The majestic peaks, meadows, shrub-covered balds (big grassy mountaintops where no trees grow), and valleys of the Appalachian, Blue Ridge, and Great Smoky Mountains epitomize the western corner of North Carolina. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, national forests, handmade-crafts centers, Asheville's eclectic and sophisticated pleasures, the astonishing Biltmore Estate, and the Blue Ridge Parkway are the area's main draws, providing prime opportunities for shopping, skiing, hiking, bicycling, camping, fishing, canoeing, and just taking in the views.
The city of Asheville is one of the stops on the counterculture trail, as well as being a popular retirement area. Its restaurants regularly make the TV food show circuit, and with craft breweries on nearly every block, it has been named "Beer City USA" for several years in an Internet poll. Thanks to their moneyed seasonal residents and long histories as resorts, even smaller towns like Highlands, Cashiers, Flat Rock, and Hendersonville have restaurants with daring chefs and professional summer theater. In the High Country, where summer temperatures are as much as 15 degrees cooler than in the flatlands, and where snow skiing is a major draw in winter, affluent retirees and hip young entrepreneurs bring panache to even the most rural areas.
Some of the most important arts and culture movements of the 20th century, including Abstract Impressionist painting and the Beat movement, had roots just east of Asheville, at Black Mountain College, where in the 1930s to 1950s the notables included famed artists Josef and Anni Albers, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Motherwell, choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, musician John Cage, thinker Buckminster Fuller, architect Walter Gropius, and the writers Charles Olson and Paul Goodman.