I wasn’t prepared for how magnificent Biltmore was up close and personal.
It was as if I were suddenly in the French countryside, secluded from all neighbors and on an expansive tract of land that stretched as far as my eye could see. Everything about this estate is peaceful, idyllic, and magnificent. Even throngs of visitors with their hectic cacophony were unable to shatter the quiet strength all around.
George Vanderbilt commissioned the home to be built on the original 125,000 acres, which is roughly 195 square miles. I think that deserves a few exclamation points! That is a massive area, and George’s vision was to create a masterpiece in the midst of his land that would serve as a haven for friends and family to escape to and relax, letting the troubles of the outside world simply melt away into the thick morning mists of the forest beyond.
Our group had the good fortune to enjoy a guided tour of the Biltmore House. There are several different guided tours that can be purchased and I highly recommend paying the additional fee for this service. Not only are you getting a knowledgeable chaperone to shower you with information and legend but you’re also able to see parts of the house that are not accessible to those on the self-guided walking tour.
We were on the Architectural Tour and learned much about the construction and design of the house. One of the first facts we learned is that although the design of the house appears to be very French, it is actually a New York City skyscraper laid on its side. When you see blueprints of the building you can see that this is precisely what it is.
George Vanderbilt hired esteemed architect Richard Morris Hunt to design his house. Perhaps you aren’t familiar with his name but I’m certain you’ll recognize some of his other work: the 5th Avenue Facade of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’s Tribune Building, and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. George was a man who wouldn’t settle for less than the best.
He had electricity and an elevator in his house from the beginning, indoor plumbing and refrigeration systems. The house has 250 rooms, an indoor swimming pool, winter garden area, and a bowling alley.
He hired stoneworkers, blacksmiths, and even mountain climbers to help complete the project. The roof contains Pennsylvania slate tiles that were individually hand-tied and still largely intact, even after all these years.
The house was officially open for use in 1895 and in 1898 the Vanderbilt family (George and his bride, Edith) moved to Biltmore permanently. I don’t blame them! With such a wondrous home and gardens surrounding the house designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, why wouldn’t they? Yes, that Olmstead. The one who designed NYC’s Central Park.
I learned that there is a difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque. A gargoyle has a long neck and was traditionally used as a sort of rain spout, to direct water out and away from spilling straight down the house or building. A grotesque was used to chase away evil spirits. You can clearly see the difference between the two in this photo:
I patted the tailless rump of this grotesque as we walked along the parapet on one section of the roof. I found out a few minutes later that Biltmore legend states that whomever does this is granted good luck – fantastic!
The estate today is a destination in itself. One could spend days here and still not see everything. And you can stay here! There is an inn at Biltmore and you can also rent one of the cottages if you desire a more home-style stay that still has full amenities. I don’t know about you but I think the Full American Plan for a Cottage Stay sounds pretty wonderful. For more information on the winery, various dining options, horseback riding, segway tours, or the Land Rover Experience, spend some time browsing the Biltmore website. I can personally advise you on the grandeur of dining in the Champagne Cellar at Antler Hill Winery. With outstanding food and service, this is an experience anyone with discriminating tastes will enjoy.
Many thanks to Marissa Jamison of Biltmore’s PR office, who acted as our liaison as we toured the estate and shared much knowledge with us during our time there.
Disclaimer: I was invited on this trip by the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau and was provided with lodging and all food, drinks, and activities. Thoughts, opinions, and occasional sense of humor remain (and always will remain) my own. No one can buy my words but you can wine and dine me. Okay? Okay. All photographs are my own.