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The Joy of Family Travel: Niece-ly Done

Melba Newsome, Kendra Kara, Baking Class, Asheville, The Joy of Family Travel: Niece-ly Done

Peter Frank Edwards

From left: Melba, Kendra and Kara take a baking class at Dough Bakery.

We're strapped into body harnesses 35 stories above the ground, speeding over maple trees at 70 miles per hour and screaming our throats raw in fear-tinged delight when it hits me: This is not my mother's weekend getaway. 

And to think that, for a brief moment, I'd worried it might be hard for three generations of Newsomes — me, 57; my niece Kara, 40; and her daughter, my grandniece Kendra, 9 — to find mutually enjoyable activities in this pristine corner of western North Carolina! 

In fact, zip-lining was my idea. After dropping our bags at a downtown hotel, we headed straight for the course, just 20 minutes away. I had fallen in love with it two years ago and persuaded my nieces to try it by touting it as "playing Tarzan with a more secure vine." 

"Well, we wanted adventure, didn't we?" Kara said as we signed up. 

Visitors have flocked to Asheville since the 1880s, when railroad companies transformed it from a wilderness outpost to a destination for those in search of outdoor adventure and fresh mountain air. Now, with a population approaching 90,000, it attracts both outdoorsy and artsy types with its combo of urban quirkiness and rural charm. We chose it for the many activities suited to multiple generations, and because it's just two hours from my home in Charlotte and four hours from Atlanta, where my nieces live.

After opening the weekend with that heart-pounding sky ride, we were famished and eager to check out the thriving restaurant scene. The influx of innovative chefs such as Katie Button at Cúrate has put Asheville on the culinary map. For dinner, we chose a place where President Obama has dined: Corner Kitchen, noted for its refined Southern cuisine. (Pecan-crusted mountain trout, anyone?) Kara courageously declared the collard greens better than the ones I cook back home; I had to agree! 

Kendra and I are Food Network devotees, as well as fans of the series Master Chef. Kara, on the other hand, cooks only to stave off starvation. Still, we were all excited to take a class at Dough, a gourmet market and bakery near downtown, where we found ourselves elbow-deep in doughnut dough. Chef-owner Brian Ross has assembled a team to teach everything from cooking Thai and Chinese dishes to baking perfect pies.

If we'd been so inclined, we could also have taken lessons in clogging, the Appalachian folk dance — or, because the city is a mecca for artisans, in painting and jewelry- or pottery-making as well. But it would be criminal to leave Asheville without seeing the birthplace of its most famous son, literary giant Thomas Wolfe, so I was grateful my nieces indulged my inner novelist with visits to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and the turn-of-the-century boardinghouse where he grew up. 

No trip to Asheville is complete without a visit to the palatial Biltmore Estate and its shops, restaurants, gardens and winery. The drive from the entrance gate winds through three miles of woodlands along the Swannanoa River before reaching the fabulous French château, completed in 1895.

It's easy to see why it took hundreds of laborers more than five years to finish the mansion, built for art collector George Vanderbilt. It boasts 43 bathrooms, 35 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces and a bowling alley. Kendra wanted the audio tour, ostensibly narrated by Cedric, the Vanderbilts' Saint Bernard. He gave us the insider's take on life a century ago in the nation's largest home.  

"My house is going to be bigger!" Kendra declared.

"And who's going to dust it?" her practical mother wanted to know. 

We spent our last night at the Inn on Biltmore Estate (rooms start at about $300), where we snuggled under comforters and enjoyed a movie on the flat-screen TV. In the morning we took a final stroll, snapped one last selfie to send to relatives and promised to make this intergenerational getaway an annual affair. 

Melba Newsome is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Awesome Asheville

Embrace nature.

Hike along the nearby Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or kayak the French Broad River.

Find a cabin!
Consider rentals at Asheville Cottages or the more rustic Log Cabin Motor Court, not far from downtown.

Eat Dixie-style. 
Southern comfort food is a must here; try the beloved Early Girl Eatery for breakfast, and 12 Bones Smokehouse, a barbecue joint.

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