Two urban beacons are glowing red haute with their elevated twists on Southern hospitality. Weave your way on and off of Interstate 40 between Nashville and Asheville, stringing together an eclectic assortment of must-sees including an upscale farmstead retreat, misty Appalachian forests, and the capital of country music kitsch.
Start: Nashville, Tennessee
End: Asheville, North Carolina
Total distance: 320 miles
Suggested length: 5-8 days
1) 21C, Nashville, Tennessee
Newly opened this month, the “hotel meets modern art museum” concept turns the city’s historic Gray & Dudley building into its seventh iteration of accessible, mod design with 124 keys and over 10,000 square feet of exhibition space. No two rooms are exactly the same—each one filled with chic accent lamps, potted plants, and side tables that feel like museum-worthy objets d’art on their own. Find more info here.
A room at 21C Hotel in Nashville. (Photos courtesy of 21C Museum Hotels)
2) Adele’s, Nashville, Tennessee
You may come to Nashville for the barbecue, but these days the city’s culinary offerings go far beyond its Ssouthern flavors. After trying the requisite Hattie B’s and Arnold’s Country ChickenKitchen, your next stop is Adele’s, chef Jonathan Waxman’s contribution to Nashville’s lightning- hot scene, pulling heavily from his NYC powerhouse Barbuto with its garage setup. Try the kale (think Caesar salad confetti) and the roast chicken—warm, juicy, and slathered in salsa verde. Don’t be surprised if you spot the Kings of Leon or T-Swift lurking about. Find more info here.
3) Knoxville, TN
While big brother Nashville is busy taking all the credit as Tennessee’s cosmopolitan nexus, Knoxville quietly peddles a certain rareified charm to those who seek it out. Do breakfast at OliBea, sourced from region farms, dinner at J.C. Holdway for dynamic eats inspired by rural Appalachian recipes, and spend the night at The Oliver Hotel, a clean boutique dream set in an old dance hall. Find more info here.
4) Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee
A refuge of impossibly good taste at the foothills of the Great Smokies, the Relais & Châateaux property is a food-forward experience where guests are encouraged to take part in the planting and harvesting process before enjoying their upscale repasts in the on-site dining room. Archery, clay shooting, and fly- fishing round out the luxe summer- camp feel. Shop the farm stand before you depart and take home some of their signature bacon jam. Find more info here.
Left: The grounds at Blackberry Farm. Right: The living room at Blackberry Farm. (Photos courtesy of Blackberry Farm)
5) Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Elvis may have Graceland, but country music’s gay icon has roller coasters, a water park, and a Dizzy Disk. Dollywood has all the lovable prosthetic charm one would imagine a theme park dedicated to Dolly Parton to have, including a bevy of live performances featuring local singers, visiting international acts, and even a showcase of swooshing birds of prey known as the “Wings of America.” Find more info here.
6) Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
The low-slung clouds earned the area its moniker long ago—the old-growth forests were once the sacred hunting grounds of the Cherokee, and today they still teem with wild deer and bear. The drivable Cades Cove Loop (11 miles) is the most popular circuit in the preserve, taking in shaded knolls of hardwood and broad, sweeping valleys. Find more info here.
7) Buxton Hall BBQ, Asheville, North Carolina
Two James Beard nominees have transformed an old roller- skating rink into whole-hog heaven for barbecue buffs. Slow-roasted over 18 hours and greased in a vinegar enamel, the pulled pork platter pairs perfectly with any of the in-house pastries. Wash it down with one of the 50-plus beers on tap at the Wicked Weed Brewing Funkatorium, under the watchful eye of King Henry VIII (you’ll see), just two blocks away. Find more info here.
Left: The exterior of Buxton Hall BBQ. Right: The pulled-pork platter at Buxton Hall BBQ. (Photos courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee)
8) Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
One could easily while away an entire weekend in Asheville’s painfully cool cafées and eateries, but it’s well worth carving out some time to check out the city’s original tourist attraction: America’s largest home, a French châateau of Versaillesque proportions built by the Vanderbilts. Open to the public for almost a hundred years, the mega-complex today features a winery and an equestrian center in addition to mansion tours. Find more info here.
Left: The exterior of Biltmore Estate. Right: The gardens at Biltmore Estate. (Photos courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com)