At Biltmore Estate, the Vanderbilt vision continues. The property has grown into a multi-day destination with house, gardens, winery and Inn on Biltmore Estate
In the late 1880s, George W. Vanderbilt, then a young man of 25, came upon the perfect spot in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains for a 250-room French Renaissance chateau to be built by his friend, architect Richard Morris Hunt. The great chateau would be called “Biltmore.”
Vanderbilt’s decision to locate his mountain retreat near Asheville, NC, led to his purchase of 125,000 acres surrounding the site. Today, Biltmore Estate covers about 8,000 acres, including formal and informal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, father of landscape architecture in America. The property is also home to Biltmore Estate Winery, opened to the public in 1985, and the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a luxury accommodation opened in 2001 that allows guests to once again spend the night on Vanderbilt’s estate.
While the property today offers visitors a multi-day escape from everyday life with extensive gardens, the Explore Biltmore Estate Outdoor Center, specialty tours, food and wine activities, the Historic Horse Barn and overnight accommodations, Biltmore House remains the centerpiece of the estate. The largest private home in the United States and a National Historic Landmark, the house welcomes approximately one million visitors each year.
Begun in 1890, Biltmore House is constructed of around 5,000 tons of Indiana limestone transported by a railway spur built specifically to bring materials and supplies to the site. It took hundreds of workers more than five years to complete the house. Then, on Christmas Eve 1895, Vanderbilt formally opened his doors for the first time to friends and family. Today, visitors can easily imagine themselves Vanderbilt’s guests as they stroll through Biltmore House still furnished with the original art and antiques collected by the family.
And the collection of objects is truly spectacular. Vanderbilt, grandson of industrialist Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, was an intellectual, fluent in several languages, well traveled and knowledgeable in a variety of subjects. His diverse and cultured tastes influenced his travels with architect Hunt while Biltmore House was being built. The two men journeyed throughout Europe and the Orient, purchasing paintings, porcelains, bronzes, carpets and furniture. All of it would eventually become part of the collection of objects still in Biltmore House today. Indeed, it is the nature of the collection, reflecting Vanderbilt’s personal interests and tastes which guests then, as well as now, often find most fascinating.
Artworks by Renoir, Sargent, Whistler, Pellegrini and Boldini adorn the walls and, in one case, the ceiling. The furniture includes designs by Sheraton and Chippendale. A chess set and gaming table, which belonged to Napoleon when he was in exile on St. Helena, are displayed in the salon, and Chinese goldfish bowls from the Ming Dynasty can be admired in the library. Eight 16th century Flemish tapestries hang in the Banquet Hall and the Tapestry Gallery and fifty Persian and Oriental rugs cover marble and oak floors.
Fully electric and centrally heated, Biltmore House, at the time of its completion, was considered one of the most technologically advanced structures ever built. It used some of Thomas Edison’s first light bulbs, boasted a fire alarm system, an electrical call box system for staff, two elevators, elaborate indoor plumbing for all 34 bedrooms and a relatively newfangled invention called the telephone. Vanderbilt also wanted his mountain home to provide family and friends with life’s recreational pleasures including an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley and gymnasium in the basement.
Gardens Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted
While Biltmore House is the focal point of the estate, the extensive gardens make it clear that Olmsted’s genius is an integral part of Biltmore — his sweeping landscape providing a fitting backdrop for this magnificent chateau. Biltmore’s landscape is also Olmsted’s last and largest project. He had completed New York’s Central Park and landscaped campuses at Boston University, Yale and Stanford before Vanderbilt challenged him to transform the over-farmed, over-logged land into a country estate.
In keeping with Vanderbilt’s vision of a working estate, Olmsted laid out plans for a large farm. But more impressive were the woodlands, fields and gardens, employing the European pastoral and picturesque modes of design enhanced by Olmsted’s own naturalistic style. Included in the plans were several formal gardens — a four-acre English Walled Garden, a 16th-century Italian garden with reflecting pools, and an esplanade lined by an avenue of trees at the entrance to Biltmore House. In addition to these more formal touches, Olmsted planned a shrub garden, a lagoon and a winding three-mile approach road — often considered his masterpiece.
Biltmore’s unique horticultural environment creates a blooming season that begins in early spring and continues until the first frost. Even during winter months, the conservatory at the bottom of the Walled Garden is full of colorful tropical plants such as poinsettias, orchids, lilies, cacti and bougainvillea.
Biltmore Estate Winery and Estate Restaurants
In keeping with the Vanderbilt tradition of entertaining in style, today’s guests are treated to the epicurean pleasures of living like a Vanderbilt for a day. Biltmore Estate Winery is housed in a former dairy barn designed by architect Hunt. Here, guests can enjoy a self-guided tour followed by complimentary samples of Biltmore’s award-winning wines crafted by Winemaker Bernard Delille. The estate currently produces approximately 110,000 cases of wine annually including sparkling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Biltmore Estate wines have taken more than 300 medals in both national and international wine competitions, including a double gold, and numerous gold medals at such prestigious contests, as the San Francisco International Wine Competition and The Dallas Morning News National Wine Competition.
Next door to the winery guests can enjoy the bounty of the property with estate-raised beef, lamb, fruits and vegetables at The Bistro restaurant. The Bistro offers simple, hearty and innovative cuisine drawing from the field-to-table concept. The restaurant also features a wood-fired oven turning out delectable pizzas that mirror the seasons.
Located in another Hunt structure once part of the dairy operation is Deerpark Restaurant with its bountiful buffet offering of Southern, family-style dishes and local specialties. The restaurant is great for families, with children nine and under dining free.
Dining is also offered adjacent to Biltmore House in the architecturally unique stable complex. The Stable Café is a hub of activity and gathering spot for Biltmore House guests and is home to casual, informal fare from the grill and rotisserie.
And finally, for those seeking a more upscale dining experience, The Dining Room at Inn on Biltmore Estate captures the essence of fine dining in the tradition of the Vanderbilts’ more formal entertaining. The Dining Room features elegantly prepared continental cuisine with a regional flair in a romantic setting with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.
Inn on Biltmore Estate
The most recent addition to the historic property is Inn on Biltmore Estate, a 213-room deluxe accommodation that allows guests to spend the night on the property — if not in Biltmore House itself. The overall focus for the inn is to replicate the graciousness of America’s resorts at the turn of the 19th century, offering guests the opportunity to share the same hospitality George Vanderbilt extended to his family and friends when they visited Biltmore Estate in the 1890s.
Opened in March 2001, the Mobil Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond inn offers banquet rooms, board and meeting rooms and a variety of guest rooms, including suites. It also incorporates a library, a lobby bar, an exterior swimming pool and a fitness center. Common areas are designed to encourage guests to feel at home, welcome to pull a book off the shelf and curl up in front of the fire or talk the afternoon away with family and friends. In addition, guests can enjoy outings similar to those enjoyed in Vanderbilt’s day with hiking trails, carriage rides, horse back riding, boating and biking through the Explore Biltmore Estate outdoor program.
Plan Your Visit
Biltmore Estate is located near the intersection of Interstates 26 and 40. Entrance to the estate is three blocks north of Exit 50 or 50B on Interstate 40. The estate is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Special celebrations take place all year long with events such as Festival of Flowers in the spring and Summer Evenings Concerts offering performances by nationally known artists on select weekend evenings in late summer. In the fall, Biltmore Estate celebrates the coming of autumn with Michaelmas: A Celebration of the Harvest & Jazz Harvest Weekends. The grand finale each year is Christmas at Biltmore Estate, when the house is fully decorated with dozens of trees, thousands of poinsettias and miles of evergreen roping. Throughout the year, guests can enjoy special events at the winery; classes and seminars; specialty tours; outdoor activities including hiking, biking, rafting and horseback riding; tours of the agricultural side of the estate at the Historic Horse Barn; and culinary events.
Admission to the estate includes Biltmore House, gardens and winery and enables the estate to remain private and self-sufficient, receiving no governmental funding or grant monies. For guests who enjoy visiting Biltmore every season, annual passes provide year-round admission. Prices for Christmas at Biltmore Estate daytime visits and Candlelight Christmas Evenings vary from regular admission prices.
For more information, contact The Biltmore Company, One Approach Road, Asheville, NC 28803, or phone (828) 225-1333 or (800) 543-2961, or visit Biltmore Estate’s website at www.biltmore.com.