Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Biltmore House, Asheville, NC

By Claire

Yesterday, we drove from sea level into the mountains that so captivated the original owner of Biltmore House.  We were blessed with increasingly lovely views of the change of seasons as we drove up into Asheville. 

Asheville is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Swannanoa River and the French Broad River.  Following the arrival of the railroad in 1880, Asheville became a renowned health resort and the destination of choice for a select group of rich and famous Americans.  The climate of Asheville is a humid subtropical climate, resembling the rest of the southeastern U.S., but with noticeably cooler temperatures due to the higher altitude.  In 2007, Asheville was named one of the top seven places to live in the U.S. by Frommer's Cities Ranked and Rated.  It was also named one of the world's top 12 must-see destinations for 2007 by Frommer's travel guides.

Last night we found something unusual:  a Cuban restaurant in a southern town.  We had already passed on the Thai place that offered catfish and fried chicken in their dishes.  I guess it was southern Thai.

Before dinner drinks:  Cuban coffee, cordidito, for Chuck and a Mojito for Claire

We both ordered the Cuban bowl:  plantains, rice, beans, corn and pulled pork

Up bright and early this morning, we arrived at the Will Call office of the Biltmore House to pick up our tickets.  They were a horrifying $49 each and that was with a $10 discount for ordering them early.  But, they included much more than just the house.  

Some facts about the house:  It is a Châteauesque-styled mansion in Asheville, North Carolina, built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. It is the largest privately owned home in the United States, at 175,000 square feet and featuring 250 rooms, including 99 bedrooms. I'm not sure if that includes the 43 bathrooms.  The dining room alone is 3,000 square feet.  Let's just say it's huge and magnificent.  The estate included its own village, today called Biltmore Village.

Inside the house, was a heated swimming pool, a gymnasium with changing rooms, showers, a rowing machine, parallel bars, Indian clubs and medicine balls.  There is also a bowling alley.  The laundry room contains a belt-driven barrel washer as well as a dryer.  There is a pastry kitchen, a rotisserie kitchen, and a main kitchen.  Vanderbilt had a passion for books and his library contained nearly half of his 23,000-volume collection, attesting to the 1900 quote from a New York journalist that Vanderbilt was "the best read man in the country."  Because he had inherited his wealth, he had the time and resources for his passions which also included art collecting and travel all over the world.  He traveled to Europe 60 times.

George Vanderbilt was a bachelor when he opened Biltmore House on Christmas Eve, 1895; he fell in love with Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1897 when they found themselves on a ship to Europe.  They were married in Paris in 1898 and toured Europe on their honeymoon.  They had one daughter, Cornelia, in 1900.  He died of complications during an appendectomy in 1914 at age 51.

Side view looking over forest

Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance

Frederick Law Olmstead designed the extensive garden, advising Vanderbilt to have a park, small garden and forest. The estate was originally 195,000 acres and includes a 15 acre Azalea garden, a rose garden with 50 varieties, an Italian garden featuring classical statuary and three formal winter gardens, a shrub garden that consists of more than 500 varieties, a spring garden, and a 4 acre walled garden.


Inside the Conservatory

Gardener's Cottage

One of many bridges throughout the park

Bald Cypress with strange growths beneath

Chuck in the Boat House on the Bass Pond

Boat House

You can walk for miles

Bass Pond -- bridge in the distance was seen in the movie "Last of the Mohicans"

Another bridge to cross

Interesting lily pads in the Italian Garden

Close-up of circling stairs

View from loggia

Chuck on the loggia


Our tickets included a visit to Antler Hill Village & Winery with free tastings and a look at one of George's famous cars, a 1913 Stevens-Duryea, one of only 10 in existence.

Antler Hill Village with pleasant live music playing in the small pavilion. Above is the Inn on Biltmore Estate.

This was our last stop.  We were lucky to have another picture-perfect blue sky and sunshine day; yesterday was cloudy and rainy most of the way on our 6-plus hour drive from Wrightsville Beach.  We were among the first visitors to enter the main house at 9am and finally left the grounds at 4:30pm.  We had not seen everything we had hoped; but, we were both bone-tired and eminently satisfied.  It was well worth the long drive out of our way.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero