Theres something about western North Carolina for South Floridians. The regions are alike in that their respective hubs, Asheville and Miami, have a rich resort heritage. Yet their topography and vegetation couldnt be more different. The undeniable, decades-long link has not only resulted in the recent addition of direct flights between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and the Regional Asheville Airport, but a term for Floridian transplants, who make up the largest in-migration demographic following those from other parts of North Carolina, according to the Asheville Board of Realtors. Known as halfbacks, they originally hail from the Northeast, work and raise children in South Florida, and semi- or fully retire in the Blue Ridge Mountains, halfway back up the East Coast. South Floridians come for the views and stay for the lifestyle, says Debbie Williams, an executive vice president for Beverly-Hanks & Associates real estate firm, who cites other perks like four mild seasons, excellent health care and minimal traffic. The connections so strong that if Miamis economy hiccups, we feel it.
Since leaf peeping offers a splendid excuse to explore this area, heres a glimpse of Asheville life from the Biltmore Estate to breweries.
Checking In Part of Omni Resorts, the Grove Park Inn celebrates its centennial with a $25 million makeover of the granite-boulder behemoth. Its refurbished great hall enchants guests, who dont have to go far for regional dishes and drinks, like Carolina Scotch eggs and craft ales, thanks to the addition of on-site eatery Edison. Staying at the Inn on Biltmore Estate is the next best thing to scoring an invitation to spend the night at the Vanderbilts famed American version of a French chateau on 125,000 acres. Foodies come for its lavish breakfast spread and seasonal, five-course tasting menus such as Octobers, which is paired with house and local microbrews. Dont miss the familys treasured tomes in the lobby library. Central to the Grand Bohemian Hotels hunting lodge theme is a red stag, which appears in the lobbys commissioned oil painting by Mitch Kolbe and also serves as the namesake for the resorts acclaimed grill, where Sunburst trout is among the farm-to-table menus bounty. For beautiful views of Biltmore Village, book a room facing Lodge Street or Boston Way. Experience fall foliage on one of their Picnics on the Parkway packages, which includes a guided hike and gourmet basket lunch.
Elevated Edibles World-class chefs, coupled with haute hippies, have fostered a local food movement thats now on par with Portland. Octobers big news is the opening of Rhubarb restaurant by John Fleer, a James Beard semi-finalist with a cult following from his years at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. Fine dining ranges from the very established Table (where a progressive menu changes daily and diners can pop into Imperial Life, the grown-up bar thats right upstairs) to newcomer Chestnut, whose location in a circa-1924 hardware store with original tin ceiling gets as much attention as its home-cooked lobster bisque thats topped with locally made Troy & Sons moonshine. At Curate, chef Katie Button performs her passion for molecular gastronomy, which she gleaned in the kitchens of Spains El Bulli and Los Angeles' The Bazaar.