Experience the Gilded Age: Grand Getaways at the Biltmore Estate

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.

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)

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