Thursday, September 29, 2011

Asheville - Part 3 - the Biltmore Estate

Friends told my sister that the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in America, was a "must-see" in Asheville, so we bought tickets online before we left home. Now that I've seen it, it's still hard to wrap my head around the vastness of it. I must admit that even as I gawped at the splendor of it, there was a part of me (either a socialist or a reverse snob, I think) that was a little bit put off by the idea that any single individual--in the 1800s or even today--was affluent enough to build such a grand structure and to purchase all the land around it for practically as far as the eye could see. That sort of extravagance seems wasteful and insensitive to me. That being said, I'd willingly visit there again and again if I could.

George Vanderbilt built this place as a summer house, a little hideaway where he and his wife could relax and entertain friends. His family still owns it, and we were told that the estate now employs approximately two thousand people to keep the whole operation running.

We weren't allowed to take photographs inside the house, and to get the entire front of the house in one shot I'd have had to walk way back beyond this front-yard fountain:

We visited the Biltmore the day after our hike in the Indian village, so I was only willing to walk far enough to walk far enough away to get half of the house at a time in the camera frame. Here are the two halves:

The architectural detail was amazing:

This stately lion guarded the front of the house.

I was glad I'd saved my energy for the inside of the house, where we toured on four different levels, each with a high ceiling, that required multiple flights of stairs to get from one to the other. Luxury and extravagance were the bywords of the day, from the flooring  to the wall coverings to the beautifully-appointed ceilings, the wonderfully ornate furniture, and the expensive art and decorative items.

My favorite part of the house, probably because of a deep and lasting love of Gothic novels, was the basement, with its neat but sparse servants' rooms and multiple kitchens and laundry areas. I remember standing near the window in one of those kitchens, looking out at the mountains, feeling a cool breeze, and thinking this house wouldn't have been a bad place to live no matter what one's status.

After the tour of the house, we briefly investigated the shops and restaurants adjacent to the house until it was time to catch a shuttle bus to our lunch destination. We'd made reservations to have lunch at the Deerpark Restaurant, located three miles from Biltmore's big house but still well within the boundaries of the 8000-acre property. And a fine lunch it was, too. The food was beautifully presented (I learned the importance of presentation by watching the Food Network) and tasted delicious. The restaurant was gorgeous and peaceful, inside and out.

Deerpark Restaurant

After lunch we sat on the shaded bench pictured above and waited for the shuttle that would take us back to the house. While we waited, I snapped these photos:

I recognize the pink roses, of course, but not the other flowers. Perhaps some of you gardeners out there might tell us what they are.

Tomorrow I'll show you more of the beauty that is Biltmore. In the meantime, here's a link to a YouTube video that contains a brief history of the place, as well as some great shots of the interior of the house: 

If you're the least bit interested, the video is well worth your four minutes.


  1. Ahhh the Biltmore. I shot there twice in one year. Forrest Gump was filmed on many of the back roads of the estate. And we did a car commercial in the driveway.

    The Deer Park catered our meals and it was gooood!

    I was very lucky to get a tour of some of the non-public areas of the house! It's all exquisite.

  2. Holly, those must have been delightful experiences. Good memories, huh?

  3. wow-whether or not it was wasteful for them to build the place, it's certainly worth it to have a piece of history people can see. I can't imagine living there, whether as a family member or servant-it must have been exhausting getting from one room to a room on the other side of the house.

  4. Janet, my sister and I couldn't stop talking about how much fun it would have been to live there as a child. There were so many levels, so many long hallways, so many wonderful possibilities for hiding places.


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