April 29, 2008

Gas prices soar, tourism still in good spirits

The recession and painful gas prices are putting a damper on tourism and traveler's spirits all over the country, but Asheville seems to offer a balm for both.

Never fear, East Coast travel-lovers!
Can't afford to fly to Europe (man the Dollar-to-Euro ratio is a bummer right now) and don't want to spend the money to drive great distances? Asheville is a great place to visit when trying to keep your travel cost low but still wanting lots to see and do.

Asheville, for those who don't know, offers a combination of activities to suit any desires:
Culture - art galleries, performances, festivals, shopping, historic sites
Outdoor activities - hiking, swimming, rafting, Blue Ridge Parkway
Pampering - Tons of spas, outdoor hot tubs in Hot Springs, NC
So, no matter what you are looking for in a destination, a trip to Asheville and WNC can be molded to whatever kind of trip you want to take.

Never fear, Asheville!
Looks like the tourist industry is "cautiously optimistic" about this year's tourist season, pretty much for the reasons listed above ("Tourism will likely stay strong despite economy"). Asheville is a really wonderful place (we know, we chose to live here!) that is convenient to a lot of people in the South East, or even up and down the East Coast.

This is pretty pertinent to those who live here, too. The more money tourism brings in, the more locals get to take advantage of the festivals, traveling Broadway performances, great bands, and other fun things that brought us all to Asheville in the first place. So, if this subject interests you, check out the Asheville Citizen-Times linked above.

April 24, 2008

Cool Asheville Things (in brief)

Cool Asheville Thing #1:
Today is Dining out for Life. Eat lunch or dinner at participating restaurant and proceeds go to the Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP), a group that helps provide a number of services to those with HIV/AIDS. See the huge list of participating restaurants (as well as more information on Dining out for Life).

Cool Asheville Thing #2:
Day in the Life of Asheville takes place each year, when anyone who wants to can take photos during the designated 24-hour period and submit them for judging. This year's photos can be see here.

This year also included Citizen Camera, in which disposable cameras were also placed all around downtown Asheville for passerby to take any picture they chose and then leave the camera for the next person. Apparently it was a big success, and you can view Citizen Camera photos here.

If you live in Asheville or know a lot of Ashevillians, it's worth checking out - you never know who you're going to see (I saw my roommate from my freshman year at UNCA)!
(To read more about DITLO Asheville and also Citizen Camera, see this blogasheville post.)

April 23, 2008

Downtown in Bloom (Flower Show)

The Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville hosts its 6th Annual flower show this weekend (Saturday, April 26 - Sunday, April 27). Flowers will be displayed inside and outside the building (which itself is beautiful to look at, even when it isn't covered with blooming flowers).

Various Informational Events and Workshops
Saturday, April 26
12:00 pm - Arbor Day Celebration with Susan Roderick (Director of Quality Forward)
1:00 pm - Everything You Wanted to Know About Honey Bees and Were Afraid to Ask; Chris Mathis (Owner of Spicewood Farms)
2:00 pm - Greening Your Wedding; Meredith Law of Aria Floral
3:00 pm - Sustainability in Your Garden; Alison Arnold (Director of Horticulture at the North Carolina Arboretum)

Sunday, April 27
1:30 pm - Bog Gardens; Josh Lynch (Owner of Carnivorous Plant Connection)
2:30 pm - Container Gardening; Peter Loewer (Author of The Wild Gardener)
3:30 pm - Quick Centerpieces with Fruit and Flowers; Betsey Baker (Horticulturist, Floral Department at Biltmore Estate)

Built by E.W. Grove, the visionary and creator of the Grove Park Inn, the Grove Arcade opened in 1929 and thrived until World War II as one of the country's leading public markets. The historically renovated Grove Arcade reopened to the public in 2002 as a destination featuring boutique shopping, exciting dining and regional crafts in a beloved downtown architectural wonder.
-Grove Arcade Web site

Read more about this historic building's interesting background.

April 21, 2008

Orange Peel featured in Rolling Stone Magazine

Rolling Stone magazine just named the Orange Peel one of the nation's top 5 best rock clubs. (I was betting last summer's extended visit by the Smashing Pumpkins must have helped, the Rolling Stone write-up confirmed that.) The magazine hit the shelves Friday, but you can see the online version here.

Okay, okay so I'm behind in the times a little with this tidbit. I did hear about it last week on our local NPR station (WCQS) but hadn't mentioned it in the blog. Ashvegas gets credit for being ahead of the game something like over a week ago. See: Still speculating on Rolling Stones pick of Asheville rock club, Rolling Stone: Orange Peel one of top 5 music clubs in the US (includes a tidbit from the Asheville Citizen-Times article).

April 16, 2008

Asheville Poll

UPDATE: Some folks over at BlogAsheville have expressed discontent with the poll choices. This was a quickie Hot or Not? #1, more will follow. Please, comment with ideas for #2 and I will definitely use them!!

Asheville Spots: Hot or Not?

I've created a small poll, just for fun, to gather responses about local Asheville spots. If you live in Asheville or have visited before, feel free to give your opinion on quintessential Asheville downtown and Biltmore Estate stuff! Did you love it, hate it, just think it was overrated? Let it out...

April 11, 2008

Nutty for fitness? WNC vacations keep you healthy.

In a society that loves getting and staying fit, the concept of a vacation can throw your health routine into a downward spiral! Just think... sleeping as late as you want and eating as much as you want?!

Well, even if your vacation puts your 7pm pilates or aerobics class on hold, and you want to eat your way through a new destination, there are ways to enjoy vacation and still keep your health (and weight) where you want it to be.

Asheville and the WNC area are perfect destinations for this type of vacation. Even the many delicious restaurants in town tend to be health-conscious and (very, very) vegetarian friendly. In fact, I'm spoiled by living in Asheville - I can eat out at nearly any local restaurant and have several healthy, vegetarian options. When I go to most new places or other cities I forget the norm is a (chain restaurant) menu full of options synonymous to big, fatty steak dinner plates!
See the restaurant links to the bottom right for local restaurants and their Ashevillian-style menus.

Aside from healthy eating your way through downtown Asheville, you can add a desert every now and then too, without feeling guilty. This is a destination for walkers, and even those who hate exercise won't notice they're doing something healthy. Walk around downtown Asheville all afternoon. Walk around Biltmore Estate house and gardens (an all-day, on-foot event). Hike among your vast choices of trails and views from Black Mountain to the Tennessee border. The sights are plenty distraction from what your feet and legs are doing!

For novice hikers, check out this article on the benefits of hiking and getting started.

Happy (& healthy) vacationing!

April 10, 2008

Biltmore Festival Package - only available until May 17!

Stay in the Biltmore Condos anytime from now until May 17 to take advantage of a great Biltmore package, valued at $130, for just $8 above the regular rate for 2 nights at the Condos.

For $8 extra dollars on the 2 night rate, guests receive:
--2 tickets to Biltmore's Festival of Flowers valid for 2 consecutive days. (Regular priced Festival tickets are $45-49, and are only valid for one day.)
--A $40 gift certificate to the Corner Kitchen.

To read more about the Biltmore Luxury Condos, see this post from Feb 24.

Biltmore Festival Package Description:
Enjoy the best the Biltmore area has to offer - relax in luxury at your Biltmore Condo, enjoy great, homestyle food at Biltmore Village's Corner Kitchen, and enjoy Biltmore Estate's Festival of Flowers at two days for the price of one!

Start your morning with a delicious, hot breakfast one short block from your condo. Featured in Southern Living magazine, Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village is recommended by locals and visitors alike. After breakfast, travel across the street to the Biltmore Estate entrance to see over 90,000 blooming tulips at the Festival of Flowers.

To read more about the Biltmore Estate's Festival of Flowers, see this post from Mar 26.

Tip: As I wrote in the Biltmore Festival of Flowers post, the 2 day tickets to Biltmore Estate are awesome. Use your tickets to spend one morning or afternoon on the house tour, and the next half-day around the gardens. This way you'll still have the energy to experience at least some of the other wonderful activities and sights Asheville and WNC has to offer!

Package Pricing:
For parties of 2: $710 plus tax
(Package savings of $130, condo rate without package $702)

Available Condos:
The Chateau A-100
The Hideaway A-130
The Retreat B-102
The Villa B-100

April 7, 2008

Good Wi-Fi spots for visitors

Although many of our properties at Carolina Mornings have high-speed Internet, there may be several reasons a visitor (or even a local) might want or need to know about the best Wi-Fi coffee shops in town. So here's a list:

The Dripolator-
Easy to find, downtown on Biltmore Ave.
Great atmosphere, great coffee, great food.
There is a free parking lot, but it's likely to be full, this place is popular.

Gourmet Perks
I add this with some unfortunate reluctance. Until the past few months this was my favorite place to grab a great cup of coffee, really tasty and cheap breakfast sandwich, and settle in to get some good work done. But I've had a series of negative experiences, mostly involving the staff and some quality control issues (man, burnt croissants taste really awful). I keep thinking - desperately hoping - it will get more reliable again!
Regardless, it's a convenient location (on Merrimon Ave, between UNCA's campus and downtown) and a spot to grab free wireless and a decent cup of coffee.

Mountain Java-
(Used to be Port City Java, not a great chain but better than this independent version. An employee easily confessed with a tone, I noticed, of bitterness, that the owner de-franchised himself to get more money.)
Convenient with several locations, covering every side of town. Sub par drinks, but great tables for spreading out and getting some work done. Can't lose if you're looking for a cup of hot tea, a muffin, and lots of elbow room.

Well-Bred Bakery-
A perfect choice for anyone on the Weaverville side of things. Really great deserts and pastries, good specialty side dishes (quiche, salad, veggies, etc) that make a good meal or snack. Plus the drinks are consistently good. The place is really cozy and the Wi-Fi reliable. Keep in mind your cell phone may not work, Weaverville in general has spotty phone service (Verizon appears to be the best).

BlogAsheville also has a good entry on this topic, with some helpful comments.

April 4, 2008

Dragon boat race & festival

I stumbled upon this really amazing kids' fundraiser being held at Lake Lure, Lure of the Dragons.

The event is being held at Lake Lure, the site of Dirty Dancing and a really beautiful and fun place to visit. (About 45 minutes from Asheville.)

Teams (anyone can sign up!) will race small dragon boats just beginning to be exported from China - in fact, this is the first exclusive small boat race in the United States!

The race is held in concert with the Asian-American and Southern Culture Festival, which will offer all day food, crafts, music, dance, demonstrations, games, inflatable play park and a playground for the kids, and a picnic area.

And, the best part of the event is that all of the proceeds go to WNC non-profits or services that work to improve quality of life for children and teenagers.

The Lure of the Dragons - boat race & festival
May 10, 2008
8:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Morse Park at Lake Lure, NC

Read more about the event, beneficiaries, and how to sign up for a team at the Lure of the Dragons Web site link at the top of this blog entry.

For those who might be interested in traveling to the area and putting Lake Lure (and this event) on your itinerary, you may also want to check out the Asheville Mountain Discovery Pass, with a free ticket to Lake Lure Tours, and Chimney Rock Park.

Chimney Rock is minutes away from Lake Lure - which makes it
an easy extra for a short weekend in
WNC. The Park is open all day, and
tickets are $14 adult, $6 youth, free
under 6.

April 2, 2008

Asheville Mountain Discovery Pass

Carolina Mornings has teamed up with Amenity Services, Inc. to provide the first amenity pass of it's kind among WNC vacation rental properties.

Every guest reservation receives the Mountain Discovery Pass (MDP) as part of their stay. The pass includes free tickets for several area attractions, including Rock 'n' Water whitewater rafting, Lake Lure Tours, golfing at Reems Creek, Asheville Historic Trolley Tours and Asheville's Fun Depot.

Each amenity pass allows one free admission per paid night at any Carolina Mornings accommodations. To get the Asheville MDP in full detail, click here.

April 1, 2008

Ramp season - NC festivals

Although it doesn't sound like a name for an appetizing (though smelly) treat, 'ramp' actually refers to a vegetable, also known as wild leek, that grows wild in Appalachia every spring.

According to a National Geographic article, ramps come from the same family as onions, garlic, and scallions. Therefore, they taste like a 'garlicky onion' - which, in my opinion sounds YUMMY. Ramps, however, also make you stink. They have a strong pungent odor, which - like garlic - leaks out of your pores after consumption.

Ramps, native to our WNC mountains (and the rest of Appalachia), are harvested in the wild and only grow between the time the snow melts and the leaves come back on the trees. They grow in the Blue Ridge, Great Smokey Mountains, and the Appalachian Mountains.

Ramp festivals have become really popular among small-town locals and tourists - causing some to fear that the mass harvesting is harming the abundance of ramps. In fact, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in NC and TN has banned ramp harvesting since 2002.

Read this article, jam-packed with interesting tidbits about ramps.

If this interests you as much as it interested me (I didn't even know about it, and I'm a native North Carolinian who's lived in WNC for over 4 years!), check out some of the ramp festivals happening nearby. It's a great time of year to visit Western NC and Asheville, too.
  • Robbinsville Smokey Mountain Romp & Ramps Festival. Sat, April 26. Nature walks, workshops, music, and dinner. Stecoah Valley Arts Center. Call 800-470-3790.

  • Waynesville Ramp Festival - Sun, May 4. American Legion Field. Call 828-456-8691.

  • Crossnore Ramp Festival - May 24-25. Bluegrass music, dancing, and ramp recipes to try. Jim & Jennie's Music Barn and Campground. Call 828-733-2807.