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The Tar Heel State Part 2: Asheville

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

The second part of my trip to North Carolina took me west to the city of Asheville, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Asheville has a rich history, plenty of outdoor activities, beautiful boutiques, an impressive culinary scene and a wonderful arts district. I began my visit to Asheville with a tour at a National Historic Landmark.


The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate is the largest, privately-owned family home in the United States, spanning 178,926 square feet. To put that in perspective for Californians like myself, the west coast's largest home, Hearst Castle, is paltry in comparison at only 68,500 square feet.

The Biltmore estate is owned by the Vanderbilt family and was built by George Vanderbilt over the span of the seven years between 1889 - 1895. He named the estate "Biltmore" combining ‘Bildt’ (Anglicized to Bilt) —his ancestral hometown—with ‘more’—the word for "rolling, open land." This is quite appropriate given that the entirety of the property encompasses over 80,000 acres.

The Main Dining Room

The Biltmore Estate was opened on Christmas Eve in 1895. Since then, Christmas remains a very special time to visit the estate which boasts 67 Christmas trees and 250 candles in celebration of the holiday. The largest Christmas tree is 35 feet tall and stands proudly in the main dining room, as seen in the video above.

This French Renaissance chateau includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Below are pictures of some of the 250 rooms throughout the home.

Winter Garden Room

This room, in the center of the first floor, was my favorite room in the house. In an otherwise dark home, the sunlight streams through the glass ceiling and beautiful wood detailing in this room.

The Library

The library was my second favorite space at the estate. Complete with a rolling ladder to reach every one of the 22,000 volumes on the floor to ceiling shelves, this room brought my recollections of the fictional library from Disney's Beauty and the Beast to life. Starting at the age of 12, George Vanderbilt kept a record of all the books he had read throughout his life. At the time of his death, that journal reflected a total of 3,159 books (an average of 81 books a year), many of which are on display in this library.

The Tapestry Room

(Triumph of Faith)

A series of tapestries entitled The Triumph of the Seven Virtues were woven from wool and silk between 1525-1535. They were created to showcase that the seven virtues−faith, prudence, charity, chastity, temperance, fortitude and justice−would triumph over vice. What remains of the tapestries is found in 10 collections around the world including the cities of Paris, Liverpool and San Francisco. Three of the seven - The Triumph of Prudence, The Triumph of Faith, and The Triumph of Charity - can be viewed at the Biltmore Estate in the Tapestry Room.

In the Triumph of Faith (pictured above), the virtue of faith is depicted as a woman holding a church, chalice and cross. Below her is Christ riding on a lion; a representation of both the apostle Mark and the resurrection. The ox is a representation of the sacramental nature of Christ, and the eagle is a representation of the apostle John. The prophet Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 1:10, mentions all of these as the guardians surrounding the throne of God.

Mr. Vanderbilt's Bedroom

I learned that Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt kept separate bedrooms in the interest of modesty and privacy, but not from one another. Each had a valet or lady's maid that would help them dress. Keeping separate bedrooms prevented Mr. Vanderbilt's valet from seeing Mrs. Vanderbilt unclothed and Mrs. Vanderbilt's ladies maid from seeing Mr. Vanderbilt in the same state.

The Music Room

Fearing an attack during World War II, the National Gallery of Art stored 62 paintings and 17 sculptures in this room at the Biltmore Estate.

The Kitchen

In the basement of the Biltmore Estate is a suite of kitchens including a pastry kitchen, rotisserie kitchen, and the main kitchen (pictured above) where most of the cooking for Biltmore took place.

The Indoor Swimming Pool

The indoor pool which held 70,000 gallons of water, was one of the last stops on my tour.

In case you were curious, as I was throughout the tour, The Vanderbilts, like the Dukes whom I mentioned in my last post, were slave owners and derived their massive wealth, in part from this fact. (This was not mentioned on the tour.) At one point, the family had an estimated 95 million dollars in wealth which is the equivalent of about 2.5 billion dollars today. Succeeding generations squandered the money however.

Fun facts:

1) CNN's Anderson Cooper is part of the Vanderbilt bloodline.

2) Vanderbilt University was named after the family patriarch, Cornelius Vanderbilt.

3) The Biltmore estate was built with several concealed doors, hidden passageways, and secret rooms, which blend with the decor, seamlessly. (Is anyone else thinking that this would be the ideal place for a spy duo to play the ultimate game of hide-and-seek?)


Dining

I was extremely impressed with the Asheville culinary scene. The food at every restaurant I visited was amazing. The two restaurants below were my favorites.

Cúrate is a Spanish tapas restaurant that won the James Beard Award for Best Hospitality in 2022. Katie Button and her husband, Felix Meana opened Cúrate in a renovated 1920's Asheville bus depot in 2011, where it still stands today. The couple gained experience, in part, at elBulli restaurant in Spain under the tutelage of Ferran Adrià. Ferran Adrià is still hailed one of the best chefs in the world, more than a decade after his triple Michelin-starred restaurant elBulli, closed.

Since Cúrate opened, Button has been nominated for the James Beard award four times. Cúrate means "heal yourself" in Spanish which reflects these sentiments of Button and her family: great food and wine will heal you. And from my experience sharing a meal at Cúrate with one of my favorite people, I agree!

Pan con Tomate

Toasted ciabatta with fresh tomato, garlic, olive oil and Manchego cheese.

Matrimonio

Boquerones (vinegar-cured anchovies) and anchoas (salt-cured anchovies).

Berenjenas con Miel

Fried eggplant drizzled in honey and garnished with rosemary.

Gambas al Ajillo

Sautéed shrimp in a sherry broth with sliced garlic, bay leaf, and an arbol chili, served with toasted baguette.

Migas con Verduras

Coal roasted brussel sprouts, cauliflower, raisins, and fried ‘migas’ breadcrumbs, with a savory, yogurt mousse.

Leche y Polvorónes

A holiday dish featuring polvorón cookies, pedro ximenez mousse, coffee, caramel, and egg nog ice cream.

Tarta de Queso

Burnt basque cheesecake with stewed local quince.


My culinary journey in Asheville continued the following day and transported me from Spain to India in just a few blocks.

Chai Pani which translates to "tea and water" serves chaat (Indian street food) and thalis (homestyle platters). This modest restaurant was named America’s most "Outstanding Restaurant" at the James Beard Foundation Awards in 2022. The food was excellent and carried me back to the tastes I experienced during my travels throughout Mumbai, India.

Vada Pav

Spicy potato dumplings fried in curried chickpea batter, topped with green and tamarind chutneys and served on toasted buns.

Sev Potato Dahi Puri

Savory puffed flour crisps (puris) filled with sweet yogurt, green and tamarind chutneys, potatoes, onions, cilantro and topped with crunchy, chickpea noodles.

Sloppy Jai (Kheema Pav)

Spiced lamb hash simmered with tomatoes, ginger and aromatic spices. Garnished with onions, cilantro, green chutney, sweet yogurt, and served on toasted buns.


River Arts District

The River Arts District (RAD) is located near the French Broad River in Asheville. This area was once filled with abandoned warehouses. Today, this mile-long stretch of buildings is filled with artist's studios and art galleries.

Stroll through the area to browse, buy, take an art class or grab a bite and a drink. Even the restaurants and coffee shops feature works by local artists, such as these bar stools.

Michael Hoffman is just one of the many talented artists who have studios and stores in the Asheville Arts District. Michael moved to Asheville from San Francisco and opened this art studio where he makes and sells beautiful pieces.

Michael combines the strength of porcelain with the delicateness of lace patterns to create pieces that are both artistic and functional, such as this ornate cheese tray.


After a long walk through the RAD, it was time to leave Asheville. Stay tuned for my time in North Carolina's coastal cities.

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