Visiting America's Biggest Home, The Biltmore :)

Published: April 14th 2021
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Hello! It's been a really long time since our last big trip. I've really missed going on adventures, and writing about them. Hopefully, we will be back into the swing of things someday soon, because there are so many wonderful places still beckoning us to go see them... I'm looking at you Japan! I truly hope that everyone reading this is doing alright during these difficult times, and I extend my love and prayers to you if you're not. Sometimes, when I am feeling overwhelmed, nostalgic, and lonely, I go back through my blogs and it takes me back to those wonderful memories, back when the current pandemic couldn't restrict travel, or make us feel so anxious. So what do you do when you've got cabin fever, mixed with travel restrictions? Well, you start exploring local areas around you. And one of the places we've always wanted to visit, that was only an hour away by car, is the astounding Biltmore Estate, in Asheville North Carolina. We had this "local" mini-trip planned several times before, but had to cancel due to shut downs, bad weather, and our kids getting sick at the last minute. Finally, the stars aligned, and we were able to go, just Victor and I. It was a perfect "date night," and a perfect way for me to dip my toes back into travel, without going all the way in with hotels and airports. A bonus is that we got to have some much needed "adults-only-time." All of you parents, locked indoors 24/7 with your kids, for over a year due to the pandemic, I feel you! lol 😊

Driving to the countryside

We started the day early getting dressed really nice, and heading out on the one hour drive to Asheville. One of the things I love about living in the Carolinas is that we have the most beautiful drives, with peaceful mountain sceneries, so it's a pleasure to drive anywhere. Just pop on some good music and you're good to go! Many places including the Biltmore can only fill up to a specific capacity by law, due to the pandemic. If you plan to visit, make sure to get a reservation and pay online or by phone in advance, and have your tickets ready.

Pulling up through the Biltmore's front gate entrance, we got our tickets scanned from our car window, and approached the meandering 2 mile drive into the estate premises. Did you know that the estate is 8,000 acres large? Get ready for some facts! George Washington Vanderbilt originally built his mansion, The Biltmore, on a property of 125,000 acres! Right after his death, his wife sold the rest of the 117,000 acres to the federal government (at an extremely cheap price) to create the Pisgah National Forest, one of the first national forests in this region of the country. This was a good thing, because Mr. Vanderbilt had a vision for this land, to conserve it for generations, so people could come and enjoy it. Your experience at the Biltmore is not just the entrance to the mansion, it's miles upon miles of hiking trails through precious and protected forest. And I can not forget to mention how incredibly kind and hospitable all the staff at the Biltmore are. I'm not sure if it's just their "southern hospitality," or if it's their way to commemorate the kindness and generosity that the Vanderbilt's were so famous for.

The Biltmore History

Cornelius Vanderbilt- William Vanderbilt- George Washington Vanderbilt- Wife Edith Vanderbilt- Daughter Cornelia Vanderbilt-
Blue Ridge Mountain Views from Biltmore MansionBlue Ridge Mountain Views from Biltmore MansionBlue Ridge Mountain Views from Biltmore Mansion

The same views that captivated George Vanderbilt to build his home in this very place.
William & George Cecil

Here are the facts we learned on the history tour of the mansion. This is the story of the family, and how they came to have ownership of such an opulent estate. It all starts with William Vanderbilt, who became the richest man in 1877 when he became heir to a railroad fortune started by his father Cornelius Vanderbilt. As you know, before cars and airplanes, the world relied heavily on trains. So the railroad business was booming in his time. Unfortunately what he didn't know was that eventually, with the invention of cars and more modern transportation, he would lose most of this wealth. But before the downfall of his wealth, he lived in New York with his large family, and they tried desperately to fit into high society by spending lavishly and owning mansions around New York. But it didn't really help because they were continually snubbed by the rest of the wealthy.

Then came George Washington Vanderbilt, the youngest son, who travelled constantly with William, and even learned several different languages. He loved books, art, and culture, and along with some family inheritance, his wealth came from investing in steamboats. He was said to be very shy and introverted. Instead of choosing to live out his adult life in bustling New York City, he chose instead to build his mansion in the quiet country side, in North Carolina. He acquired 125,000 acres and called on the family architect, Richard Hunt, to build his dream country home mansion, modeled after chateaus in France. Seeing it myself, it looks and feels very much like a castle, which is fitting because in a way they could be considered American royalty. He named the estate "Biltmore." "Bilt" from his family's ancestral name in the Netherlands, and "more" (for moor) meaning "an open rolling land". It took 6 years to finish the Biltmore, but the architect didn't live to see it completed. An almost life size portrait of Richard Hunt (the architect) hangs in the Biltmore today. Next to it, is a portrait of the estate's landscape designer, Fredrick Olmstead. Mr. George Vanderbilt's plan for the estate was for it to be self sustaining, essentially to be a good steward of the land. He created an advanced agriculture and farm business, which still stands today. The estate's cows were brought down from New York, and continue to supply some of the best dairy and ice cream in the region. You can buy some on your visit.

Right before the Biltmore mansion was officially completed, George Vanderbilt married his wife Edith, in Paris France. An interesting fact is that they originally held passes to board the Titanic to travel back to the United States from Europe. But a family member warned them against journeying on a maiden voyage, so they changed their plans last minute to board the Olympic ship instead. Their luggage, which they never saw again, did remain on board the Titanic. They lived a happy and philanthropic lifestyle at the Biltmore, and were very kind and generous with their employees that worked on the estate. They hosted big family style gatherings for them, and gifted bountiful presents during Christmas. They had only one daughter named Cornelia, named after her famous great grandfather; Cornelius Vanderbilt. She was born in one of the bedrooms in the Biltmore, and is featured in photos all around the estate as a child. Including photographs with Cedrick, her beloved dog. George Vanderbilt sadly died after an appendectomy. His wife, Edith, continued all the plans he had for the estate, including the agricultural work, making the community in North Carolina a better place, and establishing the Pisgah National Forest. An interesting fact is that during World War II, Edith allowed some of the countries most precious art to be stored in a room at the Biltmore for safe keeping, and she did it for free. Edith eventually remarried, and died at the age of 85.

As an adult, their only daughter Cornelia, got married, had two sons, moved to France, got divorced, moved to London, got remarried, and never went back to live at the Biltmore estate again. She said she had found life there "too dull." The quiet country life just wasn't as appealing to her as it once was for her father, Mr. Vanderbilt. She died at the age of 75, and her ashes remain in England. Her two sons George Cecil and William Cecil, whom are direct descendants of Mr. Vanderbilt, eventually became owners of the Biltmore farm and estate. They were the ones who turned the Biltmore into the tourist attraction it is today, by opening the Biltmore to the public. This helped sustain the estate and boost the economy in the region. They did it in a way that still honors the history of their family and the integrity of the estate as a whole. They were the ones who preserved the chateau and farm, and added a renowned vineyard and winery from the best grafts in Europe. Both George Cecil and William Cecil have now died, but the estate continues to be owned and managed by their children, so the family legacy has carried on. For this reason, The Biltmore continues to be the largest privately owned estate in the country! We are just glad that they've shared the estate and the history with us all. The house is 175,000 square feet, with 250 rooms, 35 which are bedrooms and 43 bathrooms.

The Gardens at the beginning of Spring.

As mentioned above in the history, Fredrick Olmstead was commissioned as the renowned landscape designer and architect of the Biltmore estate grounds. He designed Central Park in New York, Niagara Reservation, and so many other parks around the country. He was a genius, a conservationist, and regarded as the best in his field. Part of what makes the Biltmore experience so enjoyable, is visiting the gardens. I myself am a gardener, and I am so appreciative of all the variety of plant species they have. This might not be the most exciting feature to everyone, but for me it was. I was very much obsessed. I consider myself to be a bit of a "plant nerd" lol! Gardens are usually the first thing I notice on my trips, and they enhance every single experience I have. There are several different garden zones on the estate, one even dedicated just to azaleas, but my favorite was the walled garden. It's formal design includes roses, and espaliers (ornamental fruit trees with branches that are trained to grow flat against a latticed wall.) We timed our visit to coincide with the thousands of tulip bulbs that bloom in late March to early April. My heart was swooning at every turn. The conservatory was also very beautiful.

Basic Biltmore Itinerary

You could spend a whole day at the Biltmore estate. This is a basic itinerary to go by, and what our experience was like. We first started in the gardens, by walking through the glassed conservatory. Then we admired the blooms around the walled garden, and took several walks around the other gardens. Then we headed towards the Biltmore mansion for some brunch on the estate, and there are several dining options, including an outdoor café where we ate sandwich's. We also had some ice-cream at their famous ice-cream parlor. We chose a dairy free raspberry sorbet which was very good. In the afternoon we had our reservation inside the mansion, where everything is conserved exactly as it was during the time Mr. Vanderbilt lived there. We loved the tour and we both found the history fascinating. The tour is self paced, and you can purchase an audio device at the entrance to learn everything you need to know about all the Biltmore rooms. It took us almost 2 hours to fully appreciate everything. Then we took one last stroll around the outside of the mansion, before making our way to the Biltmore village, which is a short drive away. The village is a new section of the estate, and has modern shops, dining, and the Biltmore winery. The village was built adjacent to the farm that Mr. Vanderbilt and Edith helped establish. Our final stop was the winery, and we had reservations in the evening for a complimentary wine tasting in an elegant tasting room. If you have time, make a dining reservation to eat at the village, they fill up fast.

Asheville North Carolina

We really enjoyed our whole experience here, but there is way more you can do if you have a longer visit. If you are from out of town, you can stay at an accommodation on the Biltmore estate for several days, but they are kind of pricey. So another option would be to stay at the many other hotels in Asheville. Asheville itself is a very great place to visit. The city here has a small town vibe, lots of murals and art, great restaurants focused on farm-to-table meals, and shopping for unique gifts. Drive down the blue ridge highway and stop at the many beautiful overlooks. Visit the Pisgah National Forest. Go hiking, biking, chase waterfalls, and float down the river. We've done most of these things before, and being outdoors is about the safest thing you can do during a pandemic anyway, so we take full advantage of our proximity to the mountains whenever we can.

Complimentary Wine TastingComplimentary Wine TastingComplimentary Wine Tasting

The elegant Biltmore Winery

I hope you've enjoyed this look inside the Biltmore, and that you've learned a little about who the Vanderbilt's are. Their lives were quite interesting, but what draws me to their story is the fact that they were philanthropists and conservationists, and very kind and generous people.

Safe travels 😊

Additional photos below
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The BiltmoreThe Biltmore
The Biltmore

Cornelia was born in this room

14th April 2021

Great t o hear from you again...
My sister once lived in Asheville, but we never took the opportunity to visit much to our regret. We won't miss it next time. Have you visit the Hearst Castle on the west coast?
14th April 2021

Hi Bob! Nice to hear from you again! I've heard of that castle before but I've never been, I am sure I would love it. I hope you do get to visit Biltmore and the surrounding area on your next trip to Asheville, it's such a lovely place with nice people :)
18th April 2021

The Biltmore
It is a beautiful location with some history. Thanks for posting.
19th April 2021

Hi Dave and Merry Jo! Have you been before? It is a very beautiful and relaxing day trip. I hope you guys have been doing well and staying safe amid the pandemic. I sure can't wait for it to be safer to be out travelling more often again.

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