Hidden Treasures in Asheville's Least Hidden Hotel

by Brandon Schultz

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday August 13, 2022
Originally published on August 13, 2022

The Grove Park Inn
The Grove Park Inn  

Local tradition holds that every Asheville, North Carolina, native has either worked at "the house" or "the hotel," and for decades, that hasn't been much of an exaggeration. "The house" refers to Biltmore, the Vanderbilt estate that has remained the largest private home in America since its Christmas Eve opening in 1895, shortly after the region became known as a natural wellness retreat for the well-heeled.

Not far behind Biltmore, the Grove Park Inn opened in 1913 as "the finest resort hotel in the world" and has since hosted ten U.S. presidents and notables like Thomas Edison and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who summered here twice. The Great Depression devastated Asheville and the city's appeal dwindled over the following decades, but a new crowd began taking note of the Blue Ridge Mountain town by the late 1990s, almost a century after its original heyday, as the city's art scene grew.

The River Arts District in Asheville, NC
The River Arts District in Asheville, NC  

There's a thriving scene of museums and galleries in the Downtown Asheville Art District today, but it's the laid-back, grassroots River Arts District of murals, studios, and craft breweries that catches most interest today. And those early magnets of Asheville tourism? They're both alive and thriving today, with "the house" now attracting an annual 1.7 million visitors, and the "the hotel," today The Omni Grove Park Inn, remaining the stateliest stay in town from its sprawling perch on Sunset Mountain. Here are just a few hidden treasures you'll find with a stay at Asheville's most desirable hotel.

The Great Hall
The Great Hall  

Hidden Elevators

It's not often you'd praise a hotel's lifts for being hard to find, but there's something extraordinary about the two elusive elevators flanking either side of The Omni Grove Park Inn's 120-foot Great Hall. You'll absolutely notice the gargantuan fireplaces at each end and, if you're wise, you'll spend at least one evening lounging in front of one with a drink from The Great Hall Bar. You'll be awestruck by these 36-foot stone structures towering up through the space's 24-foot ceilings, and may enjoy hunting for quips and quotes engraved in some of its rocks, but it's what inside these walls that's worthy of extra attention. This is where the hotel's original elevators were embedded to discreetly disguise their potentially noisy operation, and the tiny relics of yesteryear still function today, complete with formally dressed elevator operators. Though two sizable wings now frame the remaining 142 rooms of the Main Inn, bringing the resort's total to 513 generously appointed accommodations, the modernization of this storied property has never overshadowed its historic roots, and the resort retains the charm and dignity that has drawn families, dignitaries, and the smart set for generations.

The Spa
The Spa  

Hidden Spa

The Spa at The Omni Grove Park Inn is not a hidden treasure — almost anyone coming here is already aware that it's one of the property's crown jewels — but it certainly is hidden, adding an air of ultimate escape and seclusion despite some of its prime amenities being completely out in the open. We'll explain: To access this haven of pampering, built into the hillside below the resort's main level, you'll need to head down from the lobby and follow a long, dim hall. It's not as ominous as it sounds; on the contrary, the rock-lined hall is soothing from the start, setting the tone for the waterfall reveal that greets you opposite the spa's reception at the end.

Beyond here: locker rooms, complete with saunas, steam rooms, inhalation rooms, treatment rooms, and both individual and coed relaxation lounges, lead to the main event. At most spas, treatments are the highlight, and they're certainly fab here, too, but the cavernous pool collection is why everyone clamors for access to The Spa at The Omni Grove Park Inn. Walled entirely in rock, and spread among caves, tunnels, and nooks, the multi-pool chamber includes secluded mineral pools, therapeutic waterfall pools, hot tubs, and the most alluring lap pool outfitted with underwater music below and 6,500 fiberoptic stars above. And just outside is the expansive and exclusive outdoor hot tub, overlooking the valley with mountain views beyond. You'll catch glimpses of this elusive pool from certain vantage points around the resort, but the only way to see and experience its entirety is by finding your way to this magical spa and checking in.

The Sunset Terrace
The Sunset Terrace  

Hidden Bites

Before going off in search of the hidden bites around The Omni Grove Park Inn, snag a couple of reservations at its top-quality restaurants. An evening table at Sunset Terrace is one of the top scores in all of Asheville, not just for the enchanting display of color painting the sky and draping the distant mountains as the light changes throughout the meal, but for the impressive steak and seafood menu that includes Miyazaki Wagyu among its offerings. (There are plenty of options for vegetarians, too, including the delicious lemon parmesan roasted cauliflower and faro main). You should also enjoy a meal at Vue 1913, offering a brasserie-style menu of upscale rustic with starters like saffron arancini and everything-bagel-seasoned deviled eggs topped with caviar, along with mains that include elk tenderloin with parsnip purée on cardamom soil; 18-hour-braised short rib with seasonal mushrooms and rye bark; and foraged mushrooms Bordelaise with potato purée and seasonal vegetables. There's an enjoyable craft cocktail menu here, too, and the carefully curated wine list is a regular Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner.

To find some hidden bites around the property, though, recall the foraged mushrooms mentioned above and consider booking a guided expedition of your own. Whether you're interested in a shorter educational stroll of about an hour and a half, or a legit foraging expedition of around three hours, these intimate, guided tours will open your eyes to just how much of the nature around you is not just edible, but often delicious. From bushes and trees to berries, roots, and fungi, you'll quickly learn to identify what's safe and to discern among those what's actually tasty. Best of all, bring your haul back to the chefs at the hotel, and they'll integrate it in a surprise course or two during your meal that night.

Brandon Schultz is the author of 6 travel and lifestyle books, and his work regularly appears in Forbes, Fodor's, Global Traveler, and Thrillist, with contributions to dozens of others including OUT, Out Traveler, and The Advocate. He lives in New York City.