Asheville, NC: part 1

 

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From Anderson we made our way to Asheville sometime in late March.  I’m terribly behind in updating this blog and am trying now to catch up in between being an adventurer, girlfriend, and mom.  Towers finally decided to get a drivers license and deal with his pesky wisdom teeth which means we’ve been spending some good quality time together. 😊  

Here is my take on Asheville.  Asheville is to NC what Austin is to Texas.  It’s full of artists, intellectuals, and open-minded people who are concerned with the environment, but not quite as concerned as San Franciscans, i.e. where are the recycling and compost bins guys?  The locals we spoke with about their state’s new law discriminating against the LGBT community seemed just as horrified as we were.

In less depressing news, the music scene is fantastic and their farm-to-table game is on.  Growing organic food and using it locally is so much a part of the culture here that I don’t think it occurred to anyone to make a big deal out of it the way we do in California.  Kind of like France doesn’t really understand why we have to certify everything that is organic because they assume everything is. A short 1 hour 45 minute drive from Anderson, SC has allowed us to explore this hidden gem for the past twenty years (see Anderson, SC post).

For this trip my sister suggested we stay on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate.  This turned out to be a fabulous idea.  Besides visiting the mansion, many activities awaited us, all connected to what life was like for George, Edith, and Cornelia Vanderbilt.  If you don’t know the story behind this house and the people who called it home, read the history on the Biltmore Estate website, link above.  It will capture your attention and transport you to another era and another way of life.

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It’s useful to know that the restaurant options on the estate were diverse and delicious!  You could stay 4 nights/5 days, eat every meal on the estate and never feel bored.  And with downtown Asheville a short 15 minute drive away, the options are endless.

Since the impetus for George building a house in Asheville was its famous fresh air  thought to aid in his mother’s pulmonary health issues, it was a perfect place for me to get the air I am searching for in my six months off.  When you look out over the Blue Ridge Mountains atop a meadow on the estate there really is nothing more for you to do but inhale deeply and slowly exhale for as long as you feel like it.

The agrarian way of life has played a leading role in life on the estate from the beginning.  If you know me at all you know that all I need is a garden, some dairy animals, maybe a donkey or two, some horses and chickens and I’m happy.  There are farms galore to explore on this estate, some working and some converted to exhibits to teach the history of farming at Biltmore.  Once a working dairy on the estate provided much of the milk to Asheville and the surrounding area.  Frederick Law Olmsted, an experienced farmer himself, who designed the estate’s landscape advised George to build the dairy farm so that he would have the volume of manure needed to treat the poor soil.  The estate originally sat on 125,000 acres but today sits on a mere 8,000.  Much less manure is needed.

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Edith was actively involved with the tenant farmers on the estate as well as the farming community in the surrounding area. Many historic photos of Edith working with farmers adorn the walls of the hotels and former barns now open for the public to enjoy. She became the first woman president of the State Agricultural Society and through this role established policies that benefited both farmers and the land. It is also said she used this role in her efforts to build a local hospital. There are still working farms on the estate and the food harvested is served in the estate’s restaurants.  I had to wonder if Downton Abbey’s character Lady Mary’s work with the tenant farmers of Downton was inspired by Edith Vanderbilt.

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