Archive | July 2012

The Grand Tour – Day 2 – The Biltmore Estate

On our second day, we woke up around 7:30 in the morning and Jon went for a run. I did some leisurely lounging around and getting ready for the day (I believe in actually being on vacation when I’m on vacation). Then, we headed out for our big attraction of the day – The Biltmore Estate! I had dreamed about the Biltmore for a long time, and had never had the opportunity to visit, until now! And my mom still hasn’t gone (not that I would try to make her jealous)!

George Vanderbilt, who built the Biltmore, was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Granddaddy Vanderbilt had amassed a fortune in wealth from shipping and railroad businesses and investments. Upon his death, he left the majority of his wealth to George’s father, who grew it more, and then died nine years later. Which leads us to George. George inherited all his father’s money, and never really had a career, other than being a socialite (the Paris Hilton of the Victorian era!) George got $7 million and the proceeds from a $5 million trust fund. When you think about how much that would be in today’s dollars, he was doing pretty well!

So George took a vacation to Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains with his mother, and fell in love with the beauty of the area. He wanted to build a grand, self-sustaining estate in the image of the great French Chateaux. So he dove right in, buying up the land – 125,000 acres in all That’s 228 square miles, in case you can’t imagine how big 125,000 acres is.  I can’t imagine it either.  He didn’t go any less grand with the house – it has over 250 rooms (with 43 bathrooms!) The house itself is 175,000 square feet (over twice the size of Hearst Castle) and is the largest privately owned home in the United States.  The construction of the house started in 1889 and it was completed in 1895.  Keep in mind, he was a bachelor at this time – he must have had a lot of friends he wanted to invite over!  He didn’t marry his wife until three years after he moved into the house, in 1898, and they only had 1 child.

Even though the estate now only consists of (only!) 8,000 acres, it is HUGE! When you drive in, you drive 2 miles through the woods (along the creek) to get to the parking lot, then take a shuttle to the house (about another mile). When we got there it wasn’t very busy yet, so after taking the shuttle to the house, we walked up to the end of the formal lawn, up the stairs to a vista point and got some photos with very few people in them! Jon thought the main lawn and foundation were a bit boring when compared to the rest of the mansion (I have to admit, the fountain is rather plain).

The Biltmore Estate

Next, we went down and toured the formal gardens.  One area has several formal fishponds and statues. I made friends with a koi in the fish pond – I think he wanted to come home with me!

The Formal Koi Ponds at the Biltmore

A Closer View of the Koi Pond

My Fishy Buddy

One of the Many Cherub Fountains at the Biltmore

Biltmore’s Formal Garden

The Biltmore also has an Azalea Garden with over 1,000 azaleas plants and hundreds of varieties. The garden is the life’s work of Chauncey Beadle, who came to Biltmore in 1890 on a 30 day contract, and ended up staying on the estate, working for the Vanderbilt family until his death in 1950. Seeing so many azaleas (and the estate has a lot of rhodies too) reminded me of home (with higher humidity). Once we were done touring the grounds near the house, we went inside.

The mansion itself is a self-guided tour that takes you through many of the home’s 250 rooms. You can also pay extra for additional guided tours. As we went through, we saw lots of the home’s features. The grand dining hall had 70 foot high ceilings and a pipe organ! There is a bowling alley and an indoor pool.  The indoor pool at Hearst Castle was way nicer though – you can check out my post on our visit to Hearst Castle here. George Vanderbilt owned a library of over 23,000 books! He kept a list of all the books he read since the age of about 12 – when he died he had read 3,169 books!  I think I have just under 200 books on my Goodreads account, but I could read a lot more if I didn’t have to work 40 hours per week – hey, if anyone wants to be my anonymous benefactor, I’m taking applications! We toured bedrooms that were very opulent, but then there were a lot more bedrooms that were plainer (kind of like the dormitory bedrooms for rich people). We went through two hallways that just had door after door of bedrooms!  You can’t take photos inside, so here are a few more of the beautiful exterior of the home.

This is the Outside View of the Grand Staircase at Biltmore

The Front Door and Above of Biltmore Estate

Unfortunately for George and his wife Edith, he died in 1914 from complications from an appendectomy at the age of 51. Edith was left with their teenage daughter Cornelia. Edith sold 85,000 of the original acres to the national government to establish the Pisgah National Forest, and then over time sold more of the acreage to support herself. In 1930, the family opened the home up to public tours, although they still lived there until 1956. Now, no one lives there, although the family still owns the estate.

Driving Through the Formal Garden

Strangely, when you leave the Biltmore House to tour the rest of the estate (and get to the winery), you have to drive through the Formal Garden.  It feels really odd to be driving through this beautiful garden with tourists walking all around you.  Then you drive for another roughly 5 miles to get to Antler Hill Village. This is the Biltmore Estate’s shopping mecca. We stopped for the winery, because how could you be at Biltmore and not try their wines!? A tasting is included in your estate admission, which I was expecting to be a cursory tasting of a couple of wines. Not so – they had over 20 wines on the menu, and you could taste them all if you wanted!  Jon was driving, so why not!?  I will post about my Biltmore wine tasting separately next!