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Biltmore Estate is more than a Gilded Age mansion

Biltmore Estate offers more than a mansion of the Gilded Age for visitors who fork out $60 to visit the 8,000 acre privately owned estate. The value buy here is booking a two-day ticket for $70, if you plan your trip to allow for two days.

Up front disclosure is I did not pay the admission fee. I met with a Biltmore Estate tourism representative the week before in Orlando and arranged for a free ticket. Or so I thought. At gate check-in there was no record of my name. The receptionist gave me a free ticket anyway. Now that is what I call southern hospitality!

I spent around six hours visiting Biltmore Estate with time to visit Antler Village and Biltmore Winery, visit Biltmore Inn hotel, tour the mansion, and spend a couple of hours outside and in the gardens.

Biltmore Estate

History of Biltmore Estate

The quick story of Biltmore Estate is George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914) was the youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt (1821-1885), one of New York City’s wealthiest families. William Henry was President and owner of New York Central Railroad and he was the eldest son of Cornelius ‘The Commodore’ Vanderbilt (1794-1877), who made his $100 million fortune operating New York harbor ferries in the early 1800s. William Henry grew the family fortune to an estimated $200 million at the time of his death.

G.W. had many older brothers and sisters. He inherited only a fraction of $200 million in estimated family wealth, yet he was able to build one of the enduring ‘American castles’ with Biltmore House (1889-95) at 135,000 square feet of living space and recognized today as the largest privately owned house in the United States.

George Washington Vanderbilt toured Europe when he was young, learned many languages and received the finest education. In his 20s, G.W. visited Asheville, North Carolina and decided to build an estate residence in western North Carolina. He hired Richard Morris Hunt to design an estate house based on French chateaus he had seen on his travels. Hunt’s fame was established from designing the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York and several Fifth Avenue mansions, many built for the Vanderbilt’s. Hunt died a few months before the opening celebration of Biltmore House.

Frederick Law Olmsted was hired to create Biltmore Estate’s gardens. Olmsted was the nation’s leading landscape designer with New York’s Central Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace greenbelt and Stanford University on his extensive resume. On Olmsted’s recommendation, Biltmore Estate established a managed forest for sustainable timber harvesting among the extensive forest lands. At its height, Biltmore Estate held about 125,000 acres of forest in western North Carolina in what eventually became the original tract of land for Pisgah National Forest. Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt sold the estate forest lands to the Federal Government in 1914 and Pisgah National Forest was established in 1916 as the first national forest east of the Mississippi.

Biltmore exterior back

Impressions of Biltmore Estate

The mansion is immense and visitors can take a self-guided audio tour. I paid $10 for the audio tour headset inside the house. No photos are allowed inside the house. My main comment about the inside is no air conditioning made it a hot and muggy place. Attendants stood in front of floor fans in different rooms.

The surprising aspect of Biltmore Estate for me was the variety of outdoors activities available on the estate grounds. Most day visitors probably park, tour the house, spend a few minutes in the garden, stop by Biltmore Winery in Antler Village and leave.

Antler Village is a few miles from Biltmore house and offers a winery, brewpub, restaurant, shops and hotel. Biltmore Inn is on a hill above Antler Village. A new Biltmore Estate Village Hotel is currently nearing completion for a December 2015 projected opening in Antler Village for a lower priced lodging option.

Biltmore Estate map

The entrance to Biltmore Estate is in a populated and business district area of Asheville. McDonald’s and Starbucks are across the street. Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville, Marriott Autograph Collection is outside the Biltmore Estate entrance gate.

Biltmore House is another couple of miles drive along a road surrounded by Olmsted’s vision of a lush garden approach for carriages. Large parking lots in the woods hold the cars. Shuttle busses take visitors to the Biltmore House entrance.

I preferred to approach the house on foot by a trail in the woods. When I came out of the trees onto a long grass lawn, my view of Biltmore House was the vision seen in the first photo of this piece.

Biltmore approach

Biltmore Gardens is to the left of the house. The road is one way in this portion of the estate and cars leave the parking lot area and drive along the road seen in the foreground and through Biltmore Gardens.

Biltmore cu-1   Biltmore House cu-2

Biltmore House cu-3   Biltmore House cu-4

Much of the estate land around the house was farmland in 1890. Olmsted landscaped the estate grounds around the house and more than one hundred years of growth leaves a visual impression with vast forest lands surrounding Biltmore House.

Biltmore Gardens   Biltmore Gardens-2

Biltmore House and Biltmore Gardens are the two places to visit from the primary parking lots. Since the weather forecast predicted high temperatures in the 90s, I decided to spend the morning outside exploring the estate and the afternoon touring the house.

Bass Pond   Bass Pond Boat House

A walk around Bass Pond stretched my legs and allowed me to get away from the crowds of people around the house and gardens on a Sunday morning.

Some people walking toward me on the trail startled me when a woman screamed loudly in fright.

Rat snake Bass Pond-2

Crossing the Bass Pond trail between us was a large black rat snake, perhaps 5 to 6 feet in length.

On the way to Antler Village I passed horseback riders, kayakers, cyclists and sheep.

Biltmore equestrian   Biltmore Kayaks

Biltmore cyclists   Biltmore sheep

Antler Village, Biltmore Winery and Cedric’s Tavern

Antler Village is the commercial area of Biltmore Estate with a winery, brewery, restaurant, shops, entertainment and hotels. There is a small café by Biltmore House. Antler Village has more dining options.

Antler Village

Antler Village view of Biltmore Brewery and Biltmore Inn on the hill.

Cedric and Cornelia

Cedric’s Tavern is the brewpub at Antler Village. This sculpture outside the tavern is Cornelia and Cedric. Cornelia (1900-1976) was the only child of George and Edith Vanderbilt. She was born at Biltmore Estate and raised there. She left Biltmore Estate and moved to New York in 1932 and then to Paris in 1934. She never returned to Biltmore or the USA.

The family loved dogs and Cedric, a Saint Bernard, was one of their most admired pets when Cornelia was a child.

Biltmore Winery was created in 1985 from the old dairy farm on Biltmore Estate. The estate was designed as a sustainable working farm and timber industry business. The dairy farm building was converted into a winery.

Biltmore Winery sign   Biltmore winery 30 years

Biltmore winery barrels   Biltmore Winery V

On a hot day in the 90s, the cool wine cellar was a refreshing place to hang out. There is a tunnel with views of stone vaults before entering the wine tasting room and shop. Premium Wine taste = $3 or three tastes for $8.

Biltmore wines

Antler Village is the social hub for Biltmore Estate. There is a summer concert series, which included scheduled performances for August 2015 by Counting Crows, ZZ Top, Bruce Hornsby, The Temptations and more. Big shows require additional ticket purchases. There was live music on a Sunday afternoon during my visit.

Antler Village-2

I hiked up the hill to Biltmore Inn after touring the winery. Great views from the hilltop. The Inn at Biltmore Estate will be covered in depth in a subsequent post on Loyalty Traveler.

Biltmore Estate is the major tourist attraction of Asheville, North Carolina. $60 for a one-day admission is a steep price to pay to see America’s largest private house. There is more to Biltmore Estate than the house. The grounds offer a variety of hikes and activities for visitors.

For summer 2015 you can save $10 per ticket through September 7, 2015 when purchasing tickets online. Children 16 and under are admitted free with an adult ticket purchase through September 7.

Loyalty Traveler Road Trip Orlando to Knoxville June 4-9, 2015


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