With a foggy mist settling over the mountains, fall foliage in scarlet, orange and yellow glistens as sunlight streaks through morning clouds. During autumn we are drawn to the mountains to view picture-perfect vistas and soak in God’s handiwork. This fall savor the best of the season at a crown jewel of southern inns, located just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Perched mountainside in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the outskirts of Asheville, N.C., Richmond Hill Inn offers panoramic views of brilliant foliage in an elegant, Victorian garden setting. The historic mansion, Croquet Cottages and Garden Pavilion offer 37 well-appointed rooms at the Mobil Four Star and AAA Four Diamond Award destination.
Designed by James G. Hill, the Victorian mansion was built in 1889 as the residence for Ambassador and Congressman Richard Pearson and his wife, Gabrielle. At the time, the house was one of the most elegant and innovative structures with running water and a communications system.
The Queen Anne-style mansion was the center of social and political events. Guests traveled by carriage half an hour from Asheville for lavish parties, with Gabrielle as a gracious hostess. Surrounding the mansion, rolling grounds were fragrant with gardens, orchards and vineyards.
Ninety-five years later when heirs sold the property, the house faced demolition. The Preservation Society saved the structure and moved it 600 feet down the mountain. After a three-million-dollar investment, the mansion was restored and opened as an inn in 1989.
On the first floor, doors open to the Oak Hall with handcrafted woodwork, the library, Gabrielle’s restaurant, the ballroom and drawing room. Guest rooms are located on the second and third floors. Antiques and paintings furnish the inn.
During the 1990s, the Croquet Cottages and the Garden Pavilion were built with complementing Victorian architecture. Six acres of gardens wind among the buildings adjacent to 40-wooded acres with walking trails.
The tranquil setting is enhanced with several water features. A mountain brook flows down the natural slope of the grounds into a series of small pools before cascading over a nine-foot waterfall in the formal Parterre Garden.
The inn excels in dining on every level. Afternoon tea is served with the pastry chef preparing most of the scrumptious indulgences. We sipped tea in leather wicker chairs on the sun porch overlooking the gardens as we relished smoked salmon sandwiches, scones, ginger cookies, cheese, fruit and a buttercream layer cake.
The main restaurant, Gabrielle’s, has been honored with AAA Four Diamonds. Chef Duane Fernandes took over the helm as executive chef over a year ago and began with a new staff and menu.
After two culinary schools, he worked at Charleston restaurants before becoming executive sous chef at the five-star/five diamond Jefferson Hotel. He also worked for the highly acclaimed Chef Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York, regarded as one of the top restaurants in the world. Keller also founded the famous French Laundry in Napa Valley.
With his experience and skills, Chef Fernandes is a rising star. His dishes at Gabrielle’s showcase his talent. Seasonal menus are created utilizing local produce and exotic ingredients. A four-course prix fixe menu and five-course tasting menu are offered. Courses are available individually as well as a cheese tasting.
White tablecloths and long-stemmed, red roses created an elegant setting, enhanced with piano music softly playing in the background.
In order to sample a wide variety, we decided one would order the tasting menu, and the other the prix fixe selections. The tasting menu began with glazed peach with blue crab, while the other started with saffron cauliflower and lentils.
The next course delivered sublime pan-seared, diver scallops atop an immensely flavorful mixture of artichokes, crispy pancetta and nicoise olives with barigoule emulsion. The tender scallops were the best we have tasted.
On the tasting menu, Gulf shrimp mingled among baby beets, Hawaiian hearts of palm and pickled onion rings in a clover honey-beet reduction sauce.
The tasting menu’s second appetizer was a flawless poached, wild ivory salmon paired with a creamy mascarpone orzo and petite watercress laced with vanilla bean and grapefruit emulsion.
A refreshing mango sorbet cleansed the palate. Entrees were first-rate. Grilled filet of beef shared the plate with saffron fingerling potatoes, white asparagus, roasted hyacinth bulbs and arugula puree. A spectacular free-range rack of lamb was succulent with demi glace, pea shoot gnocchi and minted baby spring vegetables.
We opted to share the cheese-tasting course. Flavors ranged from buttery and mild to a firm, tangy cheese with a douse of 25-year-old balsamic vinegar.
The evening ended on a sweet note with sensational desserts. A goat “cheesecake” with a layer of dark chocolate and garnished with jewel-like, semi-frozen raspberries and almond praline quickly disappeared as well as the chocolate plum soufflé cake with port plum ice cream and chocolate sorbet.
The inn offers another restaurant, the Ambassador’s Grille, in the Garden Pavilion.
Breakfast is enjoyed on the sun porch. A buffet breakfast included a cheddar and goat cheese frittata, breakfast meats, grits, breads, smoked salmon and pastries. Omelets and French toast are also available.
Outdoor activities available in the surrounding area include fly-fishing, rafting and golf.
While Gabrielle’s is our favorite restaurant in Asheville, here are some others we recommend.
The Flying Frog Café offers continental, German and urban Indian cuisines. We liked the calamari, roast duckling and the schnitzel sampler with four German specialties, each with a different sauce.
Frankie Bones is lively with remembrances of Frank Sinatra. For starters, try the whole artichoke stuffed with crabmeat. The filet and coffee-rub rib eye are both excellent.
Consider a side trip to Hendersonville for antiquing or picking apples. Stop by Bistro 502 for tasty crab cakes or Mezzaluna for brick-oven pizzas.
At Biltmore Estates, we discovered the best view and menu for lunch was on the veranda at the Biltmore Inn. Don’t miss the lobster pot pie, savory Caesar salad or Kobe beef burger with blue cheese and maple bacon.
For further information on the Richmond Hill Inn call 800.545.9238 or visit