Vail Daily travel: Health and wealth in Asheville, with decadent mansions and healing salt caves
Special to the Daily
George W. Vanderbilt had traveled the world by the time he cherry-picked Asheville, North Carolina, as his country respite from Manhattan life. As the grandson of one of the wealthiest Americans of the 19th century, his choice speaks to Asheville’s natural allure, filled with rivers undulating through forested valleys and mountain peaks defined by bluish layers traced upon the horizon.
Many people consider Asheville the South’s version of Boulder, and in terms of its general atmosphere, they’re spot on. You’ll find Buddhist tea houses and meditation sanctuaries, young hippies and old folk musicians playing on downtown street corners, trendy cafes, healing arts stores and yoga studios and historical homes lined with deciduous trees.
But Asheville holds much more than Boulder in terms of ostentatious mansions — as well as unique, healing hideaways.
You could get a free, or relatively inexpensive, taste of the finer things in life by roaming through the Omni Grove Park Inn, where photos of the rich and famous who have slept at Grove Park Inn line the walls (www.omnihotels.com/asheville). Though it’s a treat to stay at the inn, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy its Southern hospitality.
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The least expensive involves exploring the 100-plus-year-old building, from its enormous stone fireplaces (if you think you’ve seen large fireplaces in the Vail Valley, then just you wait) to its underground passage leading to the spa, which offers the finest treatments, indoor and outdoor pools, yoga and more. Grab a to-go meal (the quinoa is a great deal), a homemade pizza or a latte, and enjoy both the mountain and architectural views of the inn from a cozy chair, or relax on the terrace with a cocktail. Then, take a hike on the Sunset Trail.
For a more in-depth experience of the inn, play a round on the renowned Donald Ross designed golf course, with its tree-lined fairways and rolling greens. And, of course, the best way to feel luxe at Grove Park is to stay in one of its historical guest rooms.
Not to miss: Biltmore
Some might balk at the cost of the Biltmore’s admission (about $50 to $60) and brush it off, but spending at least a half day at the Biltmore is essential when visiting Asheville; it’s the most exquisite mansion you’ll ever step foot into — and that’s not to mention the miles of grounds, which include ponds and a conservatory; Italian, shrub, spring, rose and azalea gardens; carriage barns and the winery, where you can sample Biltmore wines, which rank in the top 1 percent among the nation’s wine brands (www.biltmore.com).
The Biltmore is the largest private home in the United States; its driveway alone is 3 miles long. After six years of construction, using nearly 5,000 tons of Indiana limestone, the 175,000-square-foot estate (that’s 4 acres) opened its doors to elite friends and family in 1895.
The French Renaissance chateau is an absolute wonder, with its soaring glass roof housing a “winter garden” near the entryway; its seven-story-high banquet hall (complete with a 1916 Skinner pipe organ in the loft); its two-story library (punctuated by a wrap-around balcony) that housed 23,000 books Vanderbilt personally collected; and its 90-foot-long tapestry gallery, which showcases Flemish tapestries from the 1530s and three of the seven religious tapestries known as “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues.”
Vanderbilt was one of the first to install a bowling alley, pool and “state-of-the-art” fitness room. At the time, chemicals didn’t exist to keep the 70,000-gallon pool sanitary, so he filled it for parties and special guests and then drained it a few days later. The chateau’s 33 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces, 43 bathrooms and three kitchens speak to Vanderbilt’s extravagant vision, as well as the mastery of renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt.
It takes 1,800 employees to keep the Biltmore running. Any season is a splendid one to visit, as spring ushers in the Festival of Flowers, with 100,000 tulips, daffodils and other bulb flowers; summer bursts with water lilies, ornamental shrubs, bold summer annuals and roses; fall glimmers with golden and reddish leaves throughout the grounds and themed areas, with yellow, red, orange and purple mums; and winter shines, as more than 50 trees illuminate the Biltmore House — the crowning jewel being a 35-foot Christmas tree in the banquet hall — and many more brightly light the grounds.
Healthy side of Asheville
Vanderbilt and Edwin Wiley Grove, visionary of the Grove Park Inn, built their properties to support and encourage health, and Asheville still resonates with healthy-living lifestyle.
The Asheville Wellness Tour allows visitors to delve into three areas: a salt cave, a yoga tour including savasana, which helps the body reset itself, and Wake, a foot sanctuary offering handmade soaps, salts and pure oils (www.ashevillesaltcave.com/ashevilles-wellness-tour).
If you can just choose one healthy locale in Asheville, then head to Asheville’s Salt Cave, the nation’s only sustainable, growing salt cave built solely of natural materials (salt, wood and water). A large fountain and salt blocks mined from the Dead Sea, Poland and the Himalayans create a healing microclimate.
The Appels brought in a team from Poland after nearly three years of researching how to create a proper salt-crystal microclimate. Owner Beth Appel said they became inspired after a 45-minute session in a salt cave relieved her husband’s chronic asthma for weeks. In addition to respiratory problems, salt therapy has been employed by various cultures for hundreds of years to treat skin issues, arthritis, depression, digestive ailments, migraines, insomnia and even poor concentration. Its negative ions are believed to increase serotonin and flow of oxygen to the brain, as well as contribute to a sterile environment. The heated salt crystals also release 84 trace minerals and elements essential to human’s health.
Unlike most other caves, the Asheville Salt Cave surrounds visitors in 20 tons of salt, from the ceiling pieces and crushed pebbles on the floor (which you’re welcome to play with, place a handful on your forehead or otherwise indulge in) to the large, up to 300-pound chunks emanating from the dimly lit walls. Zero-gravity lounge chairs and an initial guided meditation enable guests to relax and restore in 45-minute sessions.
However you decide to tour Asheville — be it health, wealth or both — you’ll find some of the best natural resources intertwined with architecture and innovation, which make for a thoroughly enchanting Southern stay.