Gilded Age culture and fall foliage on the Blue Ridge Parkway By Marguerite Cleveland
Not many people realize that one of the founders of modern forestry in the United States was a Vanderbilt. The Biltmore Estate was cobbled together from George Vanderbilt’s land purchases in the Asheville area. Many were farms where the land was considered worn out. Fredrick Law Olmsted (design Central Park), who was hired to landscape the property, was not impressed with the 125,000 acres which were in a deplorable condition. Vanderbilt hired Gifford Pinchot to manage the forests on the estate, and he later became the first Chief of the United States Forest Service. Later on, the first school of forestry in North America, The Biltmore School of Forestry, was operated on the estate by Dr. Carl A. Schenck. After Vanderbilt’s death, around 86,000 acres of the estate were sold to the United State Forest Service to establish the Pisgah National Forest, one of the first in the Eastern United States. Most fall foliage destinations tend to have a peak week when hordes of people descend upon the area to see autumn flora at its best. The wooded areas surrounding Asheville, North Carolina, and the forests observed from the Blue Ridge Parkway have one of the longest and most diverse fall foliage seasons in the world.
The Biltmore Estate
With its history of forestry, the Biltmore Estate is the perfect destination for a fall foliage trip, and you can stay right on the estate. The Village Hotel provides a casual-style stay and is close to the winery and other shopping and dining activities. But for a true Biltmore experience you need to step it up and stay at the Inn on Biltmore Estate. It is luxurious with interiors that make you feel like you are a guest in the Biltmore House. Enjoy rooms decorated like Gilded Age visitors enjoyed. The staff is outstanding and provides warm Southern hospitality without any stuffiness. There are a variety of dining options on the estate with the ingredients for many dishes grown or produced right on the estate.
During your stay in Asheville, make sure to allow plenty of time to tour and experience all the estate has to offer. Your admission includes a self-guided tour of the historic Biltmore House and access to the grounds. There are a variety of optional add-on tours. The Audio Guide to Biltmore is well worth the $15 extra cost with its music and description of what life was like when the home was first built. The Legacy of the Land Tour gets you behind the scenes on the estate while you learn more about the history of the land. Visit the Outdoor Adventure Center to book fun outside activities, many you won’t see anywhere else. Enjoy a ride with Belgian draft horses pulling an elegant carriage, or try your hand at falconry and learn how to interact with a hawk or falcon. You may have been to many wineries before, but the Biltmore Winery is really special with its self-guided tour and many tasting options. The winery is the most visited in the country and produces about 150,000 cases annually.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic roads in America. With fall foliage peaking in October, the parkway is a wonder to behold. It meanders for a total of 469 miles following the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains leading to stunning views. The parkway utilizes a milepost system which makes it easier to track where you are on the parkway. Before heading out to the parkway, grab a picnic lunch from the Well-Bred Bakery & Café, which prides itself on fresh sandwiches, salads and bakery treats.
Heading south from Asheville on the parkway, stop at milepost 382 and tour the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center for information, maps and a movie about the area. Here you’ll also find the Folk Art Center for demonstrations and eclectic local folk art. Plan to hike Mount Pisgah while exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway. Enjoying the views from the loggia at Biltmore House you can see Mount Pisgah in the distance. The estate once stretched all the way to this peak. The 5,721-foot summit can be accessed from milepost 407.6 on the parkway. The moderate 2.6-mile round-trip trail will take you to an observation platform which affords stunning views of the mountains and, on a clear day, Asheville is visible.
Allow a day to spend time exploring Asheville, a funky mountain city with a rich architectural history. Its many Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Neoclassical buildings are now home to locally owned shops, more than 30 art galleries and an exciting culinary scene. Throw in some live music and you have a special destination which will draw you back again and again. A fun way to tour the city is to experience the Urban Trail, which is essentially the city’s outdoor history museum. The tour is 1.7 miles long and has 30 stations that highlight the city’s historic and cultural stories. At each stop you will find a bronze plaque and a piece of art. Learn about notable characters, many whom you may recognize such as Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and O. Henry. Start at the front of Pack Place on Asheville’s Park Square for Plaque #1, “Walk Into History.” Set aside a couple of hours to complete the tour while allowing plenty of time to have lunch and shop.
Another unique Asheville activity is to book a foraging tour with No Taste Like Home. This interesting tour will take you out into the forests near Asheville to forage 12 to15 edibles. It also includes a cooking demonstration and tasting. Later head to a local restaurant to enjoy an appetizer made from what you foraged. Three days before the tour you will receive an email with your meeting location based on the weather and what foods are available to forage.
For a truly spectacular meal, dine at Vue 1913 in the historic Omni Grove Park Inn. This is a AAA Four Diamond Restaurant and consistent winner of the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. The menu is a haute cuisine take on Southern favorites with plenty of rustic, local ingredients. With beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this Art-Deco dining room is stunning. It is well worth the splurge.
Fall is a peak time to visit the Asheville area, so plan accordingly and book reservations not only for lodging but also for restaurants and activities. If possible, plan to visit on weekdays when you will experience less people. The Explore Asheville website is an excellent tool to plan your visit. There are many posts that highlight local small businesses and the people that make Asheville such a great place to visit. It also has an interactive fall color map and fall leaves schedule to help you plan the perfect time to visit. Specifics
Explore Asheville - ExploreAsheville.com
Where to Stay
The Inn on Biltmore Estate - Biltmore.com/stay/inn
Where to Eat
Well-Bred Bakery and Café - WellBredBakery.com Vue 1913 at The Omni Grove Park Inn - OmniHotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park/dining/vue-1913 Biltmore Estate Dining - Biltmore.com/visit/things-to-do/estate-dining
What to Do
Foraging Tour with No Taste Like Home - Notastelikehome.org The Blue Ridge Parkway - BlueRidgeParkway.org Biltmore Falconry - Biltmore.com/visit/things-to-do/outdoor-activities/falconry