Several years ago, when I was what older paralegals call a “baby lawyer,” I worked for an insurance defense firm that had an event each summer called the “associate retreat” that meant going out of town for a weekend with the people I saw every day at work, so we could bond or something. One year, all 90 or so of us were on a bus headed for the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina…a place I’d heard was a beautiful, relaxing, and fancy hotel in a cool little town in the mountains, but an hour into the trip, the bus pulled over, turned around, and took us back to the firm. The Inn had suffered a burst pipe and was full of water. We associates went to a local bar.
Several years went by, I left the firm, started my own, but still I had not visited the Grove Park Inn, and I was bitter about it. Until last week, when I found a legal conference to attend there and took my bride for a 3.5hr drive northeast.
We pulled into the parking lot, and I may have uttered, “Damn!” for it was nice and large and historic-looking.
Instead of going up on the elevator from the lobby like every other hotel most of us have ever seen, on this one, you go down. Thus, the lobby area and restaurants + bars adjoining it have the best view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Underground is a world class spa where you can get massages and facials and stuff. Or, if you’ve waited too long to book an appointment for such, you can show up at 9am and get a day pass, allowing you to get massaged by a tall waterfall, float in a mineral pool on your back while listening to tranquil music play in your ears just below the surface of the water, sit in a sauna, enjoy a eucalyptus steam room, relax in a hot tub, drop into a 60-degree plunge pool , or go outside and enjoy the view (and the outdoor pool). We did all of these on Sunday.
On Friday, I attended a few hours of class, and then we rode horses on Sandy Bottom trail for a couple hours in the mountains outside Asheville. We stopped halfway to rest the horses and explore an old garnet mine (called “Little Pine Mine”), even getting to take some small gems home to the children.
After our delicious dinner downtown at Seven Sows (the previous night was at Blackbird, another good one, followed by closing down the hotel’s dueling piano bar), we visited a local bar until bedtime.
On Saturday, I slept til 10am like God intended (something our children never allow at home). Then, we started a tour of brewpubs at 11am in downtown Asheville. Breakfast was craft beer, and it was magnificent. Our tour guide was a guy who’d been a DOD teacher and principal and had traveled the world exploring, educating, and singing opera for most of his life. Then he came back and wrote a book or 2; his name was Ken Richards. We enjoyed his company and the many many beers to which he introduced us all day.
We started at Lexington Avenue Brewery, and that’s where we had the most samples (and lunch). Then we visited Wedge Brewing Company and had several full glasses of beer. Then, it was off to Highland Brewing Company and to the adjacent Troy & Sons whiskey and moonshine distillery. I loved all of these places to unhealthy levels. I even bought a t-shirt from Troy & Sons, because the cotton was as smooth as the several neat glasses of Oak Reserve that preceded its purchase.
After this tomfoolery concluded, we had a group dinner at the hotel restaurant and then closed down one of the hotel bars while I laughed until breathing was labored at the antics of a personal injury lawyer from Raleigh named Sean.
The next day (after several hours at the spa), we headed home. We never visited the Biltmore, and yet I still believe we gave Asheville a good touring. There’s a reason Mr. Richards lived all over Europe but chose to retire there. Clearly, we’ll have to go back and give it some more.