There’s 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 couldn’t 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 connection’s so strong that if Miami’s economy hiccups, we feel it.”
Since leaf peeping offers a splendid excuse to explore this area, here’s a glimpse of Asheville life from the Biltmore Estate to breweries.
Checking InPart 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 don’t 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 Vanderbilt’s 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 October’s, which is paired with house and local microbrews. Don’t miss the family’s treasured tomes in the lobby library. Central to the Grand Bohemian Hotel’s hunting lodge theme is a red stag, which appears in the lobby’s commissioned oil painting by Mitch Kolbe and also serves as the namesake for the resort’s acclaimed grill, where Sunburst trout is among the farm-to-table menu’s 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 EdiblesWorld-class chefs, coupled with haute hippies, have fostered a local food movement that’s now on par with Portland. October’s 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 that’s 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 that’s 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 Spain’s El Bulli and Los Angeles' The Bazaar.
Don’t be fooled by appearances either. Housed in a car garage that’s been converted into a beer garden as part of the dilapidated South Slope district’s gentrification, Ben’s Tune-Up brews sake to complement beautiful Asian-inspired bites. It’s also worth booking a coveted table at chef owner Elliott Moss’ former gig, The Admiral, where gourmet grub meets hipster dive bar.
Bluegrass & BeerAfter a day in the woods, a cold beer calls. Asheville conveniently claims 16 breweries, the most per capita in the U.S. Though less than a year old, downtown’s Wicked Weed Brewing has released some 90 beers including traditional Belgian ales, West Coast-style, hoppy IPAs and its signature series aged in wood barrels formerly used for bourbon and rum. The two-story venue draws a younger crowd to its tap room and beer garden, while multiple generations hit the upstairs pub for organic fare and a full bar. Between browsing studios in the River Arts District, take a seat on stools fashioned from railroad cogs at Wedge Brewing Company. Around Halloween, its taps pour Golem, a frighteningly strong ale from Belgian pilsner malt.
Coming up on its 20th anniversary, the city’s oldest brewery, Highland, hosts complimentary live music on Fridays and Saturdays when its back meadow fills up with food trucks and families listening to bluegrass, rock and funk. Sip seasonal, Marzen-style Clawhammer lager, and wonder why all of Florida hasn’t already moved here.
Speaking of moving hereFor South Floridians, the area has become a popular spot to have seasonal and second homes. For one, you don’t have to live 20 miles outside the city for peace and privacy. The gated community of Biltmore Lake is designed like a state park with hiking trails and campsites; its Cedar Rock section is even more exclusive. Golfers also have options galore. When residents purchase a golf membership for the elite Cliffs at Walnut Cove, they can play six other private courses within approximately an hour’s drive. The Donald Ross-designed courses at Biltmore Forest and the Country Club of Asheville, as well as Tom Fazio’s for Champion Hills in nearby Hendersonville, are more top communities for the game. The Mayberry-esque town of Black Mountain offers several developments including the Village of Cheshire’s rustic, timber-frame homes. And families like Biltmore Park and Southcliff for outdoor activities and proximity to excellent schools, too. The popularity of in-town living has also produced a crop of condominiums like the Fitzgerald, whose residents have access to the Grove Park Inn’s amenities, and 21 Battery Park with long-range views.