The 250-room mansion, built by George W. Vanderbilt and completed in 1895, is modeled after the 16th century chateaux Blois, Chenonceaux and Chambord in France's Loire Valley. The National Historic Landmark is the largest private residence in North America and simply awe-inspiring. The grounds of the original 125,000-acre estate were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the creator of New York's Central Park.
At the entrance to the estate rests Biltmore Village, a planned community that offers plenty of one-of-a-kind shopping opportunities. The village has tree-lined streets, brick sidewalks, open air dining and plenty of historic homes dating back to the 1900s, although they aren't as lavish as the Vanderbilt estate.
Enjoy history. It's time to get wet. Head up to Sliding Rock, Mother Nature's own version of a giant waterslide. The mountain waterfall flows over a 60-foot, flat, sloping boulder making the perfect slide. People line up to slide through the chilly waters and then splash into an eight-foot deep pool. There are even lifeguards in the summer months.
Adventure is great but if shopping is your thing, check out the local crafts at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just outside of town. Many of the craftspeople are eager to discuss their craft with visitors.
There are also plenty of thriving galleries downtown offering all sorts of arts.
John Cram owns the New Morning Gallery and Blue Spiral 1, a fine arts gallery and two clothing stores that emphasize U.S.-made goods. He also took over a vacant adult movie theater a few years ago and now shows independent films there.
He has been one of the people responsible for transforming the city into the destination it is today.
"I moved here when there wasn't even a freeway in 1972," Cram said. "I matured and the town matured in the same time."
Cram is active with the local conservation movement and says the region has "great camping, phenomenal hiking and river rafting."
"It's easily accessible and it's in the middle of the beautiful mountains," he said.
After a day of hiking, shopping or sightseeing, consider a treat to fill your stomach (or wait for an after-dinner sweet.) Either way, the perfect stop is the French Broad Chocolate Lounge downtown. Try the liquid truffles, an opulent, ganache-based hot sipping chocolate.
Owners Dan and Jael Rattigan met in Minnesota where he was in law school and she was in business school. They both dropped out and moved to Costa Rica and started a small café, Bread and Chocolate. A year and a half later, in 2006, they moved back to the United States and chose Asheville.
Dan Rattigan said the city "really stuck out to us as the epicenter of the food movement" and appealed because of the strong support for small, local businesses. That and a vibrant culture with plenty of artistic people.
"It really struck me seeing dads with their kids on the shoulders walking down the street," Rattigan said. "It's a real community."
Plus every Friday night there is a drumming circle downtown.
"I've seen little kids dragging drums that are almost as big as they are," he said.
For tourists, Rattigan suggested a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a trip to one of the city's tailgate or farmers' markets.
"We have such a vibrant culture of food here," he said. "It all starts with the farmers and the artisans."