By: Charlene & Richard Mixa
Relive the Gilded Age at America’s Largest Home
Imagine a house of 250-rooms! Larger than a castle! Property encompassing 125,000 acres! Relive the Gilded Age with a visit to America’s largest home. George Vanderbilt’s vision of an “escape from everyday life,” the Biltmore invites us to explore and experience this enchanting mountain chateau. While Downton Abbey depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era, the Biltmore’s own amazing history is the real life drama of the Vanderbilt family and life in America’s Gilded Age.
A visit to the Biltmore transports us to the way of life in the early 1900’s. A massive estate, the opulence, magnificent beauty, fascinating history, and spectacular scenery makes it a true “must do” for a visit to Asheville. We plan a full day adventure to visit the Gardens, the House, as well as the new Antler Village with eateries, the Barn, Vegetable Garden, and the Winery. Note: On our recent visit, we learn the Biltmore announces a new exhibition, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times,” opening February 5 and continuing through Memorial Day, May 25, 2015. Visitors will delight in this exhibition featuring more than 40 “Downton Abbey.” The clothing will be showcased in rooms throughout Biltmore House in groupings inspired by the fictional show and by real life at Biltmore, the grand Vanderbilt estate of the same era.
An informative movie on the Biltmore’s history and the Vanderbilt family at the Welcome Center, begins our travel back to life in the Gilded Age. By passing the Biltmore House, we drive to the Gardens. Arriving early pays off as we easily find a parking spot by the Conservatory. Strolling through the Rose Garden and the Walled Garden we stop for photos in these immaculate gardens. Designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, there are acres of beautiful gardens and grounds to explore.
Following the walkway, we arrive at the graceful Italian Gardens next to the Biltmore House. Completed in 1895, George Vanderbilt’s 250-room chateau is as impressive today as it was more than a century ago. Biltmore House is truly an architectural and historical wonder. With fabulous mountain views from the South Terrace, we see why George Vanderbilt was captivated by this countryside as an “escape from everyday life.” Of course everyday life in a 250-room mansion is a bit different than our daily life or even our idea of a vacation retreat.
At Biltmore House the self-guided audio tour takes us through an amazing 42 rooms. At each room we gain insight into how people lived and worked in America’s largest home. Built for entertaining, the Biltmore features elegant and sophisticated rooms all richly decorated. Flemish tapestries from the 1530’s hang in the Tapestry Gallery and the seven-story Banquet Hall. Our tour takes us through the Family Rooms – the private bedrooms and sitting area of George and Edith Vanderbilt. Gilded wall coverings are in George’s bedroom with Edith Vanderbilt’s bedroom and sitting room featuring a feminine décor. In this era ladies and gentlemen could have as many of eight changes of clothes a day. We visit the Guest Retreats with the guest bedrooms and social spaces. The downstairs has a Bowling Alley, a 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool, and a gymnasium. Touring the Servant’s Domain where the 30-35 servants lived and worked it is quickly relevant that running the Biltmore House was equivalent to running a large hotel. Providing three meals a day to the servants was a full time job for the dining room maid. The tour finishes in the Bachelor’s Wing with the Gun Room and the Smoking Room where male guests enjoyed after-dinner cigars, pipes, and brandy. Wow! The house audio tour is fantastic! Life in the Gilded Age was astounding as was and is the Vanderbilt Family.
It’s time for lunch and we’re off to Antler Village. At Cedric’s Tavern, a most upscale pub, we have a delicious lunch and sample the local beers. Exploring Antler Village we roam through the circular Barn and learn all that was necessary to run this massive estate. An excellent video shares the life of the workers of the Biltmore. Next it’s “down on the farm” with the various farm animals including goats chickens, roosters and horses. The kids and adults have fun time in the petting area. Strolling through the Vegetable Garden we check out the array of vegetables and fruits. Plus there are shops and eateries in the Village. We find numerous treasures on display at The Vanderbilt’s at Home and Abroad exhibition, including Napoleon’s Chess set. It provides another dimension of the Vanderbilt family, as well as, the challenges faced with maintaining this massive estate. Final stop is the Winery for the free Winery Tour and complimentary Wine Tasting. In keeping with the opulence of the Biltmore, this is the largest and busiest tasting room the most generous with tastings. A toast to a wonderful and exciting day at the Biltmore. Cheers!
Accommodations: Visitors seeking a Biltmore experience, will have an enchanted stay in the relaxed elegance of the Inn on Biltmore Estate. The huge outdoor patio offers extensive views of the estate and the magnificent Biltmore House. Sipping tea in the afternoon from a rocker on the huge veranda, we have more scenic and panoramic mountain views. Offering upscale rooms with the service and graciousness of the Vanderbilt’s, the Inn is truly like stepping back in time but with all the modern amenities. The convenience of the Inn on the Estate allows for plenty of time to immerse oneself in all that the Biltmore Estate offers.
If you go:
Biltmore Estate,1 Lodge St Asheville, NC 28803 (800) 411-3812; biltmore.com