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For more than two centuries, Pack Square has marked the center of downtown. As Asheville has grown from a small country town to a metropolitan area, Vance Monument and the fountain on Pack Square have remained icons of the bustling city. Visit the art museum, sit and enjoy a mocha latte, have dinner at an outdoor café and people-watch as visitors and residents alike are drawn to the sounds of live music drifting from surrounding restaurants and clubs. The city's Renaissance Plan for the square assures a promising future.
One of the crown jewels of Asheville, Biltmore Estate seamlessly chronicles the legendary lineage of the Vanderbilts. Nestled in the sprawling Blue Ridge Mountains, the house was built between 1889 and 1895 by architect Richard Morris Hunt as the summer estate of George Washington Vanderbilt II. At its heart is the Biltmore House, a four-story mansion inspired by the Châteauesque architectural style in France and England, which is an iconic vestige of the Gilded Age. With 250 rooms encompassing 8000 acres (3237 hectares), it is one of the biggest private homes in the country. Replete with furniture, artwork and antiques which only exude grandeur, the house shelters an array of opulent spaces like the enormous Banquet Hall and George Vanderbilt's master bedroom. Perhaps one of the highlights of the house is the extra-ordinary detailing which resides in its recesses. Complete with carved paneling, gilded ornamentation and intricate ceiling work, this grandiose house is a canopy of unabashed magnificence fused with elegance. Fronting the house are the marvelous gardens which have been modeled on Victorian landscaping principles, complete with delightful foliage and blooming, vibrant flowers. Designated a National Historic Landmark, the house also harbors restaurants, shops, an inn and a gorgeous winery and a rooftop which affords breathtaking views of its surrounding environs.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most traveled in the US National Park system. The scenic thoroughfare is 470 miles long and passes through the mountains of the Shenandoah to the Great Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina. Some of the more popular stops in the area are Linville Gorge, Craggy Gardens and Graveyard Fields.
Chimney Rock Park is an American heritage site and a popular destination for nature-lovers, who may recognize some of the landscape from scenes in the movie The Last of the Mohicans (1992). This 1000 acre park with its hiking trails, magnificent hill-top views and a 404-foot (123-meter) waterfall makes any trip an unforgettable experience. Some of the finest attractions are the 315 foot Chimney Hill with its 75-mile (121-kilometer) panoramic view, the Hickory Nut Falls, the Opera Box and the several caves. The top of Chimney Rock itself is accessible by stairways and bridges, as well as a 26-story elevator that was built directly inside the mountain. The admission fees are USD14 for adults, USD6 for children (6-15 years) and children under 6 years are admitted at no charge. There are also discounts for groups of 20 or more; see website for more information.
The river is calling. French Broad Rafting Company offers river sports for all ages and all levels of water experience. If you're after thrills, go on one of the whitewater excursions. There are two levels: calm water (an introduction) and faster rapids. Both offer an experienced guide to lead and all equipment and refreshments are provided. Trips last 3 to 4 hours. Canoes, funkyaks and rafts are available to rent and use on a calmer section. With no guide, trips last about 3 hours. Call for details.
There is much fun to be had in them there hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If the natural beauty of the mountains is not enough to keep you busy with sightseeing, then check out all there is to do at The Cradle of Forestry. There are guided tours, restored historic buildings, exhibits, a gift shop and more. Kids will certainly enjoy seeing the restored locomotive and wandering the forest.