Inns and Outs
Written by Bridget Williams
Situated on a leafy-acre and tucked into a gentrified neighborhood of distinguished historic homes within walking distance of downtown Asheville, North Carolina, Applewood Manor, a six-room bed and breakfast, serves as a charming and ideal home base for exploring the region's plethora of cultural, culinary and outdoor offerings.
Far from the folksy, lace-curtained, and Queen Anne-furnished interiors often associated with B&B’s, 110-year-old, 6,000-squarefoot Applewood Manor is fresh off the first phase of a $1.5 million renovation and redesign, spearheaded by new owners Robin and Stephen Collins. Here, the bohemian-chic interiors reflect the personal passions of the owners, with carefully selected art and furnishings in public and private spaces hailing from the Collins' collection and enhanced by pieces sourced from 1stDibs, Duxiana, and Bloomist, among others. "Having lived and worked in more than 20 different countries, I was inspired by boutique hotels around the globe, and we aim to bring that level of sophistication, authenticity, engagement, and curation to deliver a more contemporary differentiated bed and breakfast experience," said Stephen.
During our stay, the refurbishment of a trio of ground-floor porches and second-floor bedroom balconies was nearing completion. In addition, the kitchen was gleaming from a significant renovation that had Robin, who lovingly creates breakfast for guests each morning, smiling from ear to ear. What thankfully remains intact is the old-house charm, including an endearing creak of the floorboards as we ascended the broad staircase to our second-floor York Imperial Suite. The scintillating scent of freshly made cookies laid out for us next to the coffeemaker greeted us as soon as we opened the door to our room.
Each guestroom at Applewood Manor boasts a king-sized Duxiana DUX 6006 bed; the deep sleep afforded each night by the $14k mattress made believers out of us. Our bed was dressed with crisp white Sferra linens and topped by a sari-inspired cover at the foot. The Collins, who also own a home in Provence, are bona fide Francophiles, evidenced by the large map of French wine-growing regions over the bed, and another one over the fireplace. As someone whose personal style leans towards the eclectic, I appreciated the mix of antiques from varying periods. The hallway leading to the compact en suite bath with cast iron tub retains the original built-in linen closets. Enveloped by mature trees, surrounding homes are largely obscured from view.
Breakfast is a communal affair, served at 9am in the dining room. While not a chef by trade, Robin said she's long been interested in food and wine. She and Stephen, a technology entrepreneur, and their children have frequently moved for his job, including stints in Austin
and Nashville. After deciding to put down more permanent roots, the couple settled on Asheville, allowing Stephen to indulge his passion for cycling and Robin to flex her culinary muscle, something she's been pondering since their daughters went to boarding school in France. Robin recounted that Stephen helped her check several boxes on her "dream list," including ballroom dance lessons and a one-week intensive pastry making course in New York City as a year-long celebration of her fortieth birthday, the latter of which has been put to good use for the benefit of Applewood’s guests.
Robin's bubbly personality seems tailor-made for her current role as an innkeeper, and it's evident that she takes great pride in what she brings to the table. She makes bread from scratch and employs an "eat with your eyes first" ethos that incorporates local ingredients into tarts, quiches, and Dutch baby pancakes (my personal favorite). During our stay, Robin's
daughter Grace was on hand to help out. After learning of my affinity for French bulldogs, I was elated when Grace brought their snorty snuggle bugs Cleo and Pearl for a visit. Chatting with other guests each morning during breakfast helped inform our daily itinerary, as we tweaked it based on their experiences and recommendations.
Asheville is an ideal destination for those who like to be active. There's a large public park with tennis courts, access to a lovely greenway, and the 10-acre Botanical Gardens at Asheville within close proximity to Applewood. A zealous cyclist who hosts weekly Zwift rides that attract three thousand riders, Stephen has developed a partnership with 3T Cycling to offer a fleet of bikes for guests to use throughout their stay. In addition, guided "Peep and Pedal" foliage rides with Stephen, cycling camps, and coaching with 2018 USA national road race champion Jonny Brown are regular offerings.
Outside of hopping in the car to drive portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway and to access popular trailheads in the area, a good bit of our exploring was done on foot, taking advantage of the many shopping and dining options in downtown Asheville. For an interactive Ashville Hike Finder, head to exploreasheville.com. Positioned on the French Broad River, the gritty-yet-artsy River Arts District is home to 230 artists. Vinyl fans and architecture buffs will want to stop for a coffee or cocktail at Citizen Vinyl , home to a record pressing plant, independent record store, and a bar and café.
For a town with less than 100,000 residents, the culinary scene in Asheville is outstanding, with more than 250 independent restaurants and 15 James Beard-nominees. We enjoyed a fantastic al fresco meal at The Market Place, a 42-year-old farm-to-table spot helmed by chef/owner William Dissen. A classic steakhouse experience centered around live fire cooking and seasonal ingredients is served up in a chic setting at Asheville Proper. Chef Jacob Sessoms, Asheville's original James Beard semifinalist, serves continuously evolving seasonal New American-style cuisine at Table. From French to Filipino, if you have a culinary craving, chances are there's a place to satiate it.
While the city is known as a craft beer hub, it's easy to move beyond beer. After getting a taste of their product in a cocktail at The Market Place, we sought out the tasting room at Ginger's Revenge to sample a flight of their award-winning ginger beer. Located in a converted auto shop, Ben's Tune Up is the nation's fifth American-owned saké company. Near the Grove Arcade, one of the city’s Art Deco gems, Cultivated Cocktails Distillery makes Hazel 63 Rum, the only rum produced in Western North Carolina. Located on the South Slope, the Chemist distillery's tasting room looks like a Prohibition-era apothecary.
Applewood Manor will be adding to the diversity of the culinary scene with a pair of immersive guest chef events this winter. First, from December 10-13, 2021, three-Michelin-starred Chef Mads Refslund of Noma fame will host a weekend of foraging, cooking, and dining, focusing on Nordic meets Appalachian cuisine. Then, from February 17-20, 2022, Michelin-starred Chef Xavier Mathieu of Relais & Chateaux Le Phébus & Spa in the South of France will bring Provencal flavors to Asheville for a four-day weekend of tastings, workshops, and friendly competitions. Curating wine and craft beer pairings for both events is Applewood Manor's Sommelier Todd Mathis, founder of DNS Wines, who plans to use bottles from the Collins's collection. "We couldn't be more excited to bring these world-renowned chefs to Asheville and create a unique opportunity for locals and travelers alike to interact with them in an intimate, inviting setting," said Stephen.