It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of the Biltmore House. A brief synopsis: Built around the turn of the century by George Vanderbilt, the Biltmore House is 250 rooms, 175,000 sq. feet. with magnificent grounds and impeccable gardens. It is still owned by the family and is opened to the public as a popular tourist destination.
Wine drinkers are also familiar with Biltmore brand of wines distributed through the Southeast and beyond. Vineyards on the estate are harvested and grapes are processed and aged in the estate’s own winery. There is also a large wine tasting room for visitors touring the facility.
What most people don’t know, however, is how many other things there are to do without tasting wine or stepping foot into the magnificent home. The estate has truly become a vacation destination for tourists, and a relaxing hangout for locals with season passes.
This weekend, we took advantage of a special deal and purchased season passes with the explorer package. Basically this gives guests unlimited access to most things on the Biltmore Estate property, and discounts on the rest. If you think the house is big, consider the property it sits on is 8,000 acres! There are miles of hiking, biking and horse trails. I took advantage of those trails, biking over 15 miles. Some trails are paved, flat with little elevation change that meander through the grounds. For mountain bike enthusiasts, single track trails can be found at both ends of the estate.
Bird watchers will appreciate the bodies of water on including a bass pond, lagoon and the French Broad river where fly fishing is permitted. At dusk, it is common to see deer roaming the grounds. We were lucky enough to encounter a few with a very young fawn. There are places where you can simply park, set out a few lawn chairs and have a picnic or sit by the river and watch kayakers go by.
One appealing aspect of Biltmore Estate is that guests staying at the Inn never have to leave. In addition to the many activities, there are several great restaurants, Cedric’s Tavern and shops at Antler Hill Village. You can also rent bicycles, go on a Segway tour or go offroading with the Land Rover Experience. Summer concerts draw big names
While I highly recommend touring the Biltmore House, an informed guest could spend an entire day of fun activities and never get to the house at all.
Living in Henderson County, we are spoiled by all the great trails running through both Federal and State forest land. Hiking, biking and horse back riding is in full swing right now as the weather has been conducive to outdoor activities. Dupont State Forest is probably the best known area for such activities. Bent Creek in Buncombe County is also a haven for bike trails. But the less known North Mills River trails are our favorite.
This winter, we purchased multi-use bikes for riding paved and gravel trails in warmer places like Hilton Head. Spring came early, and we have enjoyed riding through Hendersonville and the wonderful trails provided by the parks department. Hendersonville is becoming a very bike friendly community, as is Asheville, and it’s not uncommon to see groups of bicyclist on the roads and trails.
The last month has given us some great weekend weather to experience some of the more advanced trails (for us beginners). The guys at Sycamore Cycles have gently reminded us that when we purchased our bikes, we said we were going to stay on mostly paved, gentle roads. But the mountain biking bug has bitten, so we have been pushing our bikes to their limits.
This weekend, we literally pushed our bikes a few times as we conquered the Trace Ridge Trail – or it may have conquered us. Whatever the case, it was a lot of fun. The vertical climbs are a real challenge, but the fast downhills are both treacherous and exhilarating. Roots, rocks and stumps were frequent obstacles and navigation was pretty tricky at times. One of the wonderful things about the harder trails, however, is encountering other riders is rare, and nature is only disturbed by the narrow trail.
If Trace Ridge sounds a little advanced, rest assured that North Mills River has many easier trails. Many are gravel forest roads closed by gates to motor vehicles, and perfect for bikers and hikers. We purchased the Western North Carolina Trail Guide South Pisgah Ranger District map, which is a necessity on some of these trails, and money well spent for us.
If you live in Western North Carolina and haven’t ridden the trails at North Mills River, then you need to get your bike up there! Don’t have a bike? The guys at Sycamore Cycles have been a great help to us in both sales and keeping our bikes tuned up. If you are thinking about visiting, they rent bikes too, so what are you waiting for?
Craft beer lovers were in a state of bliss this Saturday as Brewgrass Festival 2011 transformed Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Asheville, NC into a beer tasting paradise. Regional craft brewers Like Southern Appalachian Craft, Highland, and Green Man Ales teamed up with many other popular brewers such as New Belgium, Brooklyn and Lagunitas. Get the complete list here. Food was provided by local restaurants like Barley’s and Doc Chey’s, and a talented lineup of Bands kept the crowd energized.
One of the greatest things about Brewgrass is the festival goers. Everyone is there to have a good time and you always leave with new friends.; and the level of beer knowledge among the crowd is truly impressive. The brewers were equally friendly, and wouldn’t hesitate to discuss their brewing techniques, private reserves and plans for expansion. The economy may be struggling, but craft brewing continues to be a boon for Asheville, Hendersonville and other markets with a craft brew presence.
For those new to craft brew, it’s basically a dedication to making excellent beer with high quality ingredients, usually in much smaller quantities that mass produced beers. Love for the process is a big part of the craft brewing. Many beers adhere to the traditional Ale styles, Stouts and Belgians. Limited quantity cask brews were a big hit this year including Green Man Ale’s coconut firken. Southern Appalachian Brewery‘s IPA and Belgian Blonde were very popular along with the Copperhead Amber and Black Beer Stout.
Considering the 40+ brewers with an average of 4 to 6 beers per brewer, the only way to truly understand the beauty of craft beer is to be lucky enough to get a ticket to next year’s Brew Grass Festival. Tickets go fast, so once the sale is announced, you have to move fast. Hope to see you next year.
The NC Apple Festival is upon us once again. Always taking place over the Labor Day weekend, this year’s event runs from September 2 – 5, 2011 on Main Street in downtown Hendersonville. Apple Festival has been a tradition for family apple growers for some 60 years.
Henderson County is the largest producer of apples in the state of North Carolina with over 200 growers and 5000 acres. Gala, Golden, Fuji, Empire and Honey Crisp are but a few of the varieties grown here. You will be able to sample and purchase fresh apples, cider and many tasty dishes made with locally grown apples.
The NC Apple Festival is more than just produce. Crafts, free live entertainment and fun for the kids transforms Main Street into a pedestrian fair. Between the food court and downtown restaurants, there is something for every palette and budget. And you won’t want to miss the King Apple Parade on Labor Day.
Don’t let downtown parking keep you away. Shuttle service will be provided from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from parking lots at 1250 Seventh Ave. East., $2 for adults, $1 kids. Click here for the location. Hope to see you there!
Hurricane Irene has been all over the national news this week. West coast relatives have been calling with concern over the threat of Irene. Although we have had heavy rain from hurricanes traveling through the gulf, Western North Carolina is quite a safe distance from the North Carolina Coast. In fact, it’s actually a closer drive to the South Carolina coast, specifically Charleston.
Looking to escape Atlantic coast hurricanes? Look no further than the mountains of North Carolina. While storm surges breach sea walls, you could be enjoying waterfalls. Is your favorite restaurant boarded up until the storm passes? Asheville has some of the finest dining in the southeast. Avoid the shelter and stay in a historic bed and breakfast in Hendersonville.
Be safe. Be smart. Now would be a good time to visit the mountains!
Who is Bele Chere and how did she get her own festival? Belle Cher is some chick on Facebook, but Bele Chere is an annual event in Asheville, North Carolina. It is always held during the last weekend of July. According to the organizers, Bele Chere means “Beautiful Living” in an ancient Scottish dialect. I’m not ancient Scottish, so I’ll take their word for it. It’s a fitting name, however, as the event meanders through the blocked off streets of beautiful downtown Asheville.Free live music is a staple at Bele Chere. Multiple stages are setup at different points throughout the festival map. Genres of virtually every type can be heard at the 3 day event. The wide array of talent, offers something for everyone. As one attendee said, If you don’t find fun and music you like at Bele Chere, then you don’t like fun and music.
Asheville is known for it’s diversity, and people watching is part of the fun. A few dress in costumes and there is never a shortage of eclectic attire. Bele Chere has sort of a Mardi Gras air about it, but with a western North Carolina flair. Local Street musicians and performance artists display their talent as an integral part of downtown culture.
What you can expect to experience:
- Free Live Music
- Art In All Forms
- Local Craft Beer
- A Child Friendly Area
You are asked not to bring any pets to the festival. This sounds like a real drag as a dog lover, but after watching the City of Asheville’s video explanation, I fully support the position. The Ultimate Air Dogs attraction continues to bring enjoyment to the event, however.
A few pictures and a short write up can’t possibly describe such a wonderful event. The sounds, motion and mood is unique to Asheville. In short, if you have a festive spirit and don’t mind a good crowd, then the Bele Chere Festival should be your destination next July.
Click here to see a quick slideshow.
North of Asheville just passed Weaverville, we set out for the eagerly anticipated Echoview Farm 2nd Annual Hop Festival. We were privileged to attend last year’s successful event, and this year was equally successful. As we entered, we picked up our reusable bags complete with literature and tasting glasses.
This year, Echoview Farm provided several home brews made exclusively with Echoview hops; our favorite was the brown ale. Pisgah and Asheville breweries were also on hand. The food tent supplied hot dogs, bratwurst and veggie dogs with all the trimmings. Music was provided by the award winning High Windy bluegrass band.
We enjoyed some hops Q&A with Stacy the grower. With multiple varieties, including Cascade, Centennial, Magnum and Brewers Gold, we learned the challenges of growing hops in this climate. The complexity of soil pH, nutrients, temperature and rain are but some of the challenges to growing hops in western North Carolina.
The concept of buying local produce and goods is well known in these parts. For one thing, it just makes sense that when dollars don’t leave, they get reinvested in the community. There is also a sense of connection to those that live and do business together. Echoview Farm certainly understands this.
As the craft beer brewing industry in the greater Asheville area exploded, the need for hops and malt became greater. A few savvy individuals like Julie Jensen saw this need and set out to fill the niche. With a commitment to sustainable farming, Echoview Farm is setting a good example of how modern farms should operate. Ironically, it’s how many farms in the “olden days” always farmed.
We wish Echoview Farm continued success and look forward to next year’s event.
For more pictures go to http://youtu.be/Qild3MgMJjU