A Masterpiece in Stone
Labour day weekend in North Carolina turned into a seriously awesome treasure hunt for us. On Monday the 4th, after a weekend spent in the town of Ashville, we truly experienced stepping back in time to the Gilded age during a visit to Biltmore Estate. (The Gilded Age in United States history is the late 19th century. The term for this period came into use in the 1920s and 1930s and originated from the writer Mark Twain where he satirized an era of serious social problems masked by a thin gold gilding).
Three of the most significant figures in this era combined their talents to create one of the most magnificent homes in the United States. Biltmore House; a product of the combined genius of Architect Richard Morris Hunt, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (The man who designed New York’s central park), and their client, George Washington Vanderbilt.
The Vanderbilt family is an American family that was prominent during the Gilded Age. Their success began with the shipping and railroad empires of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the family expanded into various other areas of industry and philanthropy.
On Christmas Eve in 1895, Mr Vanderbilt opened the doors of Biltmore to his family, after six years of construction. Biltmore was built to serve as a family home for George, his wife Edith, and their only daughter Cornelia. On completion in 1895, Biltmore House was famous for being Americas largest private home, a French Renaissance chateau, which contains 225 rooms and is made up of 2.4 million cubic feet of space.
The Winter Garden
On entering the first floor of this incredible home, your eyes are magnetically drawn to the splendor of ‘The winter Garden’. It is the vibrant heart from which the rooms of the main floor radiate. It creates an “all weather” interior yard. Especially during the winter months where the plush, subtropical plants provide a green, peaceful refuge from the cold and often snowy land beyond Biltmore House’s walls.
The tour of Biltmore is set up in a way that keeps you utterly absorbed from start to end. It is the perfect length, and even though we were visiting over one of Americas busiest holidays we did not find ourselves waiting in queues or impatiently fighting our way through oceans people to get a good view of the space. The tour flows and does not bombard you with too much information that I find can often lead to boredom. You are given the perfect amount of knowledge, whether you choose to use the guidebooks provided or take an audio tour.
This impressive room has a seven-story high ceiling and Flemish tapestries from the mid-1500s was the scene of dinner parties and celebrations.
This room was built by Architect Richard Morris Hunt with the sole purpose of serving as a Salon. To this day it is still not known as to why this room was never completed in George Vanderbilt’s lifetime. Since the 1970s however, his descendants have furnished the room as a sitting room, using selections from the original collection.
My favourite room! I absolutely adore libraries and stepping into this space is a serious wow moment. This room is testament to George Vanderbilt’s utter passion for books. It contains nearly half of his 22,000-volume collection. It ranges in subject from American and English fiction, to religion and world history, philosophy, art, and architecture. The magnificent chess sets and games tables that decorate the space were once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte. It’s hard not to imagine yourself curled up in a ball in front of a roaring fire reading one of his ancient, leather bound wonders.
One of the most important staff positions in the house was held by Biltmore’s Chef, who oversaw all the prep work and cooking for the Vanderbilt family and their guests. He led a team of more than a dozen kitchen workers who were responsible for preparing meals ranging from staff dinners to picnics and banquets for the guests. In this image, the copper pots hanging from above the kitchen worktable are actual originals.
The Biltmore Estate and grandeur of Georges vision was in fact the birthplace of American Forestry. Working with the landscape architect and designer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Olsted, close to 3 million plants were installed on the 8000 acres of surrounding land. Frederick Law Olmsted, was the first American to implement scientific forestry and the management and conservation of forest lands, on a large scale.
Workers moved thousands of yards of soil and planted millions of trees to create the approach road and formal gardens adjacent to the house. George Vanderbilt wanted to create as much suspense as possible when designing the layout of the house and approach road gardens. The approach road is now a winding labyrinth of electric green forest and tropical splendor building anticipation to the maximum before you enter the huge iron gates of the Mansion. Biltmore’s forest management plan improved the health of the forest while producing sustainable wood resources.
Beyond the great park of trees and meadows, farmsteads, a winery, forest plantations, a lake, a lagoon, and a network of roads and bridges combined to form a landscape that appeared natural yet was the product of a careful plan and almost unimaginable hard work. In total, 2,870,678 trees had been planted permanently throughout the estate.
Today Biltmore still runs as a family business, with the fourth and fifth generations of Mr. Vanderbilt’s descendants running the day-to-day operations. Along with more than 2000 employees, they continue Biltmore’s mission to preserve this national gem.
The Americans are the friendliest people I have ever come across and their patriotic spirits are infectious. These people are proud of their magnificent country and are never shy to share their passion and knowledge. Since my husband and I have been based in North Carolina we have been told to visit Biltmore Estate by dozens of locals; it really is an awe-inspiring experience. Every single person who has told us to visit has recommended a second visit over the festive Christmas season. Giant Christmas trees, mulled wine and Candlelit nighttime tours are a few of the treasures that await.
An annual pass costs around $150 (Day pass $55) and allows you to visit the estate all year round. With the opportunity to visit a working farm, wine tasting at the winery (Yes please!), courtyard market, bake shop, cafés, Italian garden, shrub garden, spring garden, walled garden, rose garden, azalea garden, bass pond and boat house, tavern and village hotel we are already planning our return. Visit this awesome National pearl, you will leave with an imagination running wild; that warm and satisfying feeling of stepping back in time and bringing a little bit of history back with you.
Where is Biltmore Estate
Biltmore Estate a large private estate and tourist attraction in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina.
Asheville is known for its vibrant arts scene, historic architecture, the ‘great outdoors’ and a vibrant food scene. The breathtaking beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains attracts many savvy travellers to this outdoor treasure. Flights are available from many US cities including Chicago and New York.
Get out and explore some of America’s most cherished national forests, like Pisgah and Nantahala. Discover some of the many beautiful waterfalls scattered throughout the region. A fantastic region for wildlife, whether you are bird-watching or looking out for bears or herds of elk. This region is great for cycling, hiking and walking, or, if time eludes you, a sensational road-trip. Whatever your reason – get the western region of North Carolina on your radar – it’s Awesome.