The New Year’s Vacation: Part V

Part V of a six-part vacay: See I, II, III, and IV here.

Monday [Jan. 2d] was our last full day in Asheville, and I’d say we used it wisely. Bright and early Shaun, Grady and I hopped into the car and headed here:

g.w.v.'s house.

The Biltmore Estate, home of George Washington Vanderbilt [grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt], his wife Edith and their daughter Cornelia. Oh, and the largest private residence in the country. G.W. Vandy took his Vanderbilt inheritance and built this:


It’s a MONSTER of a house. Oh, and it has its own forest, complete with the first forestry school. At one point, it was completely self-sustaining – with farms, gardens, etc. Edith sold of most of the grounds to the government, because GWV’s will specified that he wanted it to be the beginning [and center] of Pisgah National Park; however, there’s still miles and miles of grounds to explore. In fact, the estate has its own village, with a church that Vandy built and funded himself. Right.

You couldn’t take photos inside, but suffice it to say the place was a nuthouse. 250 rooms. Multiple kitchens [because, I mean, who cooks pastries in a poultry kitchen?], a BOWLING ALLEY, an INDOOR POOL, a GYM, bazillions of bedrooms, a “great hall” with tons of animal heads and a 40-ft Christmas tree [and get this: Vandy didn’t even kill them himself, he just bought the biggest ones], tapestry rooms, you name it. It was fascinating. I mean, picture a room big enough to house a forty foot Christmas tree.

The tour was self-guided and supplemented by an audio headphone set. It took a few hours to get through the house, and I think Shaun left upset because the last leg was a “bachelor wing” – smoking rooms, gun rooms, game rooms – that put his man room to shame. And, P.S., the Vanderbilts loved large dogs. They had five St. Bernards in the house. Grady would have fit in just fine.

After we toured the house, we let Grady run around on the grounds for a bit [yep, even the Biltmore is pet-friendly] and then we headed down to the village to the winery [side note: the “village” was a 3.5 mile drive from the house itself, which was 2 miles from the entrance to the grounds, if that gives you an idea of size] and sampled a few of their wines. Overall it was pretty disappointing and mildly reminiscent of the tourist trap we C’Villains call Jefferson Vineyards, but they had a nice Chardonnay for the price [I think $11] so we snagged that for our souvenir. A few months from now we’ll crack it open and reminisce about how extravagant the Vanderbilts were.

We planned to check out 5 Walnut Wine Bar for some more reading/coffee/wine time after the Bilt; but it was closed for their staff holiday party. Instead, we decided to “hop,” something we used to do in C’Ville a lot on lazy days – try a drink and maybe a snack at a few different places over the course of the afternoon/evening. So here’s how it went down:

  • First: Lexington Avenue Brewery, a microbrewery serving only their own craft beers on draft. Unfortunately, they were out of quite a few of them [I’m beginning to wonder if New Year’s is really a good time to travel], but Shaun sampled their Belgian white and Oktoberfest. I opted for my first cocktail in a loooong time – the good ol’ old-fashioned. We shared a pretty bomb [and five dollar] hummus plate with smoked garlic, grilled jalapeno, mole, and black bean varieties. Win. This bar was HUGE, and I’d love to go back.


  • We hit a few dead-ends after that because tons of places we were hoping to check out [Zambra, Sazeracs, etc., cries] were closed for the “holiday” from the 1-5 of January, so we made a pit stop at Mast General Store. It was a pretty classic and cute old place in a giant industrial-style building, and they had a little bit of everything. Can’t say I didn’t almost walk out with yet another North Face product, but I resisted. Also resisted the candy from the candy bins, moccasins, dish towels with dogs on them [in retrospect, thank GOD I didn’t buy those], and a few flannels. Must have been the cocktail.
  • Pack’s Tavern is a two-story pub right off Pack Square Park that we had been walking by all week but never really had the urge to check out. We figured we’d give it a try since at that point we felt like everything was closed. We each tried a beer:  the Asheville Brewing Ninja Porter for me, and the Pisgah Nitro Stout for Shaun – both really delicious. It might just be because winter is my beer season, but North Carolina has some really strong brews. Pisgah Brewery is on our short list of places-to-go-when-we-go-back.

By this time it had begun to snow and we were getting really hungry [hummus does not a twelve-hour-fuel make], when I jumped out of my bar stool because I remembered Bouchon: a place we set aside in favor of all of the [now closed] vegan restaurants, but a place that did all-you-can-eat mussels on Mondays. For $15 a person. Um, yes. We braved the snowstorm and literally sprinted across the city, snagging the last two seats at the bar.

bistro on lexington.

Photo source.

We were greeted by Jen, a really great bartender, who treated us to a bottle of their house wine, the Cotes du Ventoux [remember, I said it would return?].

SO good.

Photo source.

It’s a really light but earthy red that they serve for only $14 a bottle. She even let us take a bottle to go [so yes, our only souvenirs from Asheville are beer and wine…] after we devoured delicious, delicious mussels all night. They had different flavors and styles, so I tried mussels in a simple garlic and wine sauce, a beer and mustard sauce, and a blue cheese sauce. The blue cheese broth was my favorite. We sat there for hours, chatting with one another and Jen, closing with a coffee and Frangelico [my all-time favorite nightcap combination] and truly couldn’t have had a better last night in town.

All-in-all, Asheville filled some gaping holes in my C’Ville life. For one, it was much less expensive. The town was certainly as proud of its local movement as ours; however, their vegan and vegetarian scene left something to be desired here in the ‘Ville. There was a lot of niche dining, such as wine bars and french bistro food [aka the inexpensive, sidewalk-style French food], that C’Ville doesn’t offer, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to try them out. They also had two noodle bars, one with vegetarian Pho, that I definitely need to try at some point.

As Shaun and I discussed it, though, because Asheville is much younger it’s possible it will soon go the way of C’Ville: their Arch’s will be replaced with Sweet Frogs and the chains and fancy dining will start to reign supreme. But for now, it truly is a paragon of localism, veganism, craft breweries, and culture. The most disappointing aspect of the city is how its residents treat it. Each morning the streets were covered with trash, beer cans, cigarettes, you name it. There didn’t seem to be a lot of respect for the young town.

I’d certainly go back – I want to spend more time at the Battery Park Book Exchange, try Zambra and Sazeracs, visit the breweries, hike the Botanical Gardens [something we planned for the 3rd before the snowstorm], eat at  a noodle bar, and check out a lot of the other places that were closed for the winter holiday.

For now, I’m happy to be back in Charlottesville, where I can get coffee before 10AM and club soda from the Belmont Market nextdoor.

Stay tuned for the final vacation post.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Beverages, Dog, Food


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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  1. The New Year’s Vacation: Part Now | Ryes and 'Shine - January 6, 2012

    […] Post navigation ← The New Year’s Vacation: Part V […]

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