Weekend Window to Asheville, N.C.

PHOTO Restaurants along Ashevilles historic Grove Arcade -- offering good food, drinks and live music -- account for a huge part Ashevilles nightlife.

Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina sits the quaint town of Asheville. Asheville is a wonderful place for tourists, and attractions include its historic downtown with local shops, live music and art galleries and the mountain landscape that provides outdoor recreational activities.

Harry Weiss, urban project director for Public Interest Projects, says, "In the last 25 years, Asheville has become a major destination for the arts in the U.S. In many ways it's been compared to Santa Fe, N.M., in terms of having grown to be one of the most significant art markets in the country."

VIDEO: Biltmore and Ashville, North Carolina

With more than 20 art galleries in the downtown area, Asheville has no shortage of art to suit every taste. John Cram owns the Blue Spiral Gallery 1, and his shop was one of the first galleries to open in Asheville.

"In 1991, when we opened, the street which we are located on was 90 percent empty," he says. "Now there are about five or six galleries within several blocks and 24 altogether downtown."

In addition to Asheville's charming downtown district, the region is well known for the its famous historic site, the Biltmore Estate. Originally encompassing 125,000 acres, George Vanderbilt completed his 250 room, Neo-French Renaissance Chateau-style home in 1895. The property opened to the public in 1930, and it draws over a million visitors a year. The estate lies amid beautiful gardens that cover 457 acres and offers activities that include horseback riding and rafting. There's even a winery on the grounds.

Vanderbilt Kin Runs Historic Estate

Vanderbilt's great-grandson, Bill Cecil Jr. is now the current CEO of the estate.

"The house is a remarkable piece of architecture," he says. "It's approximately 180,000 square feet, about the size of four football fields. There are about 35 bathrooms, [it has] a bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool."

Weiss believes what sets Asheville apart from every other town in the United States is its sense of community and acceptance of visitors.

"Asheville has an incredible amount of energy. We have wonderful music, creative arts. The town has this incredible vibe that people are really attracted to."

For more information on Asheville visit www.exploreasheville.com,http://www.biltmore.com/ and www.bluespiral1.com .

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