Over-The-Top Valentine’s Day Experiences: Day 8

With a mountain backdrop and a Centennial celebration this year, The Grove Park Inn in Asheville just might be one of the East Coast’s more romantic destinations. It has its fair share of luxury guests too – President Obama visited the property during his first term.

As part of our coverage of the country’s most “over-the-top” Valentine’s Day offerings, we’re showcasing their “Spoil Me Rotten” romance package, valued at $25,000.

This hotel may be tucked away in the North Carolina mountains, but the big price tag yields big perks for guests, including:

  • Five nights in the Presidential Suite
  • Chauffeur driven Rolls Royce airport pickup/drop-off
  • Land Rover for use throughout the stay
  • French Champagne and crystal flutes
  • An entire day at the spa with treatments and lunch
  • Private hot air balloon ride and a private cooking class with Horizons Chef, followed by dinner.

[Image Credit: Grove Park Inn]

Exploring Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina, is a town of many titles. Self Magazine considers it the Happiest City for Women, while to Rolling Stone, it’s America’s New Freak Capitol. Outside Magazine calls it one of America’s Best Outside Towns, while AmericanStyle names it among the country’s Top Arts Destinations.

Indeed, Asheville offers a little something for everyone. Many visitors are drawn by the city’s proximity to the historic Biltmore Estate, scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and famed Great Smoky Mountains. But Asheville’s charming downtown district is a treasure all of its own, with its array of Art Deco buildings, art galleries, socially conscious boutiques and gourmet restaurants. The “Buy Local” movement is strong in Asheville, with many store windows sporting signs that read “Love Asheville, Choose Independent” and “Local Is The New Black.” You won’t find any McDonald’s or fast fashion chain stores, but you will find an eclectic mix of places to eat, shop and see. Here are some highlights from a recent trip.


Asheville’s array of artisan and ethnic food shops make it a perfect town for sampling. Start at the Laughing Seed Café, where you’ll find fresh, organic, farm-to-table vegetarian food. If the famed house veggie burger leaves you hungry, try a kathi roll at Chai Pani, a funky Indian street food joint. Then, unwind with a cup of Hotcha green tea and a book on Eastern philosophy in the pillowed recesses of Dobra Tea; their smoothies are also incredible. Cap off your eating adventure with sweet tea truffles at The Chocolate Fetish.

If you decide to go beyond downtown Asheville, don’t miss the inventive Mexican fare at White Duck Taco Shop, like the Banh Mi Tofu taco or the delectable Chips and Queso. Down at the Biltmore Village, you’ll find the Corner Kitchen, which offers gourmet but unpretentious cuisine that is sourced from area farmers and producers. The Obamas are said to be fans.


If you’re in the market for handblown glass terrariums, hemp tunics and natural oatmeal soaps, you’ve come to the right place. The historic Grove Arcade and Woolworth Walk are Asheville’s shopping epicenters, playing host to a variety of local artists, crafters and small business owners. The Mountain Made gallery at Grove Arcade is a highlight, with artisan products from across western North Carolina. Book lovers will get lost at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, a cozy spot that combines two of life’s greatest pleasures: books and bubbly.

For clothes shopping, head to Spiritex, an eco-fashion boutique that sells organic cotton clothing produced within a 120-mile radius. Both Frock and Minx offer expertly curated selections of women’s apparel, much of which is also made in America.


At the turn of the century, Asheville was a popular mountain resort for luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Today, the city is home to an impressive array of Art Deco architecture, second only to Miami in the Southeast. The most famous example is George W. Vanderbilt’s famed Biltmore Estate, located just out of town. But downtown Asheville has a fair share of highlights too. The best way to tour the city’s architectural wonders is the free self-guided Urban Trail Walking Tour, which consists of 30 educational stops around the city. After winding up the two-hour tour, it will be clear why Asheville is regularly named one of the Most Beautiful Places in America.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Budget Travel Zen: 10 Free/Donation-Based Yoga Studios In The US

Knotted shoulders… stiff necks… flight delay anxiety… pent-up aggression toward the armrest-hogger seated next to you on the plane. Travel certainly has its ways of winding you up, and there’s nothing like a great yoga class to wind back down. But with trendy studios charging upwards of $25 per class, it can be difficult to find a practice that doesn’t exceed your daily travel budget. These ten free or donation-based yoga studios allow you to pay what you can, and many of them come with a welcoming community that can help you stay grounded throughout your trip.

Asheville Community Yoga, Asheville, North Carolina
Based on the concept of Karma Yoga, Asheville Community Yoga is a non-profit organization offering a wide variety of free classes, including vinyasa, ashtanga, hatha, yin, restorative, core and various kinds of flow. The center also offers special workshops like “Spring Detox Hot Flow” and “Yoga for Healthy Knees.” Though classes are free for those who truly can’t afford to pay, a “Love Offering” of $5-15 per class is requested. 8 Brookdale Rd. Ste. A, Asheville.

Yoga to the People, New York, New York; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco and Berkeley, California
With nine studios in four cities, Yoga to the People believes that the transformative power of yoga should be available to everyone. Studios offer a mix of power vinyasa flow, traditional hot yoga and hot vinyasa classes. Suggested donation is $10 for vinyasa classes, while hot yoga is available for a flat fee of $8. Click here for locations.Moonlit Yoga, Portland, Oregon
There’s no better way to spend a Saturday evening than with yoga, tea and candlelight. The weekly Moonlit Yoga series, hosted at various studios throughout Portland, is open to yogis of all levels, with a sliding scale donation suggestion of $6-10. Check Facebook for each week’s location.

Black Swan Yoga, Austin, Texas
Black Swan offers a smorgasbord of hatha, vinyasa, power, sweaty and intriguing “candle sweaty” classes at their two studios in Downtown and South Side. Suggested donation is $10-15. 1114 West 5th St. and 4534 Westgate Blvd., Austin.

One Yoga Foundation, Miami, Florida
Enjoy your practice in a park under the sun through the One Yoga Foundation, which offers free outdoor classes in green spaces around Miami and its surroundings. Donations support the organization’s efforts to bring yoga to special needs communities. Click here for locations.

Circle Yoga, Washington, DC
The Circle Yoga Cooperative offers a range of free community classes, meditation sessions and workshops with donations benefiting the teacher’s charity of choice. Their sister studio, Budding Yogis, also offers classes for children and families. 3838 Northampton St. NW, Washington, DC.

Urban Flow Yoga, San Francisco, California
Urban Flow Yoga in the Mission District provides donation-based yoga classes by Bhakti Flow certified instructors as well as community outreach programs. Recommended donation is $10-20. 1543 Mission Street, San Francisco.

Studio 34, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In addition to its regular and reduced rate community classes, Studio 34 offers a handful of “Pay What You Can” yoga classes incorporating the Forrest method, which emphasizes breath, active sequences and longer holding of poses. 4522 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia.

Health Yoga Life, Boston, Massachusetts
The yogis at Health Yoga Life encourage participants to “Occupy Yourself” with their accessible, open-level, donation-based vinyasa flow community classes. Drop-ins welcome. 12 Temple St., Boston.

Lululemon Athletica In-Store Classes, Nationwide
If you can deal with being surrounded by pricy merchandise during your practice, you can take advantage of yoga superstore Lululemon’s rotating schedule of free yoga classes from local instructors. Select locations also offer programs like run clubs and motivation seminars. Click here to find your nearest location.

[Flickr image via lululemon athletica]

10 days, 10 states: Drum circles and Hogzilla in North Carolina’s “cess pool of sin”

“A cess pool of sin” -North Carolina State Senator James Forrester, in reference to the city of Asheville-

On a cold autumn evening in downtown Asheville’s Pritchard Park, I find myself in the company of an inebriated man doing his best to imitate a silverback mountain gorilla. With his arms hovering just above ankle level, the bearded, shirtless gentleman plows his way through the forest of people collectively losing themselves in the rhythms of the Friday night Asheville drum circle.

Much as I encountered during my stay in Austin, Texas, Asheville is a progressive bubble of free-thought and cultural diversity in an otherwise conservative surrounding. Nestled at an elevation of 2,200 ft. in the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville is the final stop on my “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” road trip, and I couldn’t be happier to be here.

Though I consider Asheville to be one of my favorite towns in all of the 50 states, not everyone is as accepting of the drum circle dancing, microbrew swilling, buy local promoting mentality that’s so alive and well.

In much publicized comments made by State Senator James Forrester, the Senator vehemently championed the notion that the city of Asheville was a “cess pool of sin”. Unfazed by the verbal bullet, the cheeky citizens of Asheville have instead latched on to the catchy alliteration and have begun selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, and mountain themed memorabilia that glorify their supposedly sinful existence.

Sipping on a pint of Wee Heavy-er Scotch Ale in the city’s lively downtown district, I write the sinful activity off as research towards familiarizing myself with the city’s well known microbrewery culture. Though Asheville boasts a modest population of just over 80,000 people, no less than 9 breweries operate within the immediate region. Thrice garnering the title of “Beer City USA”, Asheville also made the list of Gadling’s official “24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer”.

%Gallery-140241%Though the corner stool of a dimly lit brewpub is as good a place as any for quaffing local stout, in a quirky town such as Asheville, there are far more creative options for enjoying your succulent brew.

Options such as inside of the purple painted LaZoom comedy tour bus.

Notorious amongst locals as being a slow moving historical tour that strangely enough involves an angry, bicycle-riding nun, the tour is also famous for having a license allowing history buffs to drink beers while on board. Genuinely funny and staffed by energetic Asheville locals, it’s the history class you’ve always dreamed of.

Drinking on a moving bus? Definitely sinful.

So where else can I find this supposed sin in this supposed cess pool of a town that I just happen to love so much? Well, if gluttony is a sin, then a trip down to 12 Bones Smokehouse is probably the first place I would look. With a work week that would make even the French envious, 12 Bones is so popular for their southern style BBQ they’re only open for business five hours a day, five days a week, all of which have a line stretching deep into the parking lot. In well documented photos adorning the walls, even President Obama isn’t immune from racing down to 12 Bones for a lunchtime BBQ fix.

My 12 Bones item of choice? A “Hogzilla” sandwich that consists of pulled pork, a whole sausage, multiple strips of sugar bacon, and melted pepper jack cheese on a hoagie bun. Add in a side of baked beans and collard greens, pay a meager $7.50 for the privilege of calling it your own, and partake in a gluttonous feast so good it might even be in the neighborhood of sin.

Good BBQ. Good beer. Beautiful mountains. Quirky locals. Fresh mountain air. Asheville, North Carolina is decidedly my kind of town, and if this is the definition of sin, then throw me deep into the cess pool.

Kicked back in a lounge chair on the banks of the French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world, I breathe a deep, 3,600 mile sigh that’s half contentment, half exhaustion. Over the last 10 days I’ve bathed beneath waterfalls in Umpqua, Oregon, and stood outside of the oldest house in America in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve hiked the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, Utah, and trekked deep into the foliage of Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge.

The result? Affirming the notion that of all the countries in the world to set off on a road trip, there are few better places to start than right here in our own backyard.

This is the final stop on Kyle’s “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” series, but by no means the end of the adventures. Stay tuned to Gadling for where he might pop up next.

Great destinations for fall foliage viewing outside of New England

One of our favorite fall trips is a long drive into the country to view the changing leaves. Last year was considered one of the best on record, and we’re hoping this year will be no exception. Break from the expected and enjoy these five off-the-beaten-path destinations for fall foliage viewing:

Moonlight Basin, Montana
Montana seems to constantly get overlooked by more publicized destinations like Colorado and Wyoming, but come autumn, take advantage of this fact and skip the crowds. Rent a rustic, but very luxurious Cowboy Cabin at Moonlight Basin, complete with front porch hot tub and views as far as the eye can see.

Asheville, North Carolina
Take a scenic drive through the North Carolina mountains before stopping to enjoy some of the East Coast’s best breweries and chic indie art galleries. We’d bunk at the luxe Grove Park Inn, where the President stayed on his last visit, or perhaps continue the drive into the mountains and rent a cabin at Fontana Dam.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Leaf peeping in the rugged Teton National Park is tough to beat, and the prime spot to stay during the autumn season is at the luxe Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, where you can enjoy amenities including nightly s’mores. As an added bonus, the hotel also offers Wildlife Safari Tours, hosted by its own in-house Wildlife Biologist, Tenley Thompson.

Whistler, British Columbia
Enjoy some of Canada’s most scenic glaciated peaks and roaring rivers. Arrive early enough and you’ll also catch quite the leaf show. We’d opt to stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler or the Four Seasons Resort Whistler.

Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is dwarfed by the surrounding Pikes Peak National Forest, and the towering 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. The number of easily accessed areas for leaf peeping the city is astounding. Cheyenne Mountain Resort is the perfect base camp for a trip to Colorado Springs. The resort boasts its own golf resort, on-site herb garden and ease of access to Garden of the Gods and the Pikes Peak National Forest – including the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

[Flickr via ForestGladesIWander]