There is no question, Asheville is one of the hottest travel destinations these days. A quirky city full of personality, from music to cocktails, brews and food flavored like beer, the Blue Ridge Mountains is where people come to cut loose for the weekend. Beyond the obvious, we have a couple more reasons you should pay this bohemian paradise a visit.
Beer Flavored Doughnuts
Asheville is known far and wide for its craft brewery scene, so it makes total sense that someone would also begin infusing food with beer. At Vortex Doughnuts in South Slope, fried dough comes with two base choices: yeast or cake, that are topped with house made glazes including everything from pear hazelnut chocolate to strawberry lime. But for something that blends in perfectly with the neighborhood, we recommend the cardamom-anise and beer doughnut. The glaze is made with locally crafted beers and topped with malt, peanuts and pretzels giving it a bit of a Snickers-like taste.
Asheville Bee Charmer is a honey bar and boutique, which lets you sample more than 90 flavors of honey from around the world. While honey comes from as far as Tasmania here, it is the 13 local hives that are used to make the store's own unique infusions, including a chai spice and cocoa flavor, that are the real winners. Don't miss the smoking hot honey to pair with chicken and port.
Forage for Mushrooms
Asheville is also known as a foodie haven, especially for its local produce. One of my favorite unique experiences was mushroom foraging with Alan Muskat, better known as “The Mushroom Man of Asheville.” Alan's walking tour will take you hunting for wild edibles throughout Asheville and the surrounding area. There are more species of plants found in North Carolina than any other similar sized region on the continent. Afterwards, you'll dine at Market Place, a local restaurant, where executive chef William Dissen cooks up some of what has been gathered.
Hoof It with Blue Ridge Hiking Company
The Blue Ridge Mountains offer hundreds upon hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Sure, you can go at it on your own, but wouldn't you rather learn about the environment from a seasoned guide? Blue Ridge Hiking Company is run by Jennifer Pharr Davis and her husband. Davis is a world-class athlete. She's set the unofficial record for the fastest Appalachian Trail thru-hike when she did the 2,100-mile trail in just 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes in 2011 (yes, that averages a whopping 47 miles a day). She took me along Rattlesnake Lodge Trail, where you'll witness everything from blooming wildflowers to tiny bright red salamanders and the elegant lady slipper flowers the region is known for.
Play African Drums
Asheville has a strong music scene, and there are options to participate in it directly. One of the most fun? Learn to play African drums at downtown's Skinny Beats Drum Shop & Gallery. Group classes take place on Sundays and Wednesdays and are open to newcomers, but you can also signup for a private session. Owner Billy Zanski taught me to play both the Djembe, a goblet shaped skin hand drum and the Dunun, which you beat with a stick. It was here that I felt myself start to let loose and really get into the rhythm. At the beginning of the lesson, Billy had told me drumming was “healing and grounding.” Even after just one class, I found that to be true.
Pair Your Beer with Sake
Asheville has plenty of options for beer drinkers, but if you need a different flavor, head to Ben's Tune Up where you can pair your brew with sake. The name is derived from the building's former tenant as the space is a converted auto shop. Drink-wise, the home-brewed sake, which is also infused on-site, is what to order. Try a flight to taste all six that include a lemon ginger concoction and milky, unfiltered variations. Grab your beverages before heading to the courtyard for a bite.
Drink Your Cares Away
Speakeasies are also common in Asheville, but the best of the best is Top of the Monk. To find it (there's no sign), simply head to sister bar, Thirsty Monk and head upstairs. No more than 30 people are allowed in at a time, ensuring the atmosphere remains intimate and private. The drink menu is split between "classic quaffs," 100-year-old recipes and "modern tipple" that feature unique global concoctions. The coolest part of this experience, however, is after you order a cocktail, you'll be provided a key to retrieve a small complimentary serving of food from an old-fashioned P.O. Box. The "free lunch" (that most often includes a very salty snack meant to induce thirst so you'll order a second drink) is a tradition that's been left over from Prohibition.