Mountain mood: Asheville


February 29, 2024

The Radical hotel living room in Asheville North Carolina

Skip the chain hotels and book a boutique experience that fits your own personal vacation goals.

by Cathy Martin

Upon arrival at The Radical in Asheville’s River Arts District, the first thought that pops in my head is, I’m not young enough — and definitely not cool enough — for this place. But what’s a vacation if not an escape from reality? A warm greeting from the valet and the front desk attendant put me at ease as I check in and set out exploring the sprawling, graffiti-splashed property in Asheville’s funky arts enclave along the French Broad River.

In the lobby, industrial elements like exposed concrete beams are juxtaposed with traditional rugs and a dramatic, oversized crystal chandelier. Plush velvet and silver lame curtains and bold, risqué artwork create a loungy atmosphere and an aura of intrigue. Design-wise, I’ve never seen anything like it. And, here in this delightfully edgy, bohemian part of town, it’s a perfect fit.

Asheville is at once many different things — a haven for artistic souls, a wilderness lover’s mecca, a family-friendly escape, a romantic getaway for two. Whatever your vacation goals, a new crop of boutique hotels let you tap into the Asheville of your choice and plan an experience that’s just right for you. 

Zelda Dearest photographsby Matt Kisiday courtesy Lark Hotels

HISTORY & ROMANCE: Zelda Dearest

Few couples embody the spirit of the Roaring ’20s more than F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the nomadic pair who spent time in Asheville. Though the couple later had a rocky relationship — Zelda eventually died tragically in a fire in a local psychiatric hospital — they were unmistakable tastemakers of their time.

Zelda Dearest, a 20-room hotel that opened in October in the South Slope district, is inspired by the glamour and classic art deco design of that fun-loving era. Encompassing three historic homes set on a knoll between Lexington and Biltmore avenues, the hotel captures the romance of the Jazz Age through a sophisticated design with bespoke furnishings and a palette that balances soothing neutrals with rich jewel tones. From the bathroom tile and mirrors to the light fixtures and wallpaper — even small touches like vintage-inspired textured glassware and chic brass-and-gemstone cabinet knobs — no details were overlooked.

It’s one of a trio of new boutique properties from Lark Hotels, a New England-based hotelier known for its distinct, design-centric inns and hotels. Others are The Radical and Blind Tiger, a charming 14-room inn in Asheville’s historic Chestnut Hill neighborhood.

Beyond the topnotch design (by Nashville-based Anderson Design Studio), rooms at Zelda Dearest are well-appointed with Drybar blow dryers, Grown Alchemist toiletries, plush towels and robes. And while you might be tempted to remain comfortably ensconced, there’s a central courtyard for communing with fellow guests and a cozy cocktail lounge, The Parlour Bar. Inside the Rosalind building, with its wraparound porch and Victorian gingerbread balusters, the bar becomes an intimate spot for coffee and breakfast when morning comes.

NEARBY: The brewery-rich South Slope district is home to multiple taprooms, including Hi-Wire, Burial and Green Man, along with the iconic concert venue The Orange Peel. While Buxton Hall Barbecue has sadly closed, the hotel is still within walking distance of top-rated restaurants like Curate, Limones and Benne on Eagle. But there’s no need to go far for a memorable meal: Just a few doors down from Zelda Dearest, Laila is a stylish new spot with standout Indian fare and delicious cocktails. The sibling to Andaaz at Biltmore Village serves tandoori-grilled branzino and chicken, curries, and biryanis amid colorful art and modern decor with plenty of bar seating.

GOOD TO KNOW: Complimentary self-parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Several rooms require steps to access; those with mobility issues should check with the hotel in advance. Children are allowed in select rooms; pets, other than service dogs, are not.

Left: Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins. Photographs courtesy Wrong Way River Lodge

URBAN CAMPGROUND: Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins

If you’ve come to the mountains to get out on the trails or paddle down the river, Wrong Way River Lodge might be just right for you. Opened in fall 2022 across the street from the French Broad River Greenway, the property features 16 cabins with a “Scappalachian” design — a blend of Nordic minimalism (simple furnishings and clean lines) with Appalachian touches like reclaimed wood countertops.

The A-frame cabins are small but well-equipped with comforts you won’t find when tent camping, including private bathrooms, heating and AC, mini-fridges and WiFi. Each cabin also has its own private balcony or deck.

Start your day with morning coffee, cold brew or espresso from the Canteen — a nod to a summer camp outpost for snacks and supplies — on the upper level of the communal two-story River Lodge. Part coffee shop, part mercantile, the Canteen offers snacks, grab-and-go sandwiches, and beer and wine, along with gear and souvenirs (water bottles, coffee mugs, caps and T-shirts). With a wide porch overlooking the river, it’s also the perfect post-adventure spot to kick back with a cold beverage. 

Before you turn in for the night, gather around the communal fire pit or take a short stroll to the Meadow, a small grassy area with picnic tables, hammocks, string lights and a campfire in the evenings.

Several of Wrong Way’s cabins are dog-friendly (with a $25 nightly pet fee). If your furry companion needs to get their wiggles out, follow the greenway about a half-mile east to the French Broad River Dog Park.

NEARBY: The lodge is less than a five-minute drive to Asheville’s River Arts District. If you’re traveling with your pup, 12 Bones Smokehouse at RAD has plenty of dog-friendly outdoor seating. Expect a line, but it’s worth the wait for 12 Bones’ wood-smoked meats, salads and sides. Wrong Way is also a short drive to west Asheville — grab breakfast or lunch at Sunny Point Café or dinner at The Admiral, which serves classic American fare with a creative spin and seasonal ingredients, plus stellar cocktails in an unassuming cinder-block building with a cozy, casual atmosphere.

GOOD TO KNOW: Wrong Way is an urban campground — the cabins are located on a moderately busy two-lane road, so some traffic noise is to be expected. The three deluxe cabins toward the rear of the property offer a bit more privacy and large outdoor decks with wooded views. The lodge also has a small conference room for eight and a lower-level meeting space for larger groups and gatherings.

The Radical Hotel photographs by Matt Kisiday courtesy Lark Hotels


The Radical blends so seamlessly into its environment, I nearly drove right past the giant brick industrial building with remnants of a vintage “Phil Mechanic” logo on the side. Built as a cereal factory in the 1920s, the hotel now boasts 70 guest rooms and suites and an eye-popping design.

Owned by Hatteras Sky and operated by Lark Hotels, The Radical was designed by New York-based Suomi Design Works, whose team included Kris Moran, a former set designer for filmmaker Wes Anderson. Corridors are lined with bold street-style art — some by local artists — and historic graffiti on raw concrete was left intact for a mix of old and new. Fringed lampshades, metallic accents, bold patterns and mellow, ambient lighting contribute to a design that’s moody, electric and fun.

The Radical is also home to one of Asheville’s buzziest new restaurants: Located downstairs from the hotel, Golden Hour is an industrial-chic space with exposed brick, leather banquettes and a large curved central bar with a dazzling gold-chain installation. It’s led by celebrated local chef Jacob Sessoms (Table, All Day Darling, Cultura), a James Beard Award nominee.

Left: Golden Hour at The Radical. Right: The Roof at The Radical. Photographs by Matt Kisiday courtesy Lark Hotels

I snagged a seat at the bar as soon as the restaurant opened for dinner, and within a half-hour every seat was filled with hotel guests and lots of locals here to sample the wood-fired specialties, which range from a “big-ass” hamburger to shareables like a whole Sunburst trout and lighter bites (salads, grilled skewers, deviled blue crab and steak tartare).

There’s also a rooftop bar with views of the French Broad River, and after/glow, a coffee bar by day, cocktail lounge by night with a DJ on select evenings.

NEARBY: The Radical is on the western edge of the River Arts District, where former mills and warehouses are now galleries and studios for hundreds of potters, painters, jewelry makers, glass blowers and woodworkers. For a pick-me-up, head to Ultra Coffee Bar or Summit Coffee. Just around the corner from the hotel is The Grey Eagle Music Hall & Pub, a live music venue. Asheville’s known as Beer City U.S.A., and the RAD has its share of breweries and taprooms: Wedge Brewing Co. is a neighborhood mainstay; Hi-Wire has an outpost here, too; and the RAD Brew Co. opened earlier this year in a former stonecutter’s workshop.

GOOD TO KNOW: The Radical is pet friendly — the fee is $50 per dog per night. Parking is valet only. SP


Mar. 25 – Jan. 5, 2025

The last Biltmore exhibition by Dale Chihuly was in 2018 and featured the acclaimed glass artist’s distinctive sculptures in the gardens and on the front lawn of Biltmore House. This time around, expect a more intimate experience in a gallery setting at Amherst at Deerpark, along with a large-scale installation at the front of the house. Visit from Mar. 25 through May 23 and you can also experience Biltmore Blooms, a progression of spring flowers throughout the grounds and gardens.


Asheville Art Museum celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2023, three years after unveiling a $24 million expansion at the Pack Square venue. Two exhibitions debut this month: Honoring Nature (Mar. 26 – October) features late 19th- and early 20th-century landscapes depicting scenes from western North Carolina. The New Salon (Mar. 8 – Aug. 19) offers a “modern take on the prestigious tradition of the Parisian Salon,” including pop, pop surrealism, new contemporary, street art and more.

Photographs courtesy Biltmore and Asheville Art Museum

Featured image: The Radical. Photograph by Matt Kisiday courtesy Lark Hotels

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