Even if you don’t explore the Blue Ridge Parkway’s miles of easy “leg-stretcher” trails, this meandering, 45-mph-motor-trail delivers the explosive bloom of Appalachian spring right through the windshield. The Parkway’s unending curves are the perfect box seat on one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
For all its winding and weaving, the Parkway is a surprisingly direct route to memorable inns and accommodations in a region blessed with some of the best. Nowhere is that more evident than in Asheville, North Carolina, the single spot where more visitors enter and exit the high road than anywhere else along its 469-mile path.
Of course, there are inns right on the road—from Peaks of Otter Lodge north of Roanoke (Milepost 85.6), to Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed cabins at Rocky Knob south of the city (Milepost 167.1). The Parkway’s North Carolina venues are Doughton Park’s Bluffs Lodge in the Boone area (Milepost 241.1, though closed this summer due to lack of an operator) and Pisgah Inn south of Asheville (Milepost 408.6). Amenities won’t be four-star, but the view will be.
But take one turn off the Parkway at Asheville and you’ll find more rarefied accommodations and a nationally significant urban setting that’s leading the new lifestyle of the Appalachians.
There’s a real “there” there in Asheville. This hip, trendy, vibrant small city has the South’s greatest concentration of Art-Deco architecture outside of Miami Beach. Attractions like George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate elevate the city beyond national significance. Biltmore is America’s largest private home, an art-filled treasure of an experience. The estate is increasingly a destination for its wines and a growing fine dining scene, much of that fueled by an aggressive use of local, even estate grown foods. If Appalachian Spring is the season you choose, don’t miss the estate’s Festival of Flowers through May 15th.
Asheville’s compact, walkable downtown has its own art walk, the Urban Trail, along with great dining and galleries, including the shops and restaurants at the 1929 Grove Arcade.
No Asheville Inn better represents the appeal of staying close to downtown than The 1900 Inn on Montford, in the Montford Historic District, and one of only six AAA four diamond-rated B&Bs in North Carolina. The inn’s great amenities aside, when you leave off-street parking in the courtyard behind the inn, the Wall Street parking deck in downtown is 2 minutes and three easy turns away. Nevertheless, innkeepers Ron and Lynn Carlson plan for the inn to acquire a car for ferrying guests the short distance to and fro.
On your way back from downtown, the left to Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery is well-signed. Both Thomas Wolfe (don’t miss his boyhood home in downtown) and O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) are buried in Riverside.
The 1900 Inn exemplifies the Arts and Crafts style so visible in Asheville. The inn’s Welsh architect, Richard Sharp Smith, was supervising architect at Biltmore House and an influential force in the city’s Arts and Crafts community. The house appears in his 1901 publication My Sketchbook and is considered “one of his finest residential commissions,” says Inn-keeper Lynn. Lynn and her husband Ron lived in England for 12 years and have furnished the inn elegantly with English and American antiques from 1730 to 1910.
The 1900 Inn has three suites in Griffin Cottage, a new, scrupulously Arts and Crafts style carriage house behind the inn where breakfast is delivered to guests at 9:30. Here, too, the entire upper floor is a suite, called the Cloisters, with two smaller suites on the lower floor. Each suite has a private walled garden. The two lower suites are named the William Morris and Rosetti, (the latter after Dante Gabriel Rosetti), both influential artists in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who inspired the Arts and Crafts movement. A Pre-Raphaelite etching titled Magnolia Grandiflora hangs in the Inn’s radiant sun room.
All the Griffin Cottage suites are pet-friendly. You won’t miss the hilariously friendly pet you have to walk past on the way to the cottage (check out the video).
The inn’s eight rooms and suites have fireplaces, wireless Internet, and most have whirlpool tubs and showers (four with steam baths). The main inn has four guest rooms on the second floor and an amazing five-room, 1,000-square-foot suite covers the entire third floor. The inn’s roofline makes this “aerie” architecturally interesting as well as indulgently luxurious, with a beautifully tiled alcove steam bath and heated bathroom marble floors. Not far from Asheville, the inn also offers two secluded cabins for seriously pampered isolation.
Lynn and Ron invite guests to social hour for wine on the expansive porch (6-7 p.m., with live music on Thursday and Saturday) and delicious, multi-course breakfasts crafted by Ron (at 9 am). There’s a popular neighborhood evening eatery just a few blocks away.
Inns Farther Out
Asheville's satellite locations are attractive. Biltmore Village (just outside Biltmore Estate) is an intriguing English-style village of Tudor-style structures (some designed by the 1900 Inn’s architect) and home to great galleries, restaurants, and Asheville’s new boutique hotel, the Grand Bohemian. The Biltmore Village Inn is a prime lodging location. Built in 1892 by Vanderbilt’s attorney, the pristine, historic Victorian is one of the city’s most upscale B&Bs.
Set off above the city, the massive Grove Park Inn is an Arts and Crafts icon. The historic heart of the inn, with a massive stone fireplace, has a room once often occupied by F. Scott Fitzgerald that’s a favorite with readers. The inn’s nationally significant spa is a reason to take your most strenuous hike near Asheville. The adjacent Grovewood Gallery features astoundingly accomplished hand-crafted furniture, art, and crafts.
Inns even farther out have their appeal. The 1847 Blake House Inn is just out of Asheville to the south. Easily accessible from the Parkway, the 1847 Gothic Revival landmark imparts a rare atmosphere that you’d expect in Scotland or England. It’s pet friendly and sits on an acre-and-a-half, with a wonderful garden, and towering century-and-a-half old trees.
Weaverville is a north Asheville suburb and the Reynolds Mansion is a memorable way to enjoy it. This is another of the earliest structures that still remain in the city—an imposing, impressive Colonial Revival brick manse from 1844. You’ll put the inn’s 3,000 square feet of covered porches to good use on Asheville’s refreshing summer evenings. Sunset blazes behind a stunning horizon of summits.
The inn was in the Reynolds family for more than 125 years, so style-savvy inn-keepers Michael Griffith and Billy Sanders have smartly chosen to display compelling family portraits and keepsakes, including items from U.S. Senator Robert Rice Reynolds, a local favorite son known as “Buncombe Bob” (this is Buncombe County) during his 1932 to 1945 tenure. (Reynolds’ fifth wife owned the Hope diamond.) You’ll also notice a few stunning images of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. The innkeepers’ precocious English bulldogs are named Rhett and Scarlett.
This historic property also has pet-friendly “carriage house” suites available and two guest cottages, all overlooking a beautifully restored 1925 swimming pool that, like the house, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
An off-beat aspect of Reynolds Mansion is Reynolds Village, a retail and residential development being completed this spring below the big rounded hilltop occupied by the inn. Inn guests won’t need to drive anywhere with upscale dining and shopping a short stroll away. Not that good eating is far. Just minutes away, Weaverville’s eclectic Stoney Knob Cafe and the Bavarian Restaurant and Biergarten are both destinations in themselves.
If Asheville isn’t a prime place to pause on your Blue Ridge Parkway adventure, it ought to be.
Randy Johnson is the author of the Parkway’s premier trail guides, Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway and Best Easy Day Hikes Blue Ridge Parkway. Check out his Best Easy Day Hikes Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or the best-selling statewide guide, Hiking North Carolina. Visit Randy’s web site www.randyjohnsonbooks.com
or search for his YouTube video channel “randyjohnsonbooks.”