Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers meet, surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains, lies the small metropolis of Asheville. With its laid-back vibe, great restaurants, superb art galleries, and rich musical history, it feels like the Santa Fe of the East.
The combination of rural Appalachian appeal and unexpected sophistication makes this university town an ideal spot for almost any kind of vacation. Take a tour of the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt's 1895 mansion, which features a winery (and 250 rooms!); visit the town's many craft galleries; and browse the numerous bookstores, vintage clothing shops, and organic markets. Kids and outdoorsy types will be thrilled with the hiking, mountain biking, and white-water rafting opportunities in the area.
The perfect home base for your explorations: Highland Lake Inn—A Country Retreat, about 30 minutes south of Asheville. Suitable for families or couples, this lovely lakeside getaway has a menagerie of goats, donkeys, chickens, and peacocks and offers fishing, canoeing, yoga, and massages. Rooms, $109 to $239 per night, double occupancy; cottages, $179 to $409; hlinn.com. For information about Asheville, go to ashevillechamber.org.