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Retire Here, Not There

July 29, 2014, 5:00 a.m. EDT

Retire Here, Not There: North Carolina

Retire like a Vanderbilt without spending like one

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By Anya Martin, MarketWatch

Continued from page 2

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com
The Asheville skyline.


The reasons Asheville tops many “best places to retire” lists are self-evident to any visitor—they range from the natural beauty of the surroundings to hiking and camping opportunities to one of the most lively arts scenes in the nation outside of a major metropolitan area. Asheville sits just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile limited-access highway that curls through stunning scenic overlooks linking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in western North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Along the way are numerous trails, wildflower meadows and picnic spots—plenty of incentives for family members and friends to visit. Many locals also buy a season pass to the Biltmore House, which offers acres of scenic walking paths through gardens and along a creek and pond.

In town, the cost of living is just 4.8% above the national average, according to Sperling’s Best Places, and Asheville residents seldom lack for things to do. The renovated historic downtown bursts with art and craft galleries which run the gamut from folk to contemporary; there are also unique locally owned shops and roughly 500 restaurants. The River Arts District, a short drive from downtown, has over 150 studios and galleries on its own. Asheville has a symphony orchestra and an active local theater and music scene, too.

A popular social gathering spot for retirees is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, which offers more than 250 classes each year on everything from knitting to Buddhist philosophy. But Asheville is also a generational melting pot where most cultural events attract people of a variety of ages, says Catherine Frank, the institute’s executive director. “You don’t go to very many places here, and think ‘I’m old, I don’t belong here,’” she adds. Warren Wilson and Western Carolina University are also located in Asheville.

Asheville does have some of the drawbacks associated with smaller cities. Its regional airport offers direct flights to only eight U.S. cities, and those flights tend to be pricey. (A $64 million construction project for a new runway will begin in August 2014, and is expected to increase air traffic and flight options in the future.) Anyone concerned with mobility issues associated with aging should keep in mind that Asheville is quite hilly, including downtown. The Mission Health Systems offers state-of-the-art specialty medical care, but the area has also attracted a thriving holistic medicine community, and many practices are respectful of complimentary treatments, Frank says.

By the numbers:

  • Population: 83,393

  • Median home cost: $170,400

  • Cost of living: 4.8% higher than average

  • Unemployment: 7.2%

Source: Sperling’s Best Places

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