Christmas in Asheville: The Grove Park Inn

Did you know that Asheville NC is the southern headquarters of the ‘North Pole’ – each Christmas, this Blue Ridge mountain town transforms into in a winter wonderland. Biltmore, America’s largest home becomes a Christmas Castle; The NC Arborteum illuminates with winter lights and the historic Grove Park Inn becomes a real life gingerbread house.

Asheville is one of my favorite spots to visit. I grew up visiting Biltmore with my family and we toured the estate in Christmas 2021 on American Nomad.

With the cold breath of Jack Frost in the air, I’m excited to return to Asheville aka ‘North Pole’ NC for a quick reindeer stop.

We’ll start our Asheville Christmas adventure at the iconic Grove Park Inn. For over a century, this historic mountain resort has been welcoming guests – from dignitataries, Presidents, golden era stars and Pulitizer winning authors.

Set high atop Sunset Mountain, 1.5 miles from downtown Asheville, The Grove Park Inn is renown for its arts and craft movement inspired archicture The inn’s design feels as though it is part of the mountain – with large stone boulders creating the perfect blend of rustic luxury and mountain lodge.

*Arts and Craft Movement – a popular design style with origins in the 1860s and continued influence in the US into the twentieth century. Inspired architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. Arts and Crafts architecture seeks structural authenticity aligned with nature. Learn more about the movement via this helpful article.

A legacy in stone: History of Grove Park Inn

The origins of this grand hotel start with a man named Edwin Wiley Grove and a ‘Tasteless Chill Tonic…’

Known as the “Father of Modern Asheville,” Edwin Wiley Grove was born to humble beginnings on a small farm in rural Tennessee. After serving in the Civil War, Grove purchased a pharmacy in Paris, Tennessee (an hour northwest of Nashville).

With malaria a common life-threatening disease tearing apart the southeastern United States, Grove poured his energy into formulating a tasteless quinine to prevent malaria. He introduced Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic and found immediate success. In the 1890s, Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was a household staple; within twenty years it had sold over 1.5 million bottles. Grove had become a self-made millionaire through hardwork and innovation.

Unfortunately, for all his business success, Grove struggled with poor health including bronchitis and fatigue. His doctors recommended the clean mountain air of Asheville, NC to relax and recover. The mountain air and gorgeous Blue Ridge views inspired Grove to purchase 408 acres of land in Asheville and begin developing neighborhoods in Asheville’s Sunset Mountain area and eventually a grand hotel providing the best views and gracious hospitality only Asheville could afford.

Grove and his son-in-law, Fred Seely were had found success in real estate develpment in Atlanta and hoped to do the same in prospering Asheville, which had lured George Vanderbilt and his expansive Biltmore Estate.

They reviewed plans of several prominent architects, but Grove found them lacking. He found architectural inspiration from his son-in-law and business partner Seely, whose sketch of an arts and crafts inspired mountain getaway would lead to the Grove Park Inn.

Grove was so impressed he have Seely the enormous task of building the hotel. Construction began in 1912 and took just under a year to complete.

Over 400 men worked 10-hour shifts, six days a week. With only the use of wagons, ropes and mules they carried up to 10,000 pound boulders to build the hotel.

The Grove Park Inn opened on July 12, 1913 with Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan delivering the keynote, proclaiming to over 400 spectators that The Grove Park Inn “was built for the ages.”

Indeed the Grand Old Lady of Asheville continues to stand as a testament to time and continuing a tradition of mountain luxury to a new generation.

If you are visiting The Grove Park Inn, I definitely recommend you take their history tour, and peruse the historic displays.

My visit:

I hope to return as an overnight guest at The Grove Park Inn in the future, but this time around, I only had a few hours to explore the hotel and grab dinner.

The great news is that The Grove Park Inn welcomes day guests to tour the grounds, shop in the eclectic mix of shops or grab a delicious meal at one of the many on-site restaurants.

As I drove up the winding narrow roads to reach the inn, I felt like I was arriving at a Christmas ball. The stone entrance was illuminated by lights and guarded by a grand Christmas tree.

During the holidays they charge for parking, but the fees all go to charity. On average, The Grove Park Inn parking fees during the holidays earn over $680,000 for local charities.

Because this visit was spur of the moment and I didn’t have a dinner reservation for one of the more formal dining rooms, the receptionist recommended I try popular upscale pub, Edison’s.

.Named after Thomas Edison, a frequent guest at The Grove Park Inn, this bistro brings the craft beer culture of Asheville with a delicious fresh menu.

Sitting at the bar, I enjoyed taking in the atmosphere. I started with a Shirley Temple…after surveying the menu I decided on the scrumptious salmon salad and a coffee inspired dessert.

After dinner, I meandered the hotel halls, enjoying an after dinner coffee in the hotel gift shop and creamery (ice cream and coffee). The staff recommended I check out history exhibits in a neighboring wing.

I learned about the history of the hotel and it’s storied guests from…

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald

Thomas Wolfe (Asheville native and author of Look Homeward Angel)

Harry Houdini

The Presidents Wing and Lounge pays homage to the ten US Presidents who have stayed at The Grove Park Inn

I continued to explore the nooks of the grand hotel, including a peek into the on site dueling piano bar (Elaine’s)

I finished my Grove Park evening in the grand lobby, cozying up by one of the large stone crackling fireplaces.

I arrived a bit too early in the holiday season for The National Gingerbread House Competition (TM). Each year hundreds of gingerbread bakers compete in a variety of categories to showcase their talent. Sugar and spice meet for a wonderland of sweet confectionary creations. This event started in 1992 when a small group of locals started with a small group of creative gingerbread houses, but has grown to the premier gingerbread contest in the US! Famed culinary judges descend on Asheville to pick the best in class.

You can tour this living gingerbread village throughout the holidays, seeing the winning entries and being swept up by the magic of the holidays.

from Grove Park Inn website

I cannot wait to return to The Grove Park Inn, until then I’ll dream of sugarplums and Grove Park gingerbread

Arts and Crafts touches like this fill The Grove Park Inn with character

Other things to do at Grove Park Inn:

  • The 150 acre resort is home to wlaking trails and a golf course
  • The Grove Park Inn pool, with it’s stone cavern feel is legendary
  • Sip on a glass of Biltmore wine, while watching the sunset on Sunset Mountain
  • Treat yourself to a spa day

Next entry we’ll return to the magic of Biltmore – you can read about the 2021 Biltmore Christmas here.

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