Once a poor farming state, North Carolina now offers superb restaurants, glorious beaches and beautiful architecture and is well worth a visit to enjoy some Southern charm.
For many years, I made business trips to my company’s facility in Charlotte, North Carolina and I fell in love with the charm of North Carolina and its simple, honest lifestyles.
Our General Manager was a local so whenever we visited there was always something new to discover.
Once a poor farming state, North Carolina now offers superb restaurants, glorious beaches and beautiful architecture.
This is a tale of North Carolinian cities.
The bohemian vibe of Asheville comes as something of a surprise.
It sits at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469-mile-scenic highway linking the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains. Set against the impressive backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains, this is a funky little city in North Carolina.
Its charms are now well documented in the United States, even if they are not really on the radar in Britain. It routinely appears in “best of” lists, and it was named among the ‘Ten Most Beautiful Places’ in America by ABCs’ Good Morning America, among the ‘25 best places to retire’ by CNN–and earlier this week as one of the 10 friendliest cities in the United States. It lives up to its billing.
It’s known locally for its burgeoning home-grown food scene and live music, but there is also an abundance of art museums and studios to fill in the gaps between mealtimes.
Add to that the nearby Biltmore Estate – one of the closest things America has to a French chateau–and you have no problem packing a long weekend with activities. But really, Asheville is all about relaxing and taking in the scene.
The Biltmore story offers a clue as the historical reasons why Asheville has managed to managed to avoid the dreary, boxy ‘modernisation’ many American cities have undergone. It has kept its own distinct character, a mix of Art Deco, Beaux Arts, and Neoclassical styles.
Started by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s grandson George in 1888, this 250-room French Renaissance-style chateau took six-years to complete, requiring a small army of craftsmen.
Vanderbilt, from Staten Island, had fallen in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains and decided it was the perfect place for a country home.
His unwitting legacy was to turn Asheville and the surrounding area into a progressive artist colony. Many of the artisans who helped to create Biltmore put down roots in the area, creating the community you see today.
As a result, the main street is lined with bars and cafes as well as small shops and boutiques selling clothes, books, knick-knacks, and Appalachian antiques.
While honouring its past, Charlotte also epitomises the dynamism of the new South, with ambitious redevelopments and a thriving festival scene embracing everything from digital arts to the popular South End Gallery Crawl on the first Friday of each month.
As the largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte attracts nearly 30 million visitors a year. And what’s not to love? With temperate year-round weather, unique neighborhoods, award-winning restaurants, and more, Charlotte is just as exciting as a big city—but much easier to navigate in a short weekend trip.
Try and score an early check-in at The Dunhill Hotel. The Dunhill opened in 1929 as the Mayfair Manor apartment hotel, and continues to celebrate the original vision of local architect Louis Asbury Sr., with a nod to the needs of the modern traveler The Spectrum Center and the Charlotte Convention Center are both one-half mile away. The Levine Museum of the New South is 5 minutes’ walk away.
Anther great Uptown hotel is the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte.
Despite its name, Uptown is actually downtown and serves the city’s central business district and commercial hub. It’s also where you’ll find several museums, performing arts venues, parks, sports arenas, and other notable landmarks.
The best way to get a flavour for what the Queen City is about is to explore its core. Charlotte’s city center is divided into four wards that extend from the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets.
While errantly strolling the grid of streets is quite satisfying, I suggest making a stop at Romare Bearden Park. Opened in 2013 in commemoration of the local African-American artist and activist of the same name, the 5.4-acre space is as calming as it is visually arresting: there are two gardens, a large field with a killer view of Charlotte’s skyscrapers that’s perfect for picnics, and an art installation that combines a waterfall that changes colours with interactive digital dance chimes.
Take the LYNX Light Rail to NoDa. Named for its main thoroughfare—North Davidson Street—NoDa is the city’s arts and entertainment district, with art galleries, eclectic local shops, bars and breweries, restaurants, and live music venues.
Rent a bike from Charlotte B-cycle at the East/West Station and pedal along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. The paved hiking and biking paths run from Cordelia Street Park to the South Carolina state border for a total of 19 miles but you don’t have to take the entire route. For a shorter excursion, take East Boulevard southwest toward Latta Park and the Dilworth neighborhood, a former streetcar community with stunning historic Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes.
Be sure to dine at The Fig Tree at Lucas house it’s a great venue for fine dining. Chef owned and operated, Fig Tree retains the welcoming and relaxed vibe that begins with the humble history of The Lucas House. For a gamey treat, look for the New Zealand Elk Chop on the dinner menu.
For a spectacular fun BBQ place, find a Mack’s Venue near you. Warning—the sampler is incredibly big, so if this is what you’re opting for, be sure you’re hungry!
To be honest, food in this city is beyond awesome from BBQ to fine dining. Here’s a brief list of some of my favourite spots:
- Roosters Wood Fired Chicken
- Good Food on Montford
- Hello Sailor
- Beef and Bottle
Just writing this makes me want to fly there right now. Book your trip to North Carolina and enjoy some sweet “Southern Charm”.
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.