Many guests at Hill House are unfamiliar with Asheville, and are often pleased to learn that the city's geography is fairly standard. Downtown is in the center, and north, south, east, and west Asheville all are distinct areas with their own character.
Hill House and most of Asheville's other bed and breakfasts are in North Asheville. This is generally the favored residential area of the city, and home to the Montford historic district in northwest Asheville, the Grove Park Inn (above in the photo) in northeast, and UNC Asheville, and the Asheville Country Club in the north central.
South Asheville has more of an institutional flavor, being home to the Biltmore Estate, Mission Health, the biggest hospital system in western North Carolina, and A-B Tech, Asheville's well-regarded community college. Biltmore Village and Biltmore Park, the city's two best-known specialty retail centers are here, and many new homes, including the reaidence of actress and model Andie McDowell, have sprouted in far south Asheville in recent years. There are a small handful of bed and breakfasts in near South Asheville, between Mission Hospital and the Biltmore Estate.
East Asheville, along Tunnel Road, is the part of the city that looks like Anywhere Else in America. Here you'll find Asheville Mall and just about all of the Big Box stores and chain restaurants in the city. It's the complete antithesis of downtown, where only a single chain store exists. No B&Bs here, but plenty of motels. An occasional Hill House guest, suffering from downtown sensory overload, will head over to the Applebee's here in East Asheville.
West Asheville historically has been the city's blue-collar neighborhood, but in the last decade has taken on a distinct counterculture and youth ambience. Real estate is cheapest here, and Haywood Street, the main drag, is very bike- and pedestrian-friendly. If you have car problems while in town, check out the Organic Mechanic in West Asheville -- the name says it all about the area. Like downtown, everything in West Asheville is local, but very few tourists make their way over.
For most people in Asheville, cycling means the Blue Ridge Parkway. Yes, if you climb above 5,000 feet on the Parkway to the northeast or southwest of the city, you need to be accustomed to strenuous riding. But most of the Parkway's eastern and southern loop around the city, particularly from the Folk Art Center just north of US 70 (Tunnel Road) to the French Broad River, is relatively level at about 2,200 feet.
To get there, you can either take busy Tunnel Road or winding Town Mountain Road (around the corner from Hill House). Town Mountain Road is about a 1000-foot climb, from which you can coast down 1,000 feet to the Folk Art Center and the Swannanoa River. Cross the river and continue on toward the Biltmore Estate and the French Broad.
Many people don't associate the Biltmore Estate with biking, but it has miles of lightly rolling roadways and trails along the French Broad. You do have to buy a pass, but biking the estate with a picnic lunch can be included along with visits to the home, gardens, and winery.
For short city rides from Hill House, there's
- Across Broadway through the Montford neighborhood's charming, winding streets
- North on Broadway to the Asheville Botanical Gardens and University of North Carolina at Asheville
- East on Hillside and north on Charlotte Street to the Grove Park Inn and Country Club
- Downtown Asheville
For bike rentals, we recommend our neighbor around the corner Youngblood Bikes Be sure to let them know you're a guest at Hill House.
Downtown Asheville is a popular place. Yes, many visitors come to Asheville to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and visit the Biltmore Estate, but many also come to savor the restaurants, nightlife, arts, and shopping downtown. The website of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that scads of B&Bs in Asheville, including Hill House, are downtown. But t'aint true. None are.
A lot of B&Bs like Hill House are close, but none are in the downtown zone, and beware of any B&B that tries to tell you it is in downtown. Many are in the Montford historic district northwest of downtown. Some others, including Hill House, are just north of downtown off of Merrimon Avenue. And then there are a handful between downtown and the Biltmore Estate to the south.
When guests ask, we tell them that Hill House is one mile from the center of downtown. A couple other may be a few hundred yards closer, but none of us are rubbing shoulders with the restaurants and shops that bring visitors to our city.
A number of years ago, artists, began working in unused warehouses along the French Broad River down Chicken Hill from downtown. Asheville had a thriving inland port 100 years ago, but as in many other cities, the port closed and the large warehouses emptied.
More and more artists heard about the big, tall warehouse rooms and more and more opened studios. Today there are 165 artists working and exhibiting in 18 buildings in Asheville's River Arts District, and, at last count, seven restaurants for lunch or a snack while exploring the studios or dinner afterwards.
It's not the only place to see art in Asheville -- downtown also has plenty of galleries. But even though the district has gentrified a lot, it's still a place where you can talk to artists while they're taking a break from their work and can feel something of the isolation with which many working artists live.
There isn't any.
Because of the large number of bed and breakfasts, small inns, and other alternatives to chain hotels and motels, many gay travelers expect there to be gay guesthouses in Asheville and the surrounding mountains, as there are in places like Fort Lauderdale, Provincetown, and Key West. But that's not the case.
Asheville and the smaller vacation towns in the Blue Ridge, like Brevard or Black Mountain, all certainly are gay-friendly. But none are gay destinations. Some of the inns, like Hill House, may be gay-owned, but -- also like Hill House -- may not have gay staff. Or alternatively, a husband and wife who own the inn may have an openly gay innkeeper.
Asheville's more of a place that throws everyone into the same mix and looks for the best. At Hill House, we recall a 50ish, lawyerly-looking husband and wife who were seated at breakfast next to two men who had driven their choppers down from Pittsburgh. When we first looked, each were leaning in their chairs as far away as possible from the other couple. At the end of breakfast, all wanted refills on their coffee.
One of the places in Asheville that's most overlooked by visitors is the magical little village of Montreat, just north up the hill from Black Mountain and about 30 minutes from downtown Asheville.
It's not a village in the traditional sense. It's a 100-year-old-plus Presbyterian college and big-time retreat/conference center. Perched on the side of a mountain with a small creek running through its center and a lake off to one side, Montreat's 50-or-so buildings make a setting that time almost has forgotten.
Twenty-one hiking trails run through the property's 4000 acres. In the summer months, there are paddle boats, canoes, and tennis. The inn and conference center's dining room is open to the general public and there's a general store for refreshments and souvenirs.
Asheville is the first American city to earn the official designation of being a Green Dining Destination™. This month, Asheville met its goal of having 16 Certified Green Restaurants® throughout the city, all of which have met the GRA’s rigorous certification standards.
Asheville’s Certified Green Restaurants® are leading the way toward zero waste, energy independence, and sustainable food, said Mayor Terry Bellamy. “The Asheville area prides itself on a food culture that embraces fresh, innovative cuisine that integrates product from local growers and artisan food producers,” Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Stephanie Brown noted.
All of Asheville’s Certified Green Restaurant® have met the GRA's rigorous certification standards by earning at least 100 GreenPoints™ in the categories of food, water, waste, energy, chemicals, and disposables. Additionally, each Certified Green Restaurant® has eliminated use of polystyrene foam, (aka StyroFoam™), and has implemented a full-scale recycling program.
The 16 Certified Green Restaurants® in the city are:
- The French Broad Chocolate Lounge
- Laughing Seed Cafe,
- Luella’s Bar-B-Que
- Plant Restaurant
- Neo Cantina
- Posana Cafe
- Rosetta’s Kitchen
- Strada Italiano
- The Corner Kitchen
- The Green Sage
- The Green Sage South
- Tupelo Honey Café
- Tupelo Honey Cafe South
- Cedric’s Tavern on the Biltmore Estate
“We are thrilled to be one of the Certified Green Restaurants® that has helped Asheville become the nation’s first Green Dining Destination™," says Randy Tally from The Green Sage.
Leslie H. Armstrong from Plant Restaurant adds, “Our customers care greatly about the environmental impact of the restaurants they visit. Because our menu is exclusively plant-based, our ecological footprint is inherently light. As a Certified Green Restaurant®, we’re pleased that we can provide transparent details about how we've become even more environmentally sustainable across our operations.”
Green-minded consumers can easily locate the continually expanding list of Certified Green Restaurants® online by visiting DinegreenAsheville.com, which also features the detailed environmental accomplishments of each location. Further, on the website, diners can learn more about the environmental impact of the restaurant industry, and encourage even more local restaurants to go green.
“As a Green Dining Destination™, Asheville truly satisfies the 79% of people who prefer to dine at Certified Green Restaurants®,” says Michael Oshman, CEO and Founder of the Green Restaurant Association. “We are proud of Asheville’s Certified Green Restaurants®, and we are proud to have worked with AIR and BRSI to help Asheville achieve this historic accomplishment.
For details on the GRA’s Certification Standards, visit: www.dinegreen.com/restaurants/standards.asp
For a list of Asheville’s Certified Green Restaurants®, visit: www.DineGreenAsheville.com/restaurants.html
About the Green Restaurant Association
The Green Restaurant Association is a national non-profit organization that provides the only official Certified Green Restaurants® mark in the country. For 22 years, the GRA has pioneered the Green Restaurant® movement and has been the leading voice within the industry encouraging restaurants to listen to consumer demand and green their operations using transparent, science-based certification standards. For more information, visit www.dinegreen.com
About the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute
The Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute is a Western North Carolina non-profit that applies scientific research and advanced systems approaches to encourage fresh ideas in government and industry as well as providing practical tools for policymakers, educators, community activists, and entrepreneurs. Embracing a mission of ‘Knowledge into Action’, BRSI focuses on education, advocacy and action in support of regional, national, and international sustainability initiatives. For more information about BRSI, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.blueridgesustainability.org.