No matter how many times you’ve been, the grand estate always impresses.
by Cathy Martin
If you’re new to the area, or it’s been a while since you’ve visited the magnificent Biltmore Estate, there is no better way to get in the holiday spirit. Several years had passed since I’d been to Biltmore. On a recent trip to Asheville — with the estate decked out in its festive finery — I decided to pay another visit. There’s really nothing quite like it in the Carolinas.
Christmas at Biltmore is in full swing and continues through Jan. 7. You must purchase timed tickets in advance to tour the house, but the grounds open to ticketholders daily at 8:30 a.m.
A little history
George Vanderbilt, the youngest child of industrialist William Henry Vanderbilt, began building the 175,000-square-foot country house in 1889. He opened the home to family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895.
Renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the 250-room house, though Hunt died in 1895 before the home opened. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed 75 acres of gardens surrounding the home..
George wasn’t married when the home was completed in 1895. Three years later, he married Edith Stuyvesant Gerry, and in 1900 the couple had a daughter, Cornelia.
Biltmore house has 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. While they only had one child, the couple must have hosted plenty of guests at their grand estate nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The decor in the library, left, reflects the Hallmark Channel’s A Biltmore Christmas. The network filmed scenes from the movie in the library and other parts of the estate in January.
What to expect
The grounds are enormous —about 8,000 acres — and I’d forgotten the sheer scale of the place. Comfortable walking shoes are a must. I clocked 8,000 steps in just over two hours, and only covered a small portion of the estate.
Check the weather forecast, and dress appropriately. On the day I visited, the high was a balmy 80 degrees — visitors bundled up in their festive wool sweaters looked pretty miserable.
The banquet hall, right, is one of the home’s star attractions.
A 35-foot Fraser fir with 500 ornaments and lights stands at one end of the Banquet Hall. More than 50 staff members worked to bring the tree into the house. Andrews Nursery in Avery County provides the tree every year. This year, the tree is inspired by “The Night Before Christmas” with shades of red emerald and gold.
The library is always one of the grandest rooms in the house, with its secret passageway and vast collection of books (George collected more than 23,000 volumes). This year, the library’s décor reflects the Hallmark Channel’s A Biltmore Christmas,. The network filmed scenes from the holiday movie there in January, and it debuts Nov. 26.
At Christmastime, the Conservatory is filled with poinsettias, amaryllis and other lush tropical plants.
The gardens are a big draw in spring, but don’t skip the Conservatory at the holidays. It’s filled with lush tropical plants, along with poinsettias in various shades of pink and red, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and more.
When I left the parking area, I saw a sign for “Diana.” I didn’t know what it was, so I went to find out. Turns out it’s a small marble statue of Diana, goddess of the hunt. But it’s worth the detour for the panoramic views of the estate with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a marvelous backdrop.
Eat & drink
Unlike many tourist attractions, the on-site restaurants at Biltmore are solid, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients through a partnership with community farmers across western N.C.
Adjacent to the estate, the Stable Café is a casual option with salads, sandwiches and “Appalachian Comfort Food” like smoked Springer Mountain chicken and Carolina mountain trout amandine.
But you’ll find most of Biltmore’s dining outlets at Antler Hill Village.
Your admission provides a complimentary tasting at Biltmore Winery. If you don’t want to wait in line, head over to the wine bar around the corner (not complimentary, but also not as crowded) and try a glass or a flight along with shareable snacks like cheese and charcuterie boards and hummus plates.
For a heartier meal, reserve a table at the more upscale Bistro just a few steps away. The restaurant is open for dinner and Sunday brunch. Or pop into Village Social for a casual meal inside the Village Hotel.
For pub fare in a lively atmosphere, visit Cedric’s Tavern. For a grab-and-go option, order barbecue sandwiches and platters (estate-raised pulled pork, chicken and smoked brisket) at the Smokehouse food truck.
Christmas at Biltmore runs through Jan. 7. Daytime tickets start at $110. Tickets for Candlelight Christmas Evenings start at $125. Both options include a second day of access to the grounds.