smoothed out over time to form a natural waterslide. A $1 entrance fee gives you unlimited access to the slide and the parks around it. If you can bear the frigid water, it's an inexpensive, unique event for the whole family to enjoy. 

There is something about Asheville that makes its combination of simple Appalachian charm and big-city sophistication seem completely natural. If you're looking for the perfect weekend get-away, Asheville is definitely for you. The visitor's bureau can be reached by calling 828-258-6101 or at