Biltmore Estate and Gardens in Asheville, NC is the largest home in America; with 250 rooms, it is truly an American Castle. My first thought when seeing the Estate was ‘Could the recommended two hours really be enough time to see this mansion?’ The answer was yes, and no. The Estate general admission tour can be viewed in two hours as you are going through a portion of this beautiful home. The self guided tour is quite interesting and gives a good feel for the everyday life of the home’s residents and guests, as well as those who worked here (I’ll do any job except laundress). For more in-depth information, purchase an audio tour or register for a variety of guided specialty tours that take you to other portions of the home.
Staying at the Inn on Biltmore Estate is just as special today as it was to stay at Biltmore House back in the early part of the century. Guests enjoy many of the same activities, lawn games, horseback riding, biking, hiking and even fitness. A turn-of-the-century gym at the Estate showcases the workout equipment of the day while a spa at the Inn is more contemporary.
Wandering the beautiful landscape and gardens created by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead continues to be a popular pastime as well. Olmstead also designed New York City’s Central Park. It’s interesting to see how he transitioned to different types of gardens, going from the colorful and busy formal gardens to the green serene shrub garden. Each garden envelopes you without distraction from the previous one. The horticulture staff is always working to preserve and return the gardens to their original design. It’s a herculean task. Just mowing the manicured lawns takes a full week.
It’s not all about the past. Biltmore is participating in a two year International Rose Trial. The trials started on May 15, 2011, with the first roses being planted. For two years Biltmore gardeners will plant 20 to 30 new rose varieties each year. They will be judged for two full years, four times a year by a permanent jury. In spring of the third year, an international jury will judge the roses on-site. The scores of all the judgings are combined to come up with the winners in several categories. Even guests can get in on choosing their favorite roses. The Best of Biltmore Award is chosen by guests who visit the gardens at Biltmore and vote by text messaging on their phones.
Antler Village is a recent addition to the Estates and houses shopping, restaurants and the Biltmore Winery. Free wine tours are offered daily and showcase how the wines are made, as well as a bit of Vanderbilt history, including Edith Vanderbilt’s car and driving attire. At the conclusion of the tour, sample reds and whites from the Biltmore wine collection. My favorite white is the 25th Anniversary Chardonnay and favorite reds include Biltmore Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. For more sophisticated palettes, there are premium wine tastings and behind the scenes winery tours. After the wine tasting, head to Cedric’s Tavern for some pub fare and incredible pretzel rolls – I’d drive to Asheville, just for a few of these.
Biltmore Estate and Gardens is a great place for kids too, but that’s another post.