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Eric Newill, Contributing Editor

Nestled in the bucolic Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, Asheville has long been a magnet for pioneers, entrepreneurs and creatives. Founded in 1797, the town hit its stride in the early 20th Century, when it experienced a manufacturing boom that fostered an architectural flowering, including some of the South's best examples of art deco. George Vanderbilt II was so taken with the area's natural beauty that he built his 250-room Biltmore estate nearby, still the nation's largest private home. Today an influx of new residents and visitors is contributing to the city's vibrant arts and culinary scene, one of the most diverse and innovative in the region.