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If a city can be judged by its accolades, Asheville, North Carolina, has it all. In the last few years alone, it’s been touted as coolest, most romantic, friendliest and even happiest.
Asheville enjoys a spectacular setting in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the Great Smokies and surrounded by a million acres of forest lands. It is the largest city in western North Carolina and about 90 minutes from Charlotte.
It’s a growing foodie and music destination with an eclectic and well-established arts culture. In the mid-1980s, former industrial buildings started to transform into artists studios. Today, the River Arts District is home to some 200 artists in 22 buildings along a mile-long stretch of the French Broad River.
The area was little more than a country village when the railroad came to town in 1880 and changed everything. Asheville transformed from an area of farms and forests to a mountain resort. Within three years of the railroad’s arrival, the population nearly doubled and construction boomed. In 1889, George Washington Vanderbilt began construction on what is now the largest residence in America, the Biltmore Estate. He hired the leading architect of the era, Richard Morris Hunt, to build the 250-room French Renaissance chateau.
After the stock market crash of 1929, Asheville suffered a blow that impacted economic development for decades. The upside was that older buildings were never razed as part of any kind of urban renewal program. Thanks to preservation efforts, much of Asheville’s architecture looks like it did a century ago.
The Downtown Asheville Historic District comprises scores of buildings mostly built between the 1890s and 1940s. New luxury condominiums, as well as units converted from historic buildings, are available to buyers who enjoy the benefits of urban living. Elsewhere around the region are country estates, custom residences in golf club communities and stately homes. Lakeview Park, set around Beaver Lake, is a flagship neighborhood with a Gatsby-era sensibility. Biltmore Forest, adjacent to the Biltmore Estate, is a secluded, old money area, while Biltmore Park with its own share of grand estates, is set against a backdrop of mountains and forests.