WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012—One of North America’s most beautiful corners can make a valuable deposit in your travel memory bank, especially if you combine it with spiritual retreat, fellowship and Bible study.
Once upon a time, an American aristocrat named George Vanderbilt traveled from New York to the North Carolina mountains in search of peace, contentment, and personal reset. George liked what he found there so much that he went about acquiring 120,000 acres near Asheville and created his 250-room kingly country estate.
George hired the premiere landscape artist (Frederick Law Olmstead) and architect (Robert Morris Hunt) of his day to create his French Loire Chateau. When the house was completed in 1895 after six years of construction, it held most of Vanderbilt’s considerable fortune with its walls.
Biltmore House looks today very much like Vanderbilt left it, with its 16thcentury tapestries, Durer drawings, thousands of rare books, furniture, and paintings by Sargent and Renoir awesomely intact. Over a million visitors a year pass through the Biltmore’s opulent doors to marvel at the rare treasures that fill the rooms and speak eloquently of the Gilded Age. Estate visitors also enjoy its extensive gardens, equestrian and other outdoor estate sports, winery, and seven dining venues.
Outside the estate legacy George left behind, there’s everything the Asheville area offers - an eclectic arts and culture scene, some of the southeast’s standout lodgings, and the panoramic mountain scenery for enjoyment of hiking, river rafting, climbing and windshield touring. The Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway are both nearby.
Faith travelers have an additional lure just outside Asheville: The Cove , a 1,200-acre retreat and Bible study center established by Billy and Ruth Graham.
Within its peaceful and inspiring woodland campus, The Cove and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association offer a year ‘round roster of seminars, musical events, personal retreats, and church leadership training. The property includes a 70,000 square-foot training center, two inns, a visitor center and the Chatlos Memorial Chapel. Tours of The Cove are available to Asheville visitors who are not event participants.
Lodging at The Cove’s inns currently range from $129 to $249 for standard rooms, rooms with balconies overlooking the mountains, and suites. The higher rates apply during autumn months when foliage color is at peak.
Guest groups at The Cove may elect a per-person complete meeting price that covers meals and snacks, lodging, meeting space, wireless internet access, A/V services, and other group discounts.
Participants in The Cove’s events may also choose lodging at one the Southeast’s legendary lodgings. The Grove Park Inn, with its century of history, destination spa, arts and crafts design, was the choice of notables such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and U.S. presidents, and it remains a headliner today. The Biltmore Inn is the contemporary answer to hospitality on the Vanderbilt estate that offers comfort and elegance in its rooms and suites. Asheville’s many smaller inns, charming B&Bs, and mountain cabins are also in the lodging mix.
Out and About
Biltmore House isn’t the only legacy Vanderbilt left the Asheville region. His move to these southern mountains in the late 19th century attracted northeastern sophisticates to what was then rural backwater and opened the region to outsiders. Asheville became a sort of inclusive town that makes it different from many of its southern sisters.
Alternative opinions and lifestyles continue to find tolerance here, and Baptists and New Agers co-exist at peace in these woods. You can also find free thinkers from up north as well as Appalachian storytellers in the populace.
Ashville’s crafts scene is eclectic too, and offers traditional mountain folk art alongside the most avant-garde from Europe and the Northeast. Look for the array in downtown galleries and artist’s studios along the nearby French Broad riverfront.
The city’s Art Deco architecture is a draw as well. The building boom Vanderbilt put in motion lasted until the stock market crash of 1929, and much of what’s left from that era has been put to new use - like The Grove Arcade, where boutiques, restaurants and crafts galleries occupy the historic premises.
The surrounding North Carolina mountains are nonstop gorgeous in any season, and they pleasure scenery seekers as well as the most extreme adventure hounds.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, a mountain drive with an average elevation of 3,000 feet, offers spectacular scenery as it passes through thick forests under the gaze of lush surrounding mountains. And if the view from this highway lookout isn’t enough, you can head to the rocky granite tower that gave the 1,000-acre Chimney Rock Park its name. The rock is a 500- million year-old natural tower that soars 2,280 feet above sea level.
About an hour’s drive from Asheville is Grandfather Mountain in Linville, with elevations of over 5,000 feet. Along the way, there are lots of opportunities to stop, look, and listen – to the people who have always lived in these hills, the views, wildlife, and birds that brought George Vanderbilt to this region.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s columns about faith travel at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.
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