Tag Archive | Hearst Castle

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!

Southern CA, and a bit of the middle

So, our next trip up is to Long Beach, CA. It wasn’t necessarily on either Jon’s or my list of must see places, but we got a very inexpensive flight from home to Long Beach on Allegiant Air. It was kind of a “why-not” type of trip. Especially since we’ll be at home for awhile after this, because of Jon’s work schedule. We had an afternoon flight, so we got into Long Beach at 5 pm. We had decided to stay in Ventura, so our first evening was pretty much just driving to Ventura from Long Beach. It was a pleasant drive, with only one traffic jam about 20 miles north of Long Beach.

On day 2, which was really our first full day in California, we headed up to Hearst Castle. Mind you, this was a bit of a boo-boo on my part. I booked tickets online for the Castle, and then realized that the drive there is still 180 miles from Ventura. When I told Jon, he was just as shocked as I was – he had the impression it was about 90 miles. We decided to go anyway, because unless you are doing a drive down the California coast, Hearst Castle isn’t really close to anything. It’s a good thing that William Randolph Hearst was rich enough to bring everything to him.

We had lunch in the town of Cambria, which has a quaint main street and a touristy feel, at a deli called Sandy’s Deli and Bakery. Jon had the Cobb salad and I had the Turkey Club. Our meal was fantastic. I think this was the best club sandwich I’ve ever had. It was so full of goodies that I had trouble holding onto it!

And then we were off to Hearst Castle. We were glad that we bought tickets online, because when we got there shortly after noon, the next tickets available for the tour were at 3 pm. On a Monday! Ours were for 1:20. We dawdled around looking at the exhibits for awhile, and learning about the life of W.R. Hearst. He inherited his fortune, including the land where Hearst Castle is built, when his mother died in 1919. By this time, he had already made his own fortune in the newspaper business and was getting into the movie business too. He built Hearst Castle, because at 56, he wanted to spend more time on the property, where he had camped with his parents growing up. However, he was too old to be “roughing it” anymore. When he was camping, they had the servants haul a bunch of 4-room canvas tents to the site, complete with wood floors and heating stoves. Uh-uh, “roughing it,” my thought exactly.

So, back to the tour – at the appropriate time, you had to board a bus with 40 of your closest friends for the 5 mile trip up the hill from the Visitor’s Center. Wow, this place is amazing! The little guest house is 3000 square feet, another is 3600 square feet, and the main house is 70,000 square feet. After World War I, when Europe needed money, many countries sold their treasures, and Hearst was there to snatch them up. He has paintings that are hundreds of years old, religious icons, French fireplaces, choir stalls from a 600 year old church.  You know, the sort of collectibles that everybody decorates their house with.  It is like a European museum tucked into the boonies of California.

After the tour, we went back into Cambria and wandered around a bit.  We went to Black Hand Cellars, which has a tasting room on the Main Street of Cambria.  They had a good Syrah, and an even better blend called Hit ‘n Run.  Their Alibi blend was delicious too, but not quite as good as the Hit ‘n Run.  We liked their reds better than their whites.  She recommended we try out Moonstone Cellars down the street, so we headed there next.  The folks at Moonstone were friendly and down to earth.  We really liked their whites – they had a Sauvignon Blanc that was crisp and fresh, and a Gewurztraminer that was delicious, without being too sweet.  Jon really enjoyed their oaked Chardonnay, but I liked the unoaked Chardonnay better.

We took their recommendation for dinner, which was at the Seachest Restaurant just outside Cambria.  Can you guess – they serve seafood!  We had oysters, clam chowder and yellowtail.  Delicious!  An excellent unpretentious place.  Water view and no dress code!  Cash only though, so if you go, bring some.

The Seachest Restaurant

Then we had a long drive home….  that other 180 miles.  All in all, the day was well worth it.  I’m glad we made the trip – even if it was further than we had planned!  I found my new home – although I can’t afford it in a million years…