Asheville, which has been described as ‘Berkeley surrounded by Mayberry,’ is hip as all get-out lately: the city’s fans include Brian Eno, Henry Rollins, and Moby. James Franco got his Poetry & Fiction MFA from the local Warren Wilson College, writing “Obama in Asheville” to celebrate the president’s visit.
Steve Martin has a house nearby and performed his song “When you get to Asheville” with Edie Brickell on The Late Show in 2013. Kristen Wiig—also on The Late Show—talked about shooting this year’s Masterminds in the city with Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis, a North Carolina native. With or without the celebrity endorsements, though, Asheville makes the perfect weekend escape with its vaunted historic hotels, innovative food scene, and quirky street culture.
Where to Stay
Within walking distance of downtown, the new and perfectly pitched Bunn House—a five-room luxury boutique inn—is situated in a 1905 brick mansion with a rooftop deck and contemporary feel inside. Each room has a Nespresso coffee machine and steam shower.
Outside of town, the beyond-bucolic Inn on Biltmore Estate adorns the 8,000-acre estate of the 1895 Biltmore House, built by George Vanderbilt. (Come December, the new Village Hotel at Biltmore Estate opens.) Another option for timeless Blue Ridge Mountain views is the circa-1913 Omni Grove Park Inn, once home to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
What to Eat
Asheville has an impressively evolved culinary scene, starring media darlings like the Spanish tapas bar Curate (helmed by alumni of Spain’s El Bulli) and the annual Asheville Wine & Food Festival. Local Indian restaurant Chai Pani garners plenty of attention, too.
Overlooking the French Broad River, the eco-conscious Smoky Park Supper Club incorporates recycled wood and cargo shipping containers into the decor, and a wood-fired oven into the menu. Luella’s Bar-B-Que has pulled pork that won’t quit; and the newest barbecue operation in town, Buxton Hall, occupies a former roller-skating rink. At the forever-civilized Sovereign Remedies (pictured above), the menu includes blistered fushimi peppers and foraged ingredients (such as dandelion) in such craft cocktails as the Root Daiquiri.
See and Do
The streets of downtown Asheville are a constant neo-Burning Man happening, with drum circles, buskers of every variety, and such raucous bluegrass bands as Ain’t Nothing Much. For a dose of history, visit the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center or follow the paper route of hometown novelist Thomas Wolfe. (Jude Law plays Wolfe in the upcoming movie adaptation of Max Perkins: Editor of Genius).
Where to Shop
For a town with a year-round population of only 88,000, Asheville manages to sustain several terrific bookstores, including Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café and the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, with signs advising the virtues of “champagne rather than pain.” In the River Arts District, it’s possible to tour the studios of some 180 resident artists, and eat blueberry-chipotle ribs at 12 Bones, President Obama’s favorite barbecue joint.
Tom Austin is based in Miami and covers the Florida beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @TomAustin__.