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Trips Worth Taking: Asheville, NC

Published on: May 1, 2013

Jeanne O'Connor Photo

Jeanne O'Connor Photo

Photo gallery below article.

By WARREN RESEN North American Journalists Association

Sitting on the western-facing slope of Sunset Mountain within the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina is the world renowned GROVE PARK INN. It was the final stop on our 2012 “See the USA” trip before heading back to Florida.

Driving up to the original stone and granite building for the first time was a sight that we will long remember. It was like being transported back to an earlier time when millionaires (a million was worth something back then) traveling with steamship-sized luggage, came here to relax and be seen. This historic resort hotel will be celebrating its 100th birthday in July 2013.

The main building was designed in an architectural style known as “Arts and Crafts.” The massive stone exterior and equally impressive Great Hall, which measures 120 feet across and features 24-foot ceilings, is devoid of the chrome, glass and marble elements used in today’s glitzy designs. Instead, the focus is on two gigantic 14-foot stone fireplaces which when in use give one the feeling of being in a luxurious hunting lodge or possibly even a castle.

Breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the sunsets can be seen on the adjacent side of the Great Hall on the Grand Patio. Every every day at sunset, the Grove Park Sunset Chime is sounded to celebrate the event. The resort’s Grand Lobby is also famous for the elevators hidden in the chimneys of the two fireplaces which transport guests staying in the historic old building to their rooms

Over the years, two wings, which hold most of the hotel’s accommodations, were added. The wing to the right of the Great Hall houses most of the hotel’s meeting rooms, restaurants, shops and is the showcase for historical artifacts and exhibits. There is so much history associated with the hotel, from its architecture, furniture, presidential guests, royalty and other famous personages that historic tours are available, including a self-guided audio tour.

An interesting feature of the hotel is that having been built on the mountain’s slope, rooms in the newer wings are below lobby level. It takes a little orientation to remember that getting to your room always means taking the elevator down.

The famous 40,000-square-foot subterranean Spa at the Grove Park Inn, of course, offers all of those amenities for which any deluxe spa is known. The difference here is the ambience. The spa is housed in a grotto-like setting which includes multiple pools with waterfalls. This $44 million spa placed #13 worldwide in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Hotel Spas in 2008.

A separate 50,000-square-foot sports complex has something for almost any enthusiast including a huge indoor pool and, of course, there is a championship golf course on the hotel’s extensive grounds. An unexpected bit of exercise we encountered was the walk to and from rooms.

The hotel is huge, and walking its halls will afford you all of the exercise needed to enjoy the food in one of its excellent restaurants. I estimated the distance from the Great Hall to my room at about one-half mile.

The Inn has 510 guest rooms, 42 meeting rooms and suites as well as pre-function areas and stunning outdoor terraces, patios and balconies. It can accommodate just about any event from weddings to business meetings and conventions. Nighttime entertainment is not overlooked. One of my favorite experiences was an evening enjoying the goings on at Elaine’s Dueling Piano Bar. But there is so much to see and do here that it’s up to you to decide.

Forgive me for not listing all of the amenities at the Grove Park Inn and going into more detail about each. The space allotted me for this article is not big enough to do it justice. Instead, go to their website and discover for yourself what this amazing place offers guests and visitors.

The Grove Park Inn is complete in and of itself. There is no reason to leave the property to satisfy your every wish for a unique vacation experience except possibly for two nearby attractions.

The Asheville area offers visitors opportunities other than driving the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the amazingly beautiful fall foliage. Just down the road from the Grove Park Inn is the delightful downtown of Asheville.

It has long been a haven for artists. Visiting the River Arts District will expose you to more than 180 artists plying their trade. Music lovers delight in Asheville’s variety of jazz clubs and country music venues. The Orange Peel, a converted roller rink, showcases contemporary arts. Woolworth Walk, a converted Woolworth store, is now a major gallery offering paintings, fiber arts, pottery, and glass sculpture. It even features an old-fashioned soda fountain. Perhaps you would care to sample some of the output, if you dare, of at least 15 local breweries.

A short drive will take you to the fabled Biltmore Estate, the largest single family home ever built in the United States. It was built by George Washington Vanderbilt who at the time was a 28-year-old bachelor.

The electric system for the house was designed by Thomas Edison and the size of the indoor pool has to be seen to be believed. Visitors can spend the better part of the day touring the house, adjoining structures and grounds.

This visit to Asheville was a fitting end to this portion of our USA road trip. After years of foreign travel, visiting the wonders of the world, we finally came home and at the urging of friends to see this country, we did so. In 2013, we will again hit the road, despite the price of gas. It’s a small price to pay to avoid the hassle at airports and not have to be concerned about revolutions and other disasters.

We have been fortunate to have traveled extensively and brought back many photos with which to relive our experiences of the places on those lists that tell you what you must see before you die. But by now I’ve seen enough stained glass windows to last a lifetime. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

This country is magnificent and huge. Anywhere else in the world each section of the USA would be considered a different county or culture. Even with the homogenization of the USA through the medium of TV and movies, local customs vary. Foods are regional as is the history of each section. And then there is the land. The green of the East and Southeast, the great plains that seem to go on forever, the vistas from the seacoasts, the mountains, the forests, it’s an everchanging kaleidoscope. There are no money-changing problems; people speak the same language, mostly.

The secret is to take your time and enjoy the experience, not see how many states you can cover in a given time. Traveling this country should be enjoyable and not be like the 1969 Hollywood movie, If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium. It should not be planned like a train schedule that has to be kept. Slow down and enjoy the journey.