At The Biltmore Mansion

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A man’s house is

his castle–

until the Queen arrives.

Anonymous

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Diligently skirting airports since PCR tests became de rigueur, I had not realized how my eyes have been starving for grandeur until I visited The Biltmore Estate, a gilded treasure ringed by the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains in Asheville, NC.

George Washington Vanderbilt was a 25 year old bachelor in 1889 when he commissioned a French Renaissance chateau for friends and family to escape New York winters. Can you imagine how those 16th-century castles in the Loire Valley must have wished that they, too, had 125,000 acres to frolic in?

While distant neighbors hemmed their britches by candlelight in the six years it took to build, the Biltmore engineered the latest in electricity and plumbing with its 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool that featured underwater lighting. This was back in the day when outdoor swimming pools were a mere curiosity. Architect Richard Morris Hunt (designer of NYC’s Grand Central Station) wired the house for both AC and DC currents through thick stone walls while Edison and Tesla wrestled for the industry standard.  

Among the estate’s attractions are The Inn, a winery (Most Visited in the US,) an equestrian stable, an art house with a revolving video installation (Beyond Van Gogh is more worth the money than Van Gogh Alive!), and a quaint village with a small hotel, tavern, an elegant gift store, a woodworking shop and a chatty metalworker. 

Frederick Law Olmsted (the genius behind NYC’s Central Park) designed its garden with a tropical glass house, as well as the idyllic drive that feels like five miles of wilderness, meadows, lagoons and creeks from the estate’s gate to the dramatic reveal of the mansion you won’t see coming. I admire how Olmsted pioneered forest management in developing this property in an era when all believed lumber was inexhaustible. Rolling hills and farmlands yellow with nature’s wintry mood instead of the verdant chemical evergreen a golf course insists upon.

After George Vanderbilt passed away in 1914, much of the land became part of Pisgah National Forest and the estate is now a more manageable 8,000 acres. A century plus later, the Biltmore House still keeps its title as America’s largest home with a glass-domed garden atrium to take your breath away upon entry, a banquet hall’s 70-foot cathedral ceiling with three giant fireplaces to impress, and my favorite room out of the 250: a two story library of Circassian walnut crowned overhead by The Chariot of Aurora mural from a Venetian Palace. Each of the 23,000 volumes was handpicked by GWV himself. On our drive over, my husband was certain that “grandma architecture” doesn’t do anything for him. On our drive home, he recanted.

The 1,500 mile round trip flew by with overnight stops to poke around DC and Virginia while listening to Anderson Cooper’s Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty as a welcome distraction that made us feel like intimates of those who inhabited the Biltmore’s 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. The night before we left, a fellow guest at The Inn inquired, “Did you take the rooftop tour?” Alas, we had not. But that sounds like the perfect excuse to return with my favorite women and wear long dresses to do justice to this glorious estate!

Until then, a couple other books on the Vanderbilt saga:

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss and American Royalty by Denise Kiernan

Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Mother and Daughter in the Gilded Age by McKenzie Stuart

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your most memorable (and/or glamorous) destination ever!

xoxox

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xoxox

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mountain
    Mar 28, 2022 @ 12:00:14

    Thank you, Sharon, for another reminder of the Biltmore! I’ve now added it to my list of places to visit.

    Having spent quite a bit of time in North Carolina, I keep forgetting about the Biltmore! For seven years my home office was in Belmont and I also have friends there. I was told by them a few times that I must tour the Biltmore Mansion. I’ve driven right past that area half a dozen times in recent years. In high school, I lived about 300 miles from DC when Richard Nixon was President, but never got there. The places worth seeing sometimes are so close but overlooked.

    Mountain

    Reply

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