Review by James Dunford Wood, published 17th September 2016.
At first sight, this hotel looks like some kind of fantasy gingerbread castle – it is no accident that the hotel hosts an annual gingerbread festival just before Christmas. Set on a hillside 10 minutes from downtown Asheville, with spectacular views over the city and the North Carolina landscape, the Grove Park was built in 1913 by Edwin Grove, and like many historic American hotels of that period, has a distinctly European feel – in this case that of one of those grand ski lodges you might find in Gstaad or Zermatt. The idea was to create a place for people to come that felt like home and. despite its size, it’s managed that aim spectacularly well. As soon as you sweep down the drive you are met with the site of guests soaking up the last rays of sun in a row of lounging rocking chairs ranged outside the entrance. You almost feel like you need to be skiing down the drive.
Once through the doors, you’re immediately in what feels like the largest drawing room in America. Huge hall, what Grove called his grand hall, it includes the reception desks, two huge fireplaces at either end (constantly burning, one gas for warmer summers, the other wood fired), where yet more rocking chairs harbour guests reading, chatting or tapping on laptops. The whole ensemble is scattered with seating areas - arts and crafts chairs and tables and desks, sofas and bar stools around a buzzing bar at one end. Across the hall, double glass doors give on to the spectular terrace, with wide panoramic views across the valley and city beyond.
When originally built, the views would have been almost 180 degrees. Since the 50s, one wing and then another have been built in rather brutalist modern style to increase the room count, as the hotel gets a large part of its business from conferences and conventions. A shame in one way, but the juxtaposition of new and old just about works, and the best of the views are intact.
The rooms are varied – often huge, many with great views, they feel old fashioned but comfortable, with seating areas and more arts and craft furnishings. Many famous guests have passed through these rooms, from American presidents to film stars to writers, the most famous of whom was Scott Fitzgerald, who spent some months holed up here trying to get his creative juices flowing again, in room 414.
The mark of a good hotel is the percentage of repeat business and regular guests that come back – and here the Grove Park scores in spades. Families who come at Christmas often bring their own trees to set up in their rooms – it’s that kind of place. With three restaurants, a spa and gym, outdoor and indoor pools, and a golf course – the Grove Park is a destination hotel packed with character that merits inclusion in the top attractions in Asheville, North Carolina.