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Our mega road trip last fall resulted in two full weeks of exploration and adventure as we drove with Lily Bean from Pennsylvania to Texas and back. We are turning into quite the road warriors and are always in search of neat places to visit. Biker Bob and I both share an interest in history – and our fall trip included a bunch of unique stops.
Towards the end of our second week, we were wrapping up our stay in Gatlinburg, TN. We packed up the car and headed southeast. Our destination was Asheville, NC, to tour the awe-inspiring Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbuilt, son of William Henry Vanderbuilt, decided that he wanted to build a “little mountain escape” in the country and so in 1889, construction began on the palatial estate. Once made up of 125,000 acres, this now 8,000 acre sprawl is a bit more than a simple cottage in the woods. (85,000 of the original acres were sold long ago to the federal government and were turned into national preserved land.) Construction on this house took 6 YEARS to complete, and George finally opened Biltmore’s doors to his friends and family in 1895.
It took so many men to build Biltmore, a small town was actually set up nearby to house them. Residence halls, a tile making factory and more could be found in this town. The workers were able to hop on a train right from their town and travel 3 miles to the base of the construction zone.
To say that we were blown away by the sheer enormity of Biltmore is an understatement. When you arrive at Biltmore, you purchase your tickets at a visitor’s building close to the highway gate. Once cleared by a security checkpoint and make your way to the parking area. After a slow drive over a couple of miles through forest and over streams, you pull into a parking lot. From this lot you are a 15 minute walk or a short van ride from the actual estate. It was a bit chilly and windy during our visit, so we opted for the heated van ride. :)
FINALLY you reach a clearing… and the palace that lies in front of you is jaw dropping. Our visit to Biltmore came right at the height of Lily Bean’s Beauty and the Beast obsession, so guess what was the very first thing she yelled when we saw the mansion? “CASTLE!!!!” Castle, indeed.
With 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of Biltmore. Since we had Lily in tow, we opted out of the audio tour option. Instead, we entered the house and used the self-guided tour on the pamphlet to find our way around. I have to say – I was so impressed at how much of the mansion you are allowed to explore and observe. We have toured many other estates to date, including Graceland (Memphis, TN) and the George Eastman House (Rochester, NY) and there were many times when it felt like more areas were roped off than those they allow you to see. This was certainly not the case with the Biltmore Estate – we felt like we had free reign over almost the entire place!
We plodded along, through parlors, an atrium, a colossal 2 story library and of course, the Banquet Hall. Oh! The Banquet Hall! I have NEVER in my LIFE been in such an impressive room. This room was 72 feet long, 42 feet wide, and its walls are 70 feet tall. This hall features a triple fireplace and an enormous organ loft. Our tour continued upstairs and through bedrooms, sitting areas and more. We ventured into the basement which contained a swimming pool, gymnasium and changing rooms, bowling alley, servants’ quarters, kitchens, and more.
I was so sad to learn during our tour that George Vanderbuilt actually died suddenly in 1914 from complications after an emergency appendectomy. To think that he only got to enjoy this home for less than 20 years – what a shame! His descendants continued to live in the house until 1956 – despite the fact that tourists were permitted to check out parts of the house in 1930! I guess when you have a mansion that big, you can share your space fairly easily.
Also located on the grounds is the huge Biltmore stable – now home to a restaurant and other shops and cafe style refreshment. Drive a couple miles from the house and you will find the Biltmore Winery, an Inn and a bunch of shops.
We were thrilled that our visit happened to be RIGHT before (literally, a day before) the official start of the Christmas season at Biltmore. This meant that we were treated to beautiful, turn of the century decorations, trees, and other holiday decor. The Banquet Hall, for example, had one of the biggest Christmas trees that I have ever seen… all decked out in Christmas splendor. It was truly amazing!
If you ever find yourself near Asheville, NC Biltmore Estate is most definitely worth a visit. You can check out their website for all sorts of visitor-related information – from ticket prices to accommodation listings.
Biltmore Estate provided us with complimentary admission to their palatial estate. All opinions and tales of our experience at Biltmore are 100% ours.