Before heading out to our final stop of Asheville, we grabbed breakfast at Rise Biscuits and Donuts. Tucked into a strip mall on the outskirts of Durham, they had delicious homemade biscuits with a variety of fillings and donuts with traditional flavors (glazed, chocolate glazed) to the more exotic such as creme brûlée and pomegranate glaze.
Once we got to Asheville, we found (somewhat unexpectedly) that this is a popular vacation spot during the holidays. After being turned away from several places for lunch, we finally settled at Doc Chey's Noodle House. The menu is expansive and the portions are huge so two kids could easily share an entree. They also offer a nice kids menu if you prefer to go that route. Everything we had was delicious and their emphasis is on locally-grown, organic ingredients (as is the case with most of the restaurants in Asheville).
Just down the street is an Asheville institution, Mast General Store. Founded in the 1940s, this store has everything you could want or need. From clothing to toys to birdhouses to a huge selection of penny candy, you are sure to find a souvenir to take home in this place.
The Grove Park Inn is a historic hotel which has seen many famous visitors, among them F. Scott Fitzgerald, David Sedaris, and Barack Obama (twice). Built in the early 20th century in the Arts and Crafts style, this is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever visited. Unfortunately we weren't spending the night; we were just there to view the annual gingerbread competition the hotel hosts each holiday season. Next time I definitely want to sit in front of one of the huge fireplaces and enjoy a glass of wine or sit out on the porch and watch as the sun sets over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Looking at the website, there is plenty to keep you busy: golfing, an outdoors center which offers guided rafting and hiking trips, and history tours of the inn. They also offer both a children's day program and a kids' night out for parents who want a little adult time.
The gingerbread competition was lots of fun. We had gone to a local one in NJ before Christmas, but this was beyond all expectations. It was hard to believe that some of these were made from just a little flour and sugar! The competition was spread out throughout the inn so you could enjoy the views over the mountains and the beauty of the hotel as you went through the exhibit.
Towards the end there is a nice collection of shops. The favorite of the group was The Pink Pig, selling beautiful christmas ornaments and decorations, lots of sweet treats, and a nice coffee bar to boot.
We took one last picture on the porch in Santa's sleigh and then reluctantly headed back to our car. We thought about having dinner at the inn's newest restaurant, Edison, but decided to save that for next time.
The next day was cold and rainy and despite howls of protest from Jack, we set out early to tour the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt's "vacation" home. This had been on my to-see list for a long time and visiting it while it was decorated for the holidays was even better than I could have hoped. We chose the self-guided tour with timed entry and then purchased the audio tour once we arrived at the house. There is a special tour for kids narrated by one of the Vanderbilt's dogs, Cedric, which was a big hit with our two. There are suggested itineraries for families on the website as well as helpful tips, particularly for those traveling with younger children. For Downton Abbey fans, the exhibit we saw earlier this year of costumes from the series is coming here and will be on display February 5 - May 25.
The kids loved the house and immediately wanted to move in. They enjoyed looking for good hiding places and imagining how long it would take their friends to find them! The tour is a little long at 90 minutes and we were all ready to head outside and explore the gardens once it ended. Both the formal gardens and the surrounding countryside were designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who is also responsible for the design of Central Park in Manhattan and our family's beloved Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
Because of the cold, we didn't get to walk around as much as would have liked. Be sure to look out for the shops including a toy store and a confectionery as well as a restaurant and coffee bar adjacent to the house in what was formerly the stables. This is a nice place to take a break after touring the house and before heading outside. There is also a restaurant in Antler Hill Village which is on property but can only be reached by car once you have finished touring the main house. Also at Antler Hill is a playground, farm yard, and winery.
Take your time as your drive out and enjoy the beautiful views and landscapes courtesy of Mr. Olmsted.
We headed back to downtown Asheville for lunch at Early Girl Eatery. A great place with a funky atmosphere, they serve breakfast all day (a big draw for our kids) with a focus on local, organic ingredients. The kids had delicious multi-grain pancakes, but if that's not your thing there are salads, sandwiches, and a "protein and two sides" entree.
Later on we grabbed some ice cream at Ultimate Ice Cream. On their menu are the usual suspects such as vanilla and chocolate but they aren't just ordinary vanilla and chocolate here. No, it is Madagascar Vanilla Bean and Belgian Dark Chocolate and it is awesome! There are also choices beyond the basics such as Kahlua Mocha Almond and White Chocolate with Raspberry Swirl. They are known for one of their more unique flavors, Brown Sugar Maple and Bacon, but unfortunately this wasn't on the menu the night we visited.
Sadly, this ended our time in Asheville but we will definitely be back. This area is so beautiful and has so much to offer it is impossible to do it justice in just two days!