As I was looking back at my favorite hotel stays this year, I realized that two of my favorites spots were Biltmore’s-just a coincidence since they have no relationship with each other. One was theInn at Biltmore Estate, in Ashville, North Carolina and the other was the Arizona Biltmore.
What both of these world-class hotels have in common is a fascinating history, gorgeous grounds, tasteful, comfy accommodations and top-notch service.
You can’t really discuss the Inn on Biltmore Estate without first mentioning the incredible Biltmore Estate, a National Historic Landmark, which consists of America’s largest private home, gardens, an award-winning winery, and the aforementioned Inn.
Built on 8,000 acres by George Vanderbilt in 1895, this magnificent 250-room, 16th century-style chateau feels surprisingly homey. As you wander through the estate, filled with priceless treasures (which George collected during his world travels) and listen to the audio tour (it’s absolutely imperative that you spring for this since the stories really bring the house to life) it’s easy imagine yourself as one of the many guests that the George and Edith Vanderbilt entertained over the years.
Always the consummate host, George ensured that his guests would be comfortable by outfitting his 32 bedroom home with a centralized heating system, mechanical refrigeration, electric lights (even at the bottom of the indoor swimming pool) and appliances, and indoor bathrooms—previously unheard of at the turn of the century. After strolling the beautifully landscaped gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated Central Park creator, visitors could choose a book from the 10,000 volumes that lined the walnut-paneled library or engage in more active pursuits, such as a work out in the gym, bowling, or billiards, before dressing for dinner which was held in the 72 ft. long banquet hall, complete with Flemish tapestries, a triple fireplace and an organ loft.
The Inn on Biltmore Estate
After spending many enchanting hours in the house, I was happy to prolong the dream of experiencing the Vanderbilt–inspired hospitality by checking into the elegant 213-room Inn on Biltmore Estate, in one of the best “rooms with a view” view I’ve had in some time. (Ask for a room facing the scenic mountains when you make your reservation. If for any reason you don’t get one, it’s still O.K. since you can head downstairs and nab one of the rocking chairs on the wrap-around veranda, and a cocktail, to sip while overlooking the 8,000 acre backyard.)
George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson, A. V. Cecil, Jr., spent over $30 million creating this elegant inn, opened in 2001, which was a far cry from the original $18,000 estimate that George had been quoted in 1900 to build the inn. Designed to complement the architectural style of the Biltmore house, the Inn has been honored with a Four Star, Four Diamond status.
The rooms are spacious and gracefully decorated; with feather-beds that are so exquisitely comfortable you can forgo the Ambien. I loved that you don’t need to use your car to explore Biltmore. Instead you can just hop on and off the convenient shuttles that run between the Estate, Antler Hill Village, farm and winery (be sure and stop here to sample Biltmore’s delectable sparkling wines) and various restaurants, which range from the high-end dining room to casual pub offerings at Cedric’s Tavern, named after the Vanderbilt’s pet St. Bernard.
I was too busy exploring the grounds to fit in a spa treatment, but I wish I had after seeing the beautifully appointed treatment rooms. There is also a large roster of outdoor activities available including horseback riding, biking, hiking, a swim in the outdoor pool, Orvis endorsed fly-fishing, shooting clays, kayaking and river float trips. Many special events are offered throughout the year. I thoroughly enjoyed a special viewing of 45 exquisite, stained-glass lamps created by the celebrated designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Although this historic Grand Dame recently underwent a multi-million dollar facelift, the place still exudes plenty of glamour from the bygone days when Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. could be found partying around the pool or exploring the 39 acres of grounds dotted with sculptures, fountains and colorful gardens.
Ocatilla- your private sanctuary
The Frank Lloyd Wright inspired architecture of this “Jewel of the Desert” is as timely now as when it opened in 1929. The latest addition is Ocatilla, a secluded boutique hotel-within-the-hotel, which has 120 beautifully-appointed rooms filled with Mission-style furnishings and colorful western accents. The luxurious Egyptian cotton bedding, granite and mosaic tile bathrooms (with perfect make-up lighting), beauty & bath amenities by Pascal Morbito’s are just a few reasons why Ocatilla makes a perfect Girlfriend Getaway spot.
The executive lounge offers a range of complimentary refreshments throughout the day, as well as top-notch concierges who are at your beck and call 24/7. A seat on the private patio in front of the fire pit, sipping a glass of wine as you watch the desert sunset behind Squaw Peak provides a perfect end to the day.
Tip: Forget about those tired chocolates on your pillow… nightly at Ocatilla’s executive lounge you’ll find ten of the Bakers Best Bites for a tasty beddy-bye treat.
Water babies and sun worshipers can choose between the sports pool for water volleyball and basketball or the Paradise Pool, consisting of a trio of brilliant blue- tiled pools and a 92-foot water slide. There is also a full-service European spa, salon, and Fitness Center, and some fab shopping opportunities at their exclusive boutiques, such as the Lilly Pulitzer store- one of Jackie O’s faves.
The hotel’s signature restaurant, Wright’s at The Biltmore, features new, lighter interpretations of timeless classics. You’ll dine under a glamorous gold-leaf ceiling, surrounded by dramatic hanging globe lights, potted palms, and soft,leather banquettes. The sophisticated decor provides the perfect setting for enjoying the “salad show” (all salads are made to order and tossed table-side.) Beef tartar, escargot, rack of lamb, lobster thermidor, and beef wellington are just a few of the new-styled-oldies-but-goodies offered. Be sure to pre-order one of the seasonal “a study in soufflés-since 1929” for the best example of retro desserts.