Monday, March 26, 2012

Biltmore Estate - 03/26/12

We awoke to a bright sunny day, with the temperature forecast to be in the low 70’s. This should be a perfect day for our last day here in Asheville, North Carolina. We intend to make the most of it with our visit to the Biltmore Estate.

We arrived at the Biltmore Estate at 10:30 a.m., just a 5 minute drive from our campground at the Bear Creek Campground. Our first impression was one of total amazement at the immense size of the Biltmore house and the surrounding 8,000-acre estate. The original estate comprised 125,000 acres. In 1914, 86,700 acres were sold to the federal government to form the beginning of the Pisgah National Forest.

George Vanderbilt created this country retreat where he could pursue his passion for art, literature, and horticulture. After marrying the American Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958) in Paris during the summer of 1898, George and his new bride came to live at the estate. Their only child, Cornelia (1900–1976), was born and grew up at Biltmore.

The Vanderbilts were one of the oldest and best-known families in America. Jan Aertsen van der Bilt emigrated from Holland around 1650. Although his descendants prospered as farmers on Staten Island, New York, they lived modestly; it was only during the lifetime of Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), known as the "Commodore," that the family name became synonymous with extraordinary wealth.

Building Biltmore was, at the time, one of the largest undertakings in the history of American residential architecture. Over a six-year period, an entire community of craftsmen worked to build the country's premier home. Construction began in 1889 and George Vanderbilt officially opened the home to friends and family on Christmas Eve in 1895.

The celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France. It features 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The basement contains a swimming pool, gymnasium, changing rooms, bowling alley, servants' quarters, kitchens, and more.

It took us about two hours to complete our self-guided audio tour of the home. Each room we viewed provided its own unique design and elegant decorating theme. If you closed your eyes and just listened to the narration on the audio receiver, you were magically transported back in time to another era. Viewing the servants quarters on the fourth floor and the kitchens and laundry room in the basement provided some insight into the magnitude of their responsibilities and the sparse lifestyle they must have led while living at Biltmore. One can only imagine the hardships they must have endured during the hot humid months of summer and the bone chilling months of winter while performing their duties within this massive house.

Our tour of the Biltmore house completed, we now turned our attention to touring the estate. There are several beautiful gardens maintained on the property next to the house. The gardens had a vast variety of flowers blooming with an abundance of different colors. A wall of tall shrubs separated the gardens from three large ponds. They are octagon shaped, shallow-water ponds. Each pond is stocked with Koi fish. Paved walking paths surround the ponds. Nicely manicured patches of lush green grass placed between the two entrances provide a cushioned entry into the pond area.

Our tour of the gardens completed, we are now ready to tour the estate in our vehicle. There is a one-way road that takes visitors around the entire 8,000 acre estate, approximately 10 miles. Our first stop was at the Bass Pond, which was stocked with a few very large Koi fish. This is a small pond with a paved path that circles the pond. At the far end of the pond the water exits through a narrow channel over a waterfall into a creek. We took a very enjoyable, leisurely walk around the pond.

Another popular stop on this drive is the Antler Hill Village & Winery. The winery provides free wine tastings and there are several restaurants within this area.

There is an exhibit of farm implements that were used on the property in the early 1900’s. There are exhibits that demonstrate the art of metalworking and other crafts. There is a farmyard with livestock and a kitchen garden for visitors to stroll through.

Other stops on the tour include the Inn on Biltmore Estate, the Deerpark Restaurant and the Carriage & Trail Ride Barns.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and memorable visit.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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