Notes from a traveller: part 11

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Kaye’s itchy feet have taken her to Asheville. Read the latest instalment of her ‘Notes from a traveller’ series, only on Just About Travel

Continued from last time

With the quest for travel and adventure still burning in my heart, I took the overnight bus from Nashville to Asheville. Situated deep in the heart of North Carolina, Asheville is arguably North America’s most magical town – but don’t just take my word for it.

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This year alone, Asheville has been ranked among Frommer’s ‘Best places to go’ and Huffington Post’s ’13 best food destinations’ while travel bible Condé Nast hailed Thomas Wolfe’s hometown as one of ’the six best beer cities in America’. Meanwhile Matador Network, a social nexus for travellers, has called it the “coolest town in the U.S”.

And for good reason. Owing to its canny line in boutiques, microbreweries, live music scene and ability to serve fab coffee, Asheville has become something of foodie, shopping and culture hotspot. The laid back North Carolina town reminds me in many ways of Texas’ quirky capital, Austin – both are liberal oases in otherwise red states that hum with the sound of a good time being had by all.

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Little wonder then, that Asheville residents positively gush about their adopted hometown. I say ‘adopted’ because most people I met while in town, weren’t from Asheville originally but from Florida, New York and LA.

They left the aforementioned destinations because, while they are undoubtedly awesome to visit for a brief time, they couldn’t give them what they wanted: namely a thriving social scene, access to the great outdoors (surrounded by one million acres of forest including Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokies, Asheville is heaven on earth for outdoor aficionados), art and culture (there’s more art deco in Asheville than anywhere outside of Miami), boho spirit and a good dose of individuality. (Don’t miss the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar – a marriage of two of life’s greatest pleasures, books and wine, side by side. Or perhaps page by glass).

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But Sean, Amy et al aren’t the first to have flocked to Asheville. The A-list likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, John Rockefeller and Thomas Edison all holidayed here in the 20s while George Vanderbilt was so taken by the overgrown mountain town, that he decided to construct a country retreat modelled on a grand chateaux he had admired in Europe. You might know it as The Biltmore – an 8,000 acre estate that is today recognised as America’s largest private home and visited by more than 1,000,000 people annually.

In recent years, high profile Asheville visitors include President Barack Obama (in June 2014, the First family was forced to deny that they had bought a house here, having been spotted in the spa town on several occasions) and Jude Law.

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The British star was in town to prepare for his role as Thomas Wolfe – aka Asheville’s most famous son – in Genius, a forthcoming film chronicling Max Perkins’s time as the book editor at Scribner, where he oversaw works by Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and yes… Wolfe.

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Asheville’s most famous son grew up in a 29-room downtown house that his mother ran as a boarding home and one of the highlights of my spell in the south’s hippest city, was touring Thomas’s childhood home – immortalised as ‘Dixieland’ in Wolfe’s novel Look Homeward, Angel – which offered a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the writer and local history.

During his brief but action packed life (the Asheville native died from tuberculous at just 37 but not without having travelled extensively around Europe and America), Wolfe wrote many novels but his best known is his first: Look Homeward, Angel.

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For those who haven’t read it the book recounts the life of a young man born in western North Carolina, the son of a stonecutter and a woman who ran a boardinghouse, and his burning desire to quit his small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life.

While Look Homeward, Angel made waves all around America it wasn’t – owing to its autobiographical nature – well received in Asheville where locals were angered by Wolfe’s portrayal of their town as a less than desirable destination.

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Naturally being in Asheville and all, I had to read some of Wolfe’s work but it wasn’t Look Homeward, Angel that resonated with me the most. Rather it was the posthumous You Can’t Go Home Again that struck me strongest.

The last five months have been fantastic. Taking a break from London is the best decision I’ve made in years and just what the doctor ordered (or as Anne Lamott puts it “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you”). Yet at the same I’m very much aware that I have opened Pandora’s Box – I’m addicted to exploring  – and I don’t think I’ll be able to close it.

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I’m due back in London in a fortnight but, writing this from Asheville where I’m eating heartily, sleeping late and surrounded by likeminded friends, I am not sure whether I can ever go home again.

The American journalist Anderson Cooper once said: “The farther you go […] the harder it is to return” and he’s right but maybe, just maybe, life is not meant to be lived in one place?

Until next time,

Kaye

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To be continued on August 4

To read part one of Kaye’s ‘Notes from a traveller’ series, please click here

To read part two click here and here

To read part three, click here

To read part four, click here

To read part five, click here and here

To read part six, click here and here

To read part seven, click here and here

To read part eight, click here

To read part nine, click here and here

To read part 10, click here

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