photograph by Jack Sorokin

It’s 5:15 a.m. when I get the text: Good morning! I’m here! I quickly tug on a coat. “Mom,” I call. “You ready?” A few minutes later, the two of us are riding in Mark Bastin’s toasty car, Asheville disappearing behind us in the dark as we make our way toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mark, our guide, is exceedingly cheerful for such an early wake-up call. “When a morning starts with a hike, no matter how bad your day gets, you can say you went on a hike,” he says with an optimism that I try very hard to embrace. But first, he says, he wants to watch the sun rise from Pounding Mill Overlook.

When I planned this mother-daughter trip to Asheville, I didn’t realize that the beautiful, century-old loft we’d be staying in came with a secret amenity: an adventure guide.

Tucked away on quiet Church Street, just two blocks from Pack Square, The Lofts at 16 Church feel like the way you’re supposed to experience downtown Asheville. Exposed brick walls, softened around the edges by time, allude to the building’s past — it was built in the late 1800s — while new hardwood floors, marble countertops, and comfy furniture provide modern touches. A door that reaches nearly as high as the ceiling leads out to a deck overlooking Lexington Avenue. You can sense the noise down on the street, but up here, there’s a peaceful hush. And beyond the buildings, the mountains rise.

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Mark is the vice president of marketing at Yonder, a vacation rental company that owns the lofts (and dozens of other properties in Asheville and beyond). But he’s often also the “yes man” for guests. Want to go whitewater kayaking? He’ll connect you with Hendersonville paddling pro Phillip Ellis. Want to stretch your legs? He’ll call up Pete Ripmaster, a champion trail runner who won the 2018 Iditarod in Alaska — on foot — to take you for a jaunt through the woods. Want to see the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains or marvel at some waterfalls? Mark will gladly take you himself.

Bird-watching, biking, yoga, brewery hopping, art gallery tours: “With our local knowledge and connections, pretty much any experience is possible,” Mark says. “Last year, I even took a group of guests to see the elk in Cataloochee during mating season. It was wild.” But best of all just might be the culinary experience.

For that, Mark calls on Reza Setayesh, acclaimed Asheville chef and owner of local restaurants Baba Nahm and BimBeriBon. He’ll come right to the loft’s well-appointed kitchen to cook a jaw-dropping, seasonally inspired meal. Think chorizo sausage and braised chicken paella, cranberry-cashew cheesecake, and red wine and citrus sangria.

Chef Reza will create a menu just for you using local ingredients. photograph by Jack Sorokin

All of this is part of a new trend in travel that Mark and the Yonder team believe in wholeheartedly: Even more important than where you stay are the memories you make. “People are traveling differently,” Mark says. “They want to come away from a trip with a meaningful experience.” And what better way to make memories than over a steaming plate of paella and a mountain view?

Back at Pounding Mill Overlook, the horizon is starting to glow. The mountains below us are blanketed in mist. Mark leans on the hood of his car. “Some of our guests have never seen a sunrise over the Blue Ridge before,” he says. “It’s just really cool when you can be part of an experience that people take with them, that they remember forever.” Mom nudges me as the sun finally peeks out, and I can’t help but smile.


Yonder Luxury Vacation Rentals
16 Church Street
Asheville, NC 28801
(888) 699-2987
yondervacationrentals.com

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Katie Schanze is the assistant editor and digital editor of Our State.

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