I was sold on Asheville, N.C., from the moment the jet's wheels touched down at Asheville Regional Airport. It's not just that it's in a beautiful natural setting, ringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains and studded with more art deco architectural gems than anywhere outside of Miami. It's not just its proximity to world-famous kayaking and rafting rivers like the Ocoee and the Nantahala. It's not even the 52 golf courses, 75 hiking trails, two llama trekking outfitters, or the Biltmore Estate — the 250-room mansion built by George W. Vanderbilt that tops on every visitor's must-see list — that makes this a special meetings destination.
While Asheville abounds with luxurious hotels like The Grove Park Inn Resort, which recently added a $40 million, 40,000-square-foot spa and offers 50,000 square feet of meeting space, its best resource is its people. People like Anna in The Grove Park Inn's gift shop, who can give an education on the rich history of the Appalachian people you won't learn in any school. People like Dr. Albert Jake Michel, who charms guests with stories about the rescue and restoration of his historic Richmond Hill Inn. From elevator operators to housekeeping staff, from restaurant proprietors to strangers on the street, the people of Asheville want you to know that you're more than welcome in the city that nurtured the literary genius of authors like Thomas Wolfe.
And now Asheville has added another premier hotel, the 213-room Inn on Biltmore Estate, which promises to bring the city's friendliness, comfort, and elegance to an even higher level. When you walk into the $31 million luxury inn, opened in March, you feel right at home — if home happens to be a mansion, that is.
I arrived for a tour on the day the Inn opened and, despite the last-minute details staff were putting in place, everyone still managed to be smiling and accommodating. Featuring a ballroom, banquet halls, and boardrooms, along with impeccable service, the new Inn should be ideal for smaller meetings whose attendees have high expectations.
While it lacks a convention center to accommodate large events, Asheville is a great place for adventure incentives, executive getaways and brainstorming sessions, and any small- to mid-size meeting that could benefit from fresh mountain air and service with a smile.