A few weeks ago I broke my ankle making a trip to see Biltmore Estates, the home of the Vanderbilts located in Asheville, North Carolina. I never made it. So when my visiting friend mentioned he always dreamed of seeing it, I thought I would try again.
I had lived within an hour’s drive of Biltmore Estates in the 1990s, but I never made the trip to see it. It’s supposed to be really decked out at Christmas time, and my friend and I arrived on Thanksgiving Day. The Biltmore did not disappoint.
You have to get make an appointment to tour the house, which we did first thing. The Vanderbilt abode is a European-style chateau with several floors. It is a grand place from top to bottom. I only saw part of it because some locations are not accessible by a wheelchair (used due to my ankle), but I still enjoyed it. I saw the rest via a slide show.
The down side of the house tour is what could be construed as price gouging inside the mansion. There is a prohibition against taking pictures. Instead, you get an opportunity to get your picture taken inside for 30 d0llars. Also, there is a rather pricey audio tour. Otherwise you are on your own. (But what can you expect at the home of one of the nation’s premiere capitalists!)
While the house was nice, I was really impressed with the gardens. The landscape is why I went to the Biltmore. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect of Central Park in New York and the Chicago World’s Fair in the late 19th century. In fact, Olmsted worked on the Chicago exposition and the Vanderbilt estate simulataneously. The latter opened in 1895.
What strikes me about Olmsted’s work at Biltmore Estates is his ability to leave the grounds in a state of natural growth. In addition, he dots the landscape with ponds. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, the effect of his work is breathtaking.
The best overall view of the landscape of Biltmore Estates is on the drive out. We really got a nice look at Olmsted’s work then.
Where the stables used to be is a courtyard where visitors can buy refreshments. It reminds me a lot of a smaller scale courtyard of the one in Talinn, Estonia. It’s very European. My friend and I had a good time talking and drinking coffee and hot chocolate, that is until the sun went in and it was time to move on.
Before leaving, the winery is worth a look whether you are a teetotaler or not. The Vanderbilts used the facility as a dairy business up until the 1980s, and there are some nice old photos of that enterprise there. If you are a wine drinker, you can sample and buy the Biltmore label. My friend took a bottle home as a Christmas gift.
You can upgrade to a season pass for a small fee, which I did. I want to go back soon, perhaps around Christmas when children under 16 are free, or in the spring when the tulips come out.