Asheville changed drastically in the half-century following 1880. Railroad workers broke through the Appalachian Mountains' natural barrier and connected the city to the world, forever changing its culture and social zeitgeist. Though decades have passed, Brenda Seright Williams still feels the impact of this period, and the tour guide isn't content to let it fade into history. As it says on her website, she believes "the study of those who came before can inspire us to stretch our own limits."
Her Urban Trail walking tours not only explore the 19th century’s Gilded Age but also tiptoe through four other time periods, including the Frontier Period and the Age of String Cheese. Alternatively, Brenda shifts the spotlight to Asheville's pivotal female figures during the aptly named Herstory tours. However, neither of these excursions are cookie-cutter adventures. To weave her stories, Brenda has conducted more than 100 interviews and spent countless hours researching minute details and the correct pronunciation of the word "pioneer."
The guides who founded Better Tours of Asheville draw on experience leading excursions in far-flung locations in Puerto Rico, France, and Italy. Now, they accompany groups past the basilica and other historical buildings in the town, delivering stories developed through constant research and an ability to smell fossils. The guides divulge colorful tidbits of local history during pub crawls through storied taverns with group drink specials and allude to haunting tragedies along ghost tours that occasionally yield eerie photos of orbs, wisps, and buildings an inch from where they normally are.
Electro Bicycle Tours’s Kettler Twin electric bikes assist riders with a motor that provides extra power to match how hard they’re pedaling. Three “assist” settings allow riders to customize the added speed, from a minimal boost to a high setting that helps bikes easily mount Asheville’s hills and then laugh at them. Alternatively, riders can switch the assist off to pedal using their strength alone. Sightseers can rent the bikes to carve their own paths through the city or let someone else do the navigating on scenic tours of Asheville that include a stop at the Asheville Botanical Gardens. Electro Bicycle Tours also teams up with the Asheville Brewing Company to offer Bike and Brew capers about town.
Ask a census taker and you?ll hear that Asheville is home to more than 85,000 inhabitants. But according to the three ?ghost hosts" at Ghost Hunters of Asheville, that number is even higher when the city?s spirits are taken into account. Blending Asheville history with spine-tingling ghost stories, the detectors of all things spectral unveil the apparitions that haunt everything from Riverside Cemetery to the turn-of-the-century inns and dwellings of historic Montford. During their tours, the hosts equip guests with complimentary ghost-hunting tools such as EMF meters and dowsing rods to help attendees make contact with the deceased. Along with its main nightly tours, Ghost Hunters of Asheville also offers ?Ghost & Grapes,? which combines wine tastings with hunts for the spirits of squashed grapes.
For 17 years, third-generation and FAA–certified sky engineer Addison M. Brown has hoisted panorama junkies into the sky by harnessing the power of hot, blustery air. Each morning, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., he and his team pile up to 8 to 14 passengers into the basket of their giant balloons. Then, firing off the burner, they slowly lift off as the sun begins its own ascent, typically reaching heights from 500 to 2,000 feet. Below them, the rays of the sunrise wash over vistas of downtown Asheville, a patchwork of multicolored crop fields, and the tree-covered backs of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Maneuvering with the morning's mild wind currents, they ferry the group over hills and hollows for a 3- to 5-mile float. Upon a gentle landing, the crew celebrates with passengers by offering them a champagne toast and helping them dust the clouds out of their hair. Passengers are welcomed to bring their own cameras or video cameras to document the flight.