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Pilot Getaways: Heritage in the HillsPilot Getaways: Heritage in the Hills

Asheville, North CarolinaAsheville, North Carolina

Editor's note: To give you some ideas for airports to visit when you attend the AOPA Fly-In in Tullahoma, Tennessee, on Oct. 10, we asked the GA travel experts at Pilot Getaways to share some of their favorite nearby fly-out destinations. This article originally appeared in the Pilot Getaways magazine. Want more? We've secured exclusive AOPA members-only discount pricing for a subscription. Plus, you can peruse other Pilot Getaways articles on AOPA.org.
  • Taking off from Asheville Regional Airport’s Runway 34. Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • The Biltmore Mansion. Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company.
  • Flying in the canyon past Chimney Rock. Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • The extravagant Biltmore Estate is easily recognizable from the air. Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • Asheville at dusk. Photo courtesy of Asheville CVB.
  • The Beaufort House B&B delights visitors with Victorian elegance. Photo by Kimberly Button.
  • Aerial view of Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) facing north. Photo by George A. Kounis.

Subscribe to Pilot Getaways at a special AOPA members-only rate.Writer Francis Tiernan described Asheville as the “The Land of the Sky” in 1878, long before the Wright Brothers made their first historic flight on the other side of the state. Perhaps Tiernan was thinking of the blue-hued mountains that reach into the clear sky, or the way that Asheville is perched on top of the rocky ridges, so close to heaven. Or maybe he could see into the future and realize that Asheville would be a pilot’s delight—a peaceful flight with beautiful views and a landing that leads to pure southern hospitality.

The largest city in the narrow, western portion of North Carolina, Asheville still retains a small-town feel that welcomes you to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sparkling waters, high mountain peaks, a lively history, and locals who greet you with “How y’all doing?” make any journey to Asheville a memorable and enjoyable one.

Flying There

Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) is 15 miles south of Asheville. Set among the Blue Ridge Mountains, the landscape features closely spaced hills with narrow and sudden short valleys. The scenic flight goes over rivers in narrow canyons with an abundance of streams and waterfalls.

Darwin Jones flies his DR-107 over the Biltmore Estate. Photo by George A. Kounis.

Asheville’s Class C airspace is about 5 nm wide and 20 nm long, centered on the single 8,000-foot Runway 16/34. Contact Asheville Approach from the east on 125.8 MHz or from the west on 124.65 MHz, prior to entering Class C airspace. Mountains as high as 6,700 feet MSL impede approaches from west through northeast. The lowest route from this direction is to follow the French Broad River from Douglas Lake, Tennessee, which is about 50 nm northwest of Asheville, just north of the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport (GKT). If you approach from the east, one scenic route is to first fly to Lake Lure, about 4 nm northeast of the Sugarloaf Mountain VOR. Fly northwest from the lake along Highway 74. You’ll pass just north of Chimney Rock, a rock pinnacle that is a popular tourist attraction, before entering a narrow, scenic canyon. After about 15 nm, you’ll reach the town of Asheville, where you can fly south to the airport. The highest point on this route is 3,000 feet MSL, so you’ll need an altitude at least 4,500 feet.

Landmark Aviation, at the north side of the ramp just north of Taxiway D, has rental cars, pilot lounge, snooze rooms, a WSI weather workstation, and a computerized flight planning room. A maintenance facility is located elsewhere on the field. The staff can assist with hotel arrangements. A courtesy car is available as well as tiedowns and hangars. Single-engine tiedowns are $10, hangar $55, twin tiedowns are $20, hangar $75, open 24 hours, 828-687-7110 or 888-362-6738.

History

In 1784, William Davidson and his family settled the land that became Asheville, named in honor of North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe. In the early 1800s, roads began to open up to the west and brought in more settlers. By the mid-1800s, Asheville had gained a reputation as a health resort, with its abundant sulfur springs and favorable climate. The rich and famous flocked to the city for relaxation and relief from their ailments. In 1880, the railroad arrived and brought with it individuals who would change the area forever. One of the visitors who arrived by train was an aristocrat named George W. Vanderbilt. Deciding that Asheville was the most beautiful place on earth, he purchased 125,000 acres and built America’s largest private home, the Biltmore Estate. With the opulent Biltmore Estate and the many health resorts, Asheville was soon a social center for many celebrities and dignitaries.

At the same time Vanderbilt was encouraging opulence, missionary Frances Louisa Goodrich was captivated by the simplicity of the region. In 1895, she accepted a hand-woven coverlet from a mountain woman. Inspired by the gift, Ms. Goodrich started Allanstand Cottage Industries, the nation’s first craft shop. Ms. Goodrich’s vision was to supplement mountain families’ farm income by selling their traditional Appalachian handicrafts. Today, mountain crafts are integral to Asheville’s culture and economy.

Asheville’s period of decadence ended with the Great Depression. The city retained the highest per capita debt of any city in the U.S. However, instead of selling off property, the city vowed to pay back every cent it owed. Though it took until 1977, the decision saved the city’s architectural wonders from destruction, and now Asheville has the most Art Deco architecture in the Southeast outside of Miami Beach.

What to Do

Asheville is 15 miles north of the airport. Attractions and places of interest are within a few miles of downtown. Driving from one end of Asheville to the other takes 20 minutes, making all attractions in Asheville easily accessible by car.

George W. Vanderbilt’s extravagance can be found throughout 250 rooms of the Biltmore Estate, the nation’s largest private home. Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company.

The nation’s largest private home with 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, and 43 bathrooms is nestled in a mere 8,000 acres. George Vanderbilt built the 175,000-square-foot retreat, now known as the Biltmore Estate, in 1895 to escape hectic city life. It’s easy to get swept away in the magnitude and extravagance of this grand home. Walking through the house and grounds, you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to a more elegant era. Your daytime admission includes a self-guided visit of the Biltmore House, access to the historic gardens and Antler Hill Village, free wine tasting, and a guided winery tour. More than 60 rooms have been preserved and are open to the public. Art by Renoir, Whistler, and Sargent is displayed, as is Vanderbilt’s collection of over 20,000 books. New York’s Central Park designer, Frederick Law Olmstead, designed Vanderbilt’s “backyard,” trails that lead through woodlands and magnificent gardens awash with color. The glass Conservatory is a lush display of exotic plants and flowers. The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village is a museum that explores the lives of the family that created this extraordinary estate. At the Farm in Antler Village, visitors can see blacksmiths, woodworkers and farmers plying their trades. Appalachian crafts, a Smokehouse with Carolina barbeque, friendly farm animals, a rock climbing formation, sand play area, lagoon with ferry, and other activities make Antler Hill a pleasure for all ages and an opportunity to get outside and burn off a little extra energy. There’s also an Outdoor Adventure Center where you can arrange horseback riding, rafting on French Broad River, fly fishing, sporting clays, Segway tours, mountain biking, and carriage rides throughout the property. General admission $19.50–$60, under 10 free, seniors save $10, visit a second day for $10. Reservations required on some busy days; check website for schedule or call ahead, closed Jan 4–Feb. Biltmore House open Mon–Fri 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Sat–Sun 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., winery, gardens, conservatory, and village all have different hours, US 25 (Biltmore Ave.) about 10 minutes south of downtown, 800-411-3812.

Do you want to experience North Carolina’s natural beauty without the need of hiking boots? Then a visit to the North Carolina Arboretum should not be missed. The 434-acre public garden offers access to trails of all levels through the Pisgah National Forest. Several gardens also showcase the cultural and natural heritage of the Southern Appalachian region. The quaint Quilt Garden is a floral representation of traditional quilt patterns, while the Heritage Garden displays the plants used in broom making, papermaking, dye making, and basket making. In the Greenhouse, rare and endangered plant species are cultivated. Geocaching is also popular here. Pack a picnic lunch to eat among the fabulous native foliage, admission free, parking $12 per vehicle, trails open 8 a.m.–7 p.m. (Jan–Mar), 8 a.m.–9 p.m. (Apr–Oct), Visitor Education Center open daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way, 828-665-2492.

A statue on downtown Asheville’s Urban Trail. Photo by Kimberly Button.

Known as the “Paris of the South” for its hilly streets and historic buildings, Asheville infuses you with its eclectic vibe. One of the best ways to experience downtown is to walk the Asheville Urban Trail, reminiscent of a treasure hunt, with unexpected sculptures popping up throughout the 1.7-mile route. Whimsical artwork interprets Asheville’s history along the five trails that comprise one large loop. Markers embedded in the sidewalk lead the way. While exploring this “museum without walls,” make time to visit the unique shops, galleries, and restaurants that you’ll pass along the way. Be sure to look up and appreciate the interesting architecture; much of downtown was designed and created by craftsmen who built the Biltmore House. Download the Urban Trail Walking Map or an Urban Trail audio/visual tour on the Asheville Urban Trail website, 828-251-1122.

For kids and the young at heart, nothing can beat the Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center, which offers hands-on exhibits in an educational and fun atmosphere. Pack Place comprises the Asheville Art Museum (admission $7–$8), Diana Wortham Theatre (tickets $15–$58), YMI Cultural Center (admission $5), and the Colburn Earth Science Museum (admission $5.50–$6.50). The first gold discovered in the United States was in North Carolina. In 1799, well before the California Gold Rush. Ever since, gemstones and minerals have been found in abundance throughout the state. Pack Place’s Colburn Earth Science Museum has glittering displays of native gems and minerals, as well as an exhibit on the first gold rush in the state; all facilities open Tue–Sat 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun 1–5 p.m., 2 S. Pack Square, 828-257-4500.

The Folk Art Center and Allanstand Craft Shop are sponsored by the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which promotes crafts from mountain counties of nine southeastern states. The Folk Art Center displays heritage crafts and regularly holds craft demonstrations. Allanstand, the nation’s oldest craft shop, sells traditional mountain clothing, jewelry, toys, pottery, and other items, open daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m. (Apr–Dec), 9 a.m.–5 p.m. (Jan–Mar), milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Pkwy, 828-298-7928.

Whitewater rafting is just one of Asheville’s many adventure sports. Photo by Ciro Penña/Nantahala Outdoor Center.

With the highest mountain peaks east of the Mississippi, outdoor sports are plentiful in the Asheville area. USA Raft leads white water rafting and caving adventures. No experience is necessary and all gear is provided. Worley’s Cave half-day caving trips cost $60 per person. Raft trips on the French Broad River are half-day Class 2–3, $44–$56, or full-day Class 3–4, $75 per person, over age 8. Nolichucky River Gorge trips with Class 2–4 rapids are offered half or full-day, $70–$85, over age 10. Lower Nolichucky River trips offer Class 1–2 rapids, half-day $45–$55, over age 4, 800-USA-RAFT.

Just 25 miles from Asheville is the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a comprehensive outfitter that offers whitewater rafting on seven different rivers. All trips are guide assisted, half- and full-day trips $3–$150, minimum age requirements and whitewater intensities vary. They also have five aerial and zip line adventures. Their signature course is The Mountaintop, which takes you from ridgeline to ridgeline, with 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala Gorge and culminates in a dramatic half-mile mega-zip, $50–$120. You can combine zip-lining with river rafting, starting at $130. You can also rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and mountain bikes, or take guided hiking trips, train excursions, or try an adventure mud race, 828-785-5082.

Serenity awaits you along the Blue Ridge Parkway, 469 miles of scenery so spectacular you’ll have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road. Several sections cut through Asheville, allowing visitors to explore the unspoiled beauty. Along the way are pullouts for picture taking and picnics. Hiking trails allow you to stretch your legs along what has been named an All American Road. The parkway intersects Asheville at highways US 25, 70, 74, and NC 191, 828-298-0398.

For more information on activities, lodging, dining, and events in and around Asheville, contact the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau and ask for their free visitor guide, 828-258-6101.

Where to Stay

Golfing with scenic mountain vistas. Photo courtesy of The Grove Park Inn Resort.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Omni Grove Park Inn was the dream of Edwin Wiley Grove, inventor of the world-famous Grove’s Tasteless Chill tonic. Constructed of granite boulders with furnishings largely from the Arts and Crafts movement, elegant and earthy simplicity can be found throughout the resort. Opening in 1913, the Inn soon became a mecca for socialites, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and eight presidents.

The 18-hole championship golf course was designed by Donald Ross. Indoor and outdoor tennis courts and pools, an indoor sports center, and children’s programs help to keep everyone active. Five on-site restaurants, some with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, cater to all tastes. You’ll also find a wine bar, piano bar, and the Great Hall Bar with live entertainment. The underground spa, with its own café, evokes feelings of being in a cave while waterfalls cascade from the huge skylight above. Treatments exclusive to the spa incorporate sensations of the mountains. Spa access only, no treatments, is $75–$105, available for guests and non-guests, rooms $282–$869, 290 Macon Ave., 828-252-2711 or 800-438-5800.

A Victorian home listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Beaufort House Inn is within walking distance of downtown. Innkeepers Jim and Christina Muth traded 25 years of high-stress corporate jobs for the pleasures of providing gourmet breakfasts and lovely gardens for their guests to enjoy. Built in 1894, the home is filled with fresh flowers and lots of sunlight streaming in. Each of the 11 themed guestrooms is decorated with antiques, down comforters, and a bevy of pillows. On the grounds are an herb garden, hammock, gazebo, and plenty of rocking chairs and porch swings. Many rooms have a fireplace or Jacuzzi tub, $159–$259, 61 N. Liberty St., 828-254-8334 or 800-261-2221.

The Ramada Asheville at River Ridge is close to the River Ridge Shopping Center, the Biltmore Estate, and many restaurants; it is a ten minute drive from downtown Asheville. Complimentary breakfast, WiFi, and fitness center passes are among the amenities offered at the 174-room hotel. Rooms are $60–$200, 148 River Ford Parkway, 828-298-9141 or 800-836-6732.

The FBO has corporate rates available at numerous hotels in the Asheville area and near the airport, 828-687-7110 or 888-362-6738.

Where to Eat

The author enjoys great food in the intimate atmosphere of the Marketplace Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Button.

Dinner at The Market Place is an epicurean experience. Chef William Dissen grew up in the mountains of West Virginia and spent his days exploring the natural surroundings and watching his grandparents transform their farm-fresh ingredients into bountiful meals. Dissen graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of Hyde Park and then worked in the Lowcountry of Charleston, S.C., as well as in West Virginia. He was a member of the James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chefs Tour for 2014. Cuisine here is healthy, locally-sourced, and unique. An entrée such as Wood Grilled Pork Shoulder with gigandes bean ragout, house-made Italian sausage, kale, and smoked tomato sauce can be paired with your choice among hundreds of wines, entrées $18–$25, Mon–Sat from 5:30 p.m., Sun brunch 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 20 Wall St., 828-252-4162.

The Tupelo Honey Café in downtown Asheville is one of this city’s most beloved little hideaways, and the original restaurant in this culinary success story that started in 2000. Scratch-made Southern classics are their specialty. Breakfast is served all day. For lunch, Southern small plates include such classics as fried green tomatoes with goat cheese grits, southern fried okra, jumpo lump crab cakes, and baked mac ’n cheese with Cajun blackened shrimp. You’ll find a variety of big salads and sandwiches including a southern-fried chicken BLT. Supper plates come with two farm-fresh sides and include classic buttermilk fried chicken, pan-seared mountain trout, and beef and bacon meatloaf with rosemary tomato shallot gravy. Dinner entrées add char-grilled beef tenderlion, roasted duck breast, classic shrimp and grits, and much more, dinner entrées $10–$25, open Sun–Thu 9 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri–Sat 9 a.m.–10 p.m., 12 College St., 828-255-4863.

Transportation

The airport is 15 miles from downtown Asheville and most hotels and B&Bs do not offer transportation. Renting a car is the best way to see the sights, as well as giving you an opportunity to drive the famed Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy the scenery. All the major companies offer rental cars at the terminal and will pick up at the FBO. The FBO has Hertz cars onsite and has two courtesy cars available on a first-come, first-served basis, free for the first two hours and $25 per hour thereafter. They will also arrange for taxis and shuttles if contacted from the air. Special Occasions offers rides to downtown Asheville in sedans, $50 per person, 828-681-0051.

There is more to Asheville than mountain vistas and southern hospitality. Around every corner is a historical monument or commemorative structure that reveals the varied culture of the city. From the humble beginnings of Appalachian crafts to the powerful influence of the Vanderbilts, Asheville has endured centuries of change yet holds onto its past as a benchmark of where it has been, as well as where it is heading.

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Topics: Travel

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