Scenic Serenity, Cozy Wellness + Major Art and Music News
This year, weather experts are predicting a warmer winter for the Southeast U.S., possibly bringing more opportunities to enjoy Asheville’s walkable downtown, dine at outdoor patios or in a city “parklet” and to social distance and refresh on a nearby mountainside. Often underrated, winter in Asheville is a bit of a secret season in a Blue Ridge Mountain city world-famous for fall color and lush summer adventure.
According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, La Niña, an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that impacts weather around the globe, will create milder and drier-than-normal conditions for much of winter in the southeastern part of the country.
With or without the help of La Niña, Asheville typically experiences a moderate winter, great for enjoying the outdoors and picture-perfect long-range views of snowy peaks, whether from a cozy rooftop fire pit downtown or a hiking trail among the highest peaks in the Eastern U.S.
“While Asheville is technically ‘the mountains,’ our winters are decidedly more ‘Southern’ than ‘mountain,’” said N.C. Institute for Climate Studies Data Analyst Scott Stevens. “Our annual snowfall is not much more than 12 inches, and we rarely have single events more than 6-8 inches, keeping our winters mild compared to anywhere in the Northern U.S. or the mountains of the West.”
Just a day’s drive (or less) for 50 percent of the nation’s population, Asheville offers new and iconic experiences for the winter 2020-2021 season. Wellness offerings, panoramic views from fireplaces in epic locales, the best travel rates of the year and the city’s secret season for music make winter a great time to take a road trip to Asheville. Find out more at ExploreAsheville.com/winter.
Winter Wellness & Brisk Outdoor Adventures: Heal your soul in Asheville’s century-old wellness culture by tapping into offerings like mountainside hot tubs, a subterranean spa with hydrotherapy waterfalls, a Chinese medicine tearoom, salt caves, forest bathing and sound-healing sessions. Looking for inspiration? Stroll through Asheville’s arts district or take a winter hike to a panoramic mountain view. Multiple trailhead access points remain open all year long on the Blue Ridge Parkway and across Pisgah National Forest.
- Asheville’s colorful art and warehouse district along the French Broad River, the River Arts District, is coming into a new era as a walkable riverfront destination and entertainment district. This winter, a longer, improved greenway with art-infused pedestrian connectivity offers visitors a new way to experience this intensely creative area by foot or bike, or kayak (on warmer days) via new river access points. Watch artists working in studios, wander to airy wine bars or sample famous barbecue in a street-art-filled courtyard.
- Namaste in Nature, a local wellness tour company, will continue their guided in-person waterfall yoga hikes this winter, weather permitting, of course. Choose between a hike that goes to one relaxing waterfall or a hike that hits multiple waterfalls along the way. If temperatures do drop, guests may get the magical experience of Zen next to a frozen waterfall.
- Just opened, a multiuse trail system overlooking the French Broad River joins Asheville’s urban offerings for outdoor enthusiasts. Richmond Hill Park’s renovation was designed with mountain bikers and hikers in mind. The roughly 5-mile system will support mountain-bike skill development with options for beginners and advanced riders, including young children on balance bikes.
- New this year, the Asheville Hike Finder is now available on Alexa. Simply search “Asheville Hike Finder” in your Alexa app and enable for insider guidance as you select trails for views, waterfalls and skill level.
Secret Season for Music: Deep-seated bluegrass roots harmonize with new talent and innovative sounds in Asheville. In winter, many nationally traveling local bands come home to the region to play shows and pop in to jam sessions. While things look different this year, some venues are expanding their offerings outdoors to keep the soul of the city beating.
- The South Slope district’s brand-new outdoor event venue, Rabbit Rabbit, will offer live music, movie screenings, local beer and food trucks this winter. The colorful, funky space will also be transformed into a winter wonderland in late November with holiday décor, lighting and themed holiday and winter drink menus. The space is a collaboration between Asheville Brewing Company and iconic music venue The Orange Peel.
- Keep an eye out for Asheville music venue The Grey Eagle’s drive-in-style concerts in scenic locations. Debuting this fall, the outdoor shows offer beautiful natural backdrops and touring acts from the Southeast and beyond, like the Sam Bush Band.
- Just opened, Citizen Vinyl offers an immersive music experience with a record plant, independent record store and music café and bar, Session. Powerhouses of Asheville’s maker scene have combined on this project and include Gar Ragland (music producer and president of NewSong Music), Susannah Gebhart (OWL Bakery) and Chef Graham House (formerly of Sovereign Remedies). Local art gallery and shop Horse + Hero has curated an immersive music-themed gallery space and storefront in the record store.
Little-known bluegrass heritage: While making plans for the first-floor record plant and music café, it was recognized that the third floor of the building was once home to WWNC Radio and was the location where Bill Monroe (known as the “Father of Bluegrass”) and the Bluegrass Boys introduced the world to bluegrass music. Ragland’s studios are now located in the original WWNC Radio space, with original architectural details.
Winter Accommodation Packages + Rentals with Gourmet Kitchens: The off-season offers the best travel rates of the year with the added bonus of having natural attractions and cultural offerings all to yourself. Cozy travel packages include wellness opportunities and other winter adventures. Find more at ExploreAsheville.com/deals.
- Perfect for a rejuvenating getaway, the Peak Relaxation Package at the Foundry Hotel Asheville includes a welcome cocktail by the fire, private massage from Wake Foot Sanctuary, bedside breakfast and a romantic dinner for two at Benne on Eagle, Chef John Fleer’s celebration of the contributions of African American culinary culture on Appalachian and Southern food.
- Pinecrest Bed and Breakfast, in Asheville’s historic Montford district, is transitioning its unique “Al Fresco Dining offering” for the upcoming colder months. Guests will still be able to order dinner from neighborhood Italian restaurant Chiesa and have the meal delivered to the inn. This winter, the food will be served with real silverware and china and guests can enjoy a private meal in front of the inn’s parlor fireplace.
The inn will also be offering a “S’mores on the Terrace” upgrade that includes wood and the tools to start a fire, skewers and all the s’mores fixings.
- The area’s locally owned and home-grown rental companies are experts in finding a rental that meets your needs. Check out options with epic kitchens and dining rooms with a view, perfect for cooking a meal using local ingredients, warming up a chef-prepared meal kit or enjoying takeout from one of Asheville’s independent restaurants. (See takeout offerings here.)
Cultural Experiences Open Their Doors: Long-known as an arts colony with connections to the American Craft Revival and mid-20th-century avant-garde movements, the Asheville area features hundreds of fine artists, mountain crafters, folk artists, colorful arts neighborhoods and galleries that celebrate creativity.
- This winter, visitors can finally explore new museums that opened just before the pandemic with safety measures and capacity limits in place. The Asheville Art Museum, a new $24 million-plus, state-of-the-art building, features expanded gallery space, education facilities, an art library, a lecture and performance venue and a rooftop sculpture terrace and café with views of downtown architecture and the surrounding mountains. The Center for Craft, the leading organization in the U.S. identifying and convening craft makers, curators and researchers and matching them with resources, tools and networks, has also reopened with a new exhibition centered around issues of race, gender, immigration status and other pressing social and political issues.
- Another Asheville art center closed by the pandemic just shortly after debuting is LEAF Global Arts Center, a cornerstone in the continued rebirth of the city’s historical African American business district, The Block. The center now offers educational experiences for guests rooted in music, art, community and culture inclusivity via social distancing, a one-way path through exhibits and advance reservations.
- Just opened, Noir Collective AVL has an important mission as a retail space for Black entrepreneurs, artists, makers and social activists. The shop is in the YMI Cultural Center, which has a rich history as one of the nation’s oldest African American institutions dating back to 1893 and is located on The Block, the city’s historic Black business district.
Food Scene | Expanded Measures for Outdoor Dining This Winter + Openings: Winter is generally a time to book reservations that can be hard to come by spring through fall. This year, restaurants are facing the uncertainty of the pandemic and working with community leaders to sustain and extend outdoor dining options. A handful of new endeavors are also popping up.
- The “Asheville Shares Space” initiative that includes temporary “parklets” and shared streets has been expanded through Jan. 3, 2021, allowing businesses, like restaurants and retail, to expand into on-street parking areas for outdoor seating and continued operations with fresh air and space. The City of Asheville is also working with Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR) on guidelines regarding outdoor heaters, tents and other structures and lighting. AIR has also been involved with the group purchase of 200 gas heaters for any area businesses in need.
Chef Meherwan Irani (Chai Pani and Spicewalla Spice Factory) just announced the concept for his new space in Asheville’s Grove Arcade. Nani’s Rotisserie Chicken will focus on takeout-friendly American comfort food: roasted chicken, familiar sides, sweet rolls and salads. Having to make a pivot on original plans for the space, the concept is both a product of, and an answer to, the pandemic.
- Grind Coffee Co. in the River Arts District is a coffee café dedicated to social justice. Grind focuses on nurturing entrepreneurship under the guidance of Chef Gene Ettison and J. Hackett and is the first Black-owned coffee shop in Asheville. Equity memberships allow customers to support a burgeoning business owner. The café serves up Ettison’s Ashe-Hole donuts, branded coffee and other house-made treats.
- New in Asheville’s South Slope district, Pie.Zaa Pizza is serving massive, bigger-than-your-head slices of New York-style pizza from lunchtime through late-night. Collaborations are on the horizon with special slices incorporating flavors and ideas from other restaurants and breweries. Slices can also be delivered to nearby South Slope watering holes.
- New barbecue venture Ash & Brine has debuted as a pop-up restaurant at Asheville’s newest downtown brewery DSSOLVR. Operating on Thursdays and Fridays, Ash & Brine offers all-wood-smoked meats and innovative sides and small plates like grilled radish with mint, pistachio and honey-truffle chevre.
- To the delight of locals and visitors, Asheville Ethiopian restaurant Addissae will soon reopen under new ownership after being shuttered during the pandemic. The restaurant serves traditional Ethiopian food in a family-style format.
Gourmet To-Go + Coolest/Nerdiest Night-In Upgrade Idea: For those wanting a night in, Asheville businesses are also offering gourmet meal kits and quirky rental options. New to-go options perfect for travelers with safety and flexibility in mind:
Ashley Capps, a 2019 James Beard semifinalist for “Outstanding Pastry Chef,” has started New Stock, a weekly, curated box-meal pickup and delivery service, perfect for an extended rental stay.
For a quicker pickup, check out Bodega on Broadway, a pandemic-pivot for bar and restaurant owner Charlie Hodge of Sovereign Remedies. Shifting gears on his latest bar venture, Hodge and Sovereign chef Bert Sheffield are offering charcuterie, sandwiches and vegetarian and vegan burritos alongside bodega staples and sundries. The former stage will soon be a Disco Deli with a portion of sales going to a local nonprofit supporting independent businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.
Chef Katie Button (with six James Beard nominations in the last eight years) has created La Bodega, offering takeout paella, favorites from her restaurant Cúrate and Spanish specialty food and wine. After years of leading trips to Spain, creating award-winning wine lists and building relationships with wineries and importers, Chef Katie and husband and beverage curator Felix Meana have just launched their Cúrate Spanish Wine Club. Members will receive three bottles monthly, discounts on wines available in their online store and a newsletter with recipes and pairing ideas.
Forestry Camp has set up Camp Grocery, an extension of the restaurant’s whole-animal program and Chef de Cuisine JT DeBrie’s long-standing expertise in butchery and partnership with local farms. Menu items include smoked chicken salad, whole trout, bacon and whole smoked chicken.
Well Played Board Game Café is now offering its 600-game inventory to travelers wanting to spend the night in. Game rental is available online, and snacks and beverages (including beer and wine) are also available for pickup. The café is following strict safety guidelines and all games are sanitized using a commercial ozone generator (used by hospitals). May we suggest Asheville-opoly?
Round off the evening with Highland Brewing Company’s Cold Mountain, the perennial holiday favorite with notes of vanilla, hazelnut, dark fruit and cinnamon. This year the release festivities (Nov. 6-14) will look a bit different with 10 days of drive-thru pickup, virtual events, on-site exclusives like holiday packs and Coconut Cold Mountain and timed entries to visit the taproom. If you miss the event, the beer is available in local stores, beer shops and restaurants during the holiday season.
(Photos: The Asheville Art Museum and Explore Asheville)