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Spend the holidays in Asheville

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/13/15/22/WdcOj.Em.138.jpeg|361
    HO - GROVE PARK INN
    Hundreds of gingerbread houses from around the country will be on display at the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/20/06/42/1rxEzZ.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - GROVE PARK INN
    Warm your toes in front of the fireplaces in the Grove Park Inn’s Great Hall.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/20/06/41/1rxEyU.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Michael Oppenheim - MICHAEL OPPENHEIM
    Hundreds of gingerbread houses from around the country will be on display at the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville.

Asheville is the nearest big city where you just might find a touch of snowfall this winter. The key word is “touch”: Last winter’s total was 4.7 inches, although the annual average is 15.4 inches. That said, downtown Asheville is ringed by breath-taking peaks, and the city has an array of activities that focus on the holidays.

The National Gingerbread House Competition (http://bit.ly/15CvlyW) at Grove Park Inn garners a lot of national attention: Chefs from across the country compete to build houses from spice cookies – whether a mansion decorated with gumdrops and icing ... or a simple, well-built cabin. Judging is Nov. 18; Nov. 20 through Jan. 1, you can see the fantastic and fanciful creations.

The Grove Park Inn (www.groveparkinn.com) is decked with decorated trees and hung with wreaths. And if you’ve seen the Great Hall’s massive fireplaces any other time of year, winter’s the time to see them in action: They’ll be burning 12-foot logs.

Asheville’s Holiday Parade rolls through downtown on Nov. 23, starting at 11 a.m. The theme this year: “A Star is Born,” saluting the community’s many artists and performers. After the parade, head to Pack Square Park for JingleFest, where many of those performers will entertain the crowd. Festivities will also be held at Grove Arcade. Details on these events: www.ashevilledowntown.org/holidays.

If you’d like to view another procession, consider the Black Mountain Christmas Parade (www.exploreblackmountain.com), starting at 4 p.m. Dec. 7 in that downtown, just 15 minutes east of Asheville.

Biltmore Village’s Dickens Festival (www.biltmorevillage.com/dickens_festival.htm) is the weekend of Dec. 6-8. The shops, restaurants and galleries will be decorated for the season, and the main stage will have continuous entertainment. After their scheduled segments, more than 300 musicians, singers, dancers and actors will roam the area, performing on the streets as well as inside shops and eateries. There will be horse-drawn rides, chestnuts roasted on an open fire and, come dusk, an illumination of the Village with more than 250,000 tiny white lights.

And come the new year, keep in mind the Asheville Winter Warmer Beer Festival (www.ashevillebeerfest.com). More than 30 craft breweries will be pouring suds for samplings at the Civic Center on Jan. 25.

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