Experience the Gilded Age: Grand Getaways at the Biltmore Estate


Photo Credit: Linda Fasteson

If you have ever driven the Blue Ridge Parkway, you have experienced the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountain region. It runs between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. George Washington Vanderbilt, grandson of steamship, railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, wanted an escape from the hustle and bustle of the family’s Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City. He decided to build a home in Asheville, North Carolina, a health resort in this area, after he and his mother visited there. His was not the typical country lodge, even for the elite. America’s most eligible bachelor built a French-style chateau and the largest home in America, with four acres of floor space. He named it Biltmore for the family’s roots in Bildt, Holland and the Old English word for rolling hills. 

Richard M. Hunt was the architect. The 250 rooms included 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, and 65 fireplaces. George’s older brother Cornelius II hired Hunt to rebuild The Breakers in Newport after the original wooden structure  was destroyed by fire. Vanderbilt also hired Frederick Law Olmsted, who had designed Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace. Biltmore’s 125,000 acres was The Father of American Landscape Architecture’s last and largest project.

The Vanderbilts entertained lavishly. 17-course banquets with lavish floral arrangements, sparkling crystal, fine hand-painted china, and polished silver were held at the enormous table in the 70’ high Banquet Hall. The cathedral-sized organ pipes still stand ready for another performance. With onsite tennis, croquet, archery, fishing, horseback riding, golf, swimming, "automobiling," and lawn bowling in the formal gardens, little wonder guests often stayed several weeks. George Vanderbilt died in 1914 at age 51. To support the estate, Edith Vanderbilt sold 86,700 acres to the U. S. Forest Service that year for under $5 an acre. It became America’s first national forest. In 1930, during the Great Depression, Cornelia and John Cecil opened their home to the public to boost tourism and help the local economy.

Photo Credit: Linda Fasteson

Biltmore Today

Biltmore House, with its original furnishings and art, is as magnificent as ever. It is the epitome of the grandeur of the Gilded Age. Allow at least 2 hours for the self-guided Biltmore House tour. The 90-minute audio guide is highly recommended for the background information onthe family, guests, and staff. In-depth tours are offered for an additional charge.

The Inn at Biltmore

To get the most from a visit, stay several days onsite. Overnight guests enjoy full access to the gardens and grounds.  Activities vary with the season for the duration of their stay, from complimentary rejuvenating outdoor yoga classes on  The Grand Terrace of The Inn to a guided Trail Blazers hike. You can board your horse and explore the 80 acres of trails. Riding lessons and special events are offered.

The Inn at Biltmore opened in 2001 and reflects the relaxed elegance and gracious hospitality George Washington Vanderbilt offered his guests. It is a taste of a gilded lifestyle once afforded only the privileged few. Relax at The Inn with Afternoon Tea, a leisurely tradition enjoyed by the Vanderbilts and their friends. Selected a favorite from the vials of aromatic tea leaves. Savor an amuse bouche while awaiting the sweet and savory delicacies served on monogrammed china and with crisp white linens.

Onsite guests can stroll the grounds at leisure, just as the Vanderbilts did. Cows and horses still graze in the green pastures and birds chirp serenades along the woodland and meadow walking trails. Exotic plants and seasonal blooms create a palette of color in the walled garden and in the glass conservatory’s tropical oasis.

Photo Credit: Linda Fasteson

Enjoy the 15-acre Antler Hill Village’s shops and restaurants and the entertainment on the Village Green. The Village’s Biltmore Legacy offers changing displays of the estate collection. George Vanderbilt’s grandson William Cecil planted a few varietals below the estate In the early 1970s. Phillippe Jourdain, sixth generation winemaster from France, was hired a few years later to expand and enhance production.Biltmore wines have won more than 1,000 awards and medals in international competitions.

The Winery is in the original dairy barn and is the most visited winery in America. There are complimentary tastings of more than twenty reds, whites and rosés. At the adjacent wine bar, reserves and sparking wines can be sampled by the glass along with cheeses and locally foraged truffles for a small fee. Behind the Scenes, Vine to Wine and other tours are offered.

Optional activities include fly fishing lessons on the lagoon andthe Land Rover Driving Experience through a challenging course. There are supervised children’s activities and a Summer Film Series at the Antler Hill Barn. Other onsite accommodations include a two-bedroom, two bath cottage and the more casual Village Hotel in Antler Hill Village that opened 2015. A range of dining options are offered, from a tavern and bistro to more formal dining at The Inn.

Photo Credit: Roger Fasteson

Seasonal Activities

In spring, Biltmore Blooms to reveal Olmsted’s vision for an ever-changing canvas of colorful flowers. Celebratory dinners enhance the holidays. Special events like the 4th of July and Labor Day celebration buffet dinners are available to hotel guests and annual pass holders. There’s live music, Biltmore wine and other beverages, and fireworks.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, overnight guests of all ages can also enjoy complimentary 45-minute storytelling sessions of holiday favorites from Bright Star Theatre at Village Hotel lobby space. Other holiday options for overnight guests include a four-course Thanksgiving Day dinner or a dinner buffet at the Inn on Biltmore Estate with live Christmas music, trimming a house at the Gingerbread House Tea at the Inn, embellishing eggs in the traditional Ukrainian Pysanky style at The Inn, and cookie decorating at the Village Hotel.  

Christmas music and a crackling fire enhance the holiday-inspired menus at the Christmas Eve and Day dinners or dinner buffets at The Inn. The black-tie 5-course New Year’s Eve Gala with wine pairings, pre- and post-receptions, live entertainment, party favors, open bar, and fireworks is for guests aged 16 and older only.

The Legacy Lives On

The Vanderbilt-Cecil family continues the family legacy by preserving and sharing the treasures and self-sufficiency of Biltmore. The fourth and fifth generations are involved in daily operations of this family business and national treasure.

Linda Fasteson

Linda Fasteson is an award-winning food and travel writer whose favorite travel souvenirs are foods and wines shared with friends and family. Her cultural and culinary adventures have taken her down through the cobwebs of medieval passageways to little-known wine cellars and up to palatial alpine banquets. She shops local markets, travels country roads, and goes behind the scenes with food produce...(Read More)

Around the web