the wonderful world of veena.

21 October 2014

veen on the road: the biltmore estate.

We have finally arrived at my final stop and penultimate individualized post from my time on the road! I know, I didn't think we would get here, either. But here we are nonetheless.

And what a place, too. The Biltmore Estate. The granddaddy of US estates. The end-all-be-all of mansions.

[the biltmore]
While most of the places I visited on the road were somewhat spontaneous decisions or suggestions from along the way, the Biltmore was the one I had on my list from the beginning. I have been wanting to visit the Biltmore for years, and now I finally had my opportunity.

Biltmore was constructed as the country estate of George Vanderbilt - yes, as in that Vanderbilt family - between 1889 and 1895. It is an absolutely massive building, boasting nearly 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.

[looking out from the front steps of the house]
But it's not just the mansion. Yes, it's stunning, but it is even more so because of its surroundings. With sweeping views of Asheville and the mountains, and surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens and wineries, I would venture that it is one of the most scenic spots in the country. And today the house and grounds are open year-round to visitors.

I gave myself the entire day to spend on the grounds, and I am so happy that I did. I was in no rush and could spend as much time as I wanted wherever I wanted, and except for a light drizzle early in the afternoon, the weather was stunning.

[close-up of the front of the house]
The tour of the house itself was spectacular. I paid the extra $10 for the audio guide, and I thought it was well worth the spend. I learned so much about the history of the Vanderbilt family and about the home itself. For example, did you know that one of the rooms inside the Biltmore was used to store the most valuable and priceless works of art from Washington DC during World War II? True story. Regardless of whether or not you opt for the audio tour, visitors are free to take their time going through the house and seeing everything on display.

I especially loved the huge dining hall and spent some time imagining throwing a fantastic dinner party for all of my favourite friends. I also thoroughly enjoyed the back "porch" - it's really so much more than just a porch - and I really, really wanted to curl up on one of the benches out there and just stare for a while, but all of the signs telling me it wasn't allowed kind of dissuaded me.

[the house and front lawn from way up high]
Walking up the giant front staircase was pretty awesome, as was exploring the upstairs halls and bedrooms, but I was particularly fascinated by the basement exhibits. I loved walking through the pantries and kitchen [once a foodie, always a foodie] and imagining the schedule and routine that would have gone into running the household [not gonna lie, I definitely had a few Downton Abbey moments while I was down there].

And I was completely fascinated by the pool. Completely indoor and constructed in the basement, it's now empty, but you can easily imagine what it would look like all filled up. It's one of those old-school pools with white tiles all around, and it goes from shallow down to super deep really fast. I bet it would have been awesome to swim in at night with just a few dim lights on.

[the greenhouse in the main garden]
So as you can tell, I loved the house. It was amazing and spectacular and fascinating. It's got so many nooks and crannies that you could wander around and get hopelessly lost but probably find some really cool things.

But we're not done yet. That's only my visit to the house.

The general admission ticket also allows you to tour the gardens, so that's what I did next. The road through Biltmore only goes one way, so as you leave the mansion area, you end up near one of the gardens. You can drive straight through, or you can park and wander around. There are numerous trails you can take to see more gardens as well as a few ponds scattered throughout the estate. Because the weather was beginning to look slightly unpredictable, I opted to just stay in the central garden where there was a greenhouse and a few gazebos to offer shelter should I need it.

The garden was awesome, and it was pretty empty [very welcome after the crowds in the house], so I spend some time walking around and taking photos until I determined it was time to move on.

From there I continued following the road until I found myself in Antler Hill Village, home of some shops, restaurants, and the winery. I managed to sneak my way onto the winery tour that was just getting ready to leave, and while the tour was great, the tasting at the end was my favourite part. The tasting room is absolutely huge, and each person over the age of 21 is given a list of all the wines that are made at the Biltmore. You can choose to taste as many or as few of the wines as you want, and prices for the bottles are included should you decide to stop in the attached gift shop to purchase a bottle or two.

[walking through]
I tasted about 5 of the wines before heading into the gift shop. I purchased 3 bottles - a Malbec, a House Merlot that is only available for purchase at the winery, and one other that I can't currently remember - in addition to some chocolates and a few other knick-knacks before heading out.

All told I think I spent about 5 hours on the grounds. I could easily have spent more and taken time to walk some of the trails through the gardens, but that was pretty solid for my first visit. Plus my snacks had run out and I was ready for a late lunch.

[pretty flowers in the gardens. i'm trying to convince my mother we should grow these at the house]
Everything you have heard and read about the Biltmore is absolutely, 100% true: it's gorgeous, it's grand, it's scenic, it's amazing, it's majestic, etc etc etc. I can't even fully describe the feeling of walking those halls and dreaming of what it would have been like a hundred years ago. If you have never been, there is no better time than the present. It was great in the summer, but I imagine it's even better right now, with fall in full bloom and the leaves an array of magnificent colours. And I've heard great stories of the estate at Christmas, decorated to the nines for the holiday season. The entire Asheville area is well worth a visit, but this is the crown jewel of the town.

Go there. Now:
  • located at 1 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC 28803
  • a general admission daytime ticket gets you access to the house, the gardens, antler hill village, an exhibition about the Vanderbilt family, and a free tour and tasting [for those over 21] in the winery. same-day tickets are $59 for adults and $29.50 for children 10-16, but if you buy your tickets in advance you'll get a discount. the further ahead you buy your tickets, the higher your discount, so plan ahead! [I learned this from Rachel over at Hippie in Heels and so purchased my ticket a few days in advance and saved $5. thank you, Rachel!]
  • audio guides are an additional $10 and are, in my opinion, well worth the extra spend, particularly if you are interested in learning in-depth about the history of the home
  • there are additional tours - including a butler's tour - that you can choose to do, but I decided I had enough on my plate for one day
  • no photography allowed inside the house but feel free to take photos throughout the grounds
  • visit in the fall or during the holidays if you can; I imagine it'll be beautiful during that time of year
  • there is food available outside the mansion as well as in antler hill village, but as per usual with food at attractions, it appeared to be pretty pricey. I carried water and a few snacks with me in the morning, and those sustained me until I was ready to leave in mid-afternoon.
  • wear comfortable shoes. you'll be doing a lot of walking.
  • if possible, give yourself 5-7 hours on the grounds. the house itself will take you between 1.5-2 hours, especially if you pick up the audio guide.
  • fun fact: for anyone who has ever seen Richie Rich, the fountain and exterior of the home were used in the movie. remember all those bubbles in the fountain? yep, this is the one.
If you enjoy pretty homes, history, scenic surroundings, gardens, or wine, you will love the Biltmore.

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