Cradled within the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the eclectic city of Asheville is paradise for vanlife travelers. While the mountains and Pisgah National Forest offer all the hiking, rafting and outdoor adventure one could ever hope for, the city is also right outside your doorstep. And what a city. I like to say it’s akin to Austin before Austin got too big and hip for its britches, but it has its own inimitable identity all together, along with mountain views from anywhere in town. The charming downtown streets are the ideal place to park your ideally-sized Regency RV and stroll the day away in incredible restaurants, local breweries, unique boutiques, and as the sun sets you can even stick around for a prolific line-up of live music.
Where to Park It:
Although there are several nice RV parks in the area, our favorite is Campfire Lodgings. Only six miles from town, you’ll feel a world away from your scenic mountaintop perch high. Every site offers full hookups with 20/30/50amp electricity as well as a picnic table and fire ring. The park is equipped with a fishing pond, hiking trails, some wifi, nice bathhouses and laundry. For the ultimate experience, request a mountain top view.
Where to Eat:
Asheville’s reputation as a world-class food city is well deserved. Part of what makes the food scene so spectacular are the locally sourced ingredients that find their way onto the plate. You’ll be hard pressed to find an eatery without locally caught trout, wild mushrooms or some other indigenous ingredient. For a foolproof experience, here are a few of our favorites:
Cúrate, helmed by Chef Katie Button, is a James Beard Semifinalist, Spanish restaurant that is so inspiring, I couldn’t leave without a cookbook. A warm, cozy ambiance is only enhanced by the dazzling service and incredible food. Their wine list, also authentically Spanish, is one of the most thoughtfully curated I’ve seen in a while. For something truly unforgettable, try their Squid Ink Paella as well as the Catalan Esqueixada de Montana with fresh Trout then wash it all down with a crisp Txakolina white wine.
Rhubarb delivers the warmth of home while churning out world-class cuisine from local ingredients. A must when visiting Asheville, among Chef John Fleers offerings are Smoked Wild Mushroom Cassoulet and Wood-roasted Sunburst Trout over an Okra Cake, Field Peas and local Butter Beans. Finish it all off with an inspired dessert and you’ll experience a meal that will live in your sense memory for always.
For breakfast, Green Sage Café serves up hearty, organic fate that is as inexpensive as it is fresh and delicious. My go-to is a Breve Cappuccino and an order of Avocado Toast with Smoked Salmon. Whatever you choose, it’s sure to be a winner.
For local ingredients to turn your Regency RV into a world-class chef’s kitchen, swing by the Asheville City Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from 9:00 to 12:00. It’s the ideal spot to chat with local farmer’s and stock your kitchen with the best produce the Blue Ridge Mountains has to offer.
Things to Do and Places to Shop:
The Biltmore needs little introduction. Built in 1895 by George Washington Vanderbilt II, it remains the country’s largest privately owned home. The historic estate offers an array of tours from the massive chateau and the gardens to the on-site vineyard. Tickets purchased in advance receive a discount. If the steep price of tickets is just too high, you can still meander through the charming, Tudor-style Biltmore Village for shopping and dining.
Battery Park Book Exchange is truly my idea of heaven – a Champagne lounge inside a lovely used bookstore. The shop itself is housed in the architecturally striking Grove Arcade, which was built at the close of the Roaring Twenties in 1929. As you step inside, it feels as if you’ve been swept back in time. You can lounge in an antique chaise longue or stroll around, browsing rare books, with a premium glass of bubbly in hand. It’s a peerless experience not to be missed.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge has garnered quite a devoted following. Dan and Jael Rattigan craft small-catch, single origin chocolate with a passion, which is evident with every bite. Their lounge in Asheville’s Pack Square is a delightful spot to sample truffles, enjoy ice cream or get your day kicked off right with an espresso or hot chocolate.
The Times Bar, housed in a stunning art deco building that was once the S&W cafeteria, is the swankiest joint in town to enjoy a cocktail. Their bartenders are true mixologists and the ambiance harkens back to the Jazz Age of Asheville when F. Scott Fitzgerald used to camp out at the Grove Park Inn and stay awhile.
A Beer Crawl:
Asheville has justly been coined Beer City USA and can boast almost 50 breweries in the area. Some of the biggest names are the old standby, Highland Brewing Company, as well as east coast branches of Sierra Nevada and New Belgium Brewing, all of which have state-of-the-art facilities and fun tours.
Wicked Weed is a relative newcomer who has recently gone platinum with an Anheuser-Busch partnership. Their beer is popping up in grocery stores across the southeast, but it’s their small batch beers on tap in the Funkatorium that really capture something special. Here you can try wild yeast saisons and creative sours that you just can’t find outside Asheville. The tasting room also has a solid menu and a rocking Biergarten.
Green Man Brewery opened in 1997, which makes it one of the oldest breweries in Ashville. True to English-style beer and serious craftsmanship, they may have grown into a massive three-story brewery and tasting house, but they maintain the quality that enabled their evolution in the first place.
Last but definitely not least, Burial Beer Company is without rival. Period. The best way I can describe the magic they capture is this. I am a sommelier. Many years ago, I visited France’s Cote d’Or and I had my first taste of great red Burgundy. It was so complex, perfect and thought-provoking, it changed my life. That was the sparked that fueled me to become a somm. Burial has done this with beer. It’s extraordinary. The place is also a heck of a lot of fun with a convivial, rustic ambiance, a great kitchen, world-class beer and just the perfect joint to while away the hours. With everything from IPAs, lagers, saisons and sours, one thing is standard – every manually-stirred concoction is a small-batch masterpiece. My favorites are The Objects We Hold Dear and Allegory of Immortality.
Whatever you choose to do in Asheville, I’m certain of one thing – you’ll enjoy it. As my Dad always says, “If you don’t like this, you don’t like nothin’!” As always, Happy Trails!