We’ve loved exploring America’s largest home, the Biltmore Estate, several times, but after spending a few days at this gorgeous Asheville/Blue Ridge Mountains location in spring, we may have found our favorite time to visit.
“Biltmore Blooms” is an unforgettable carpet of tulips in riotous colors thanks to formal gardens on the massive grounds.
Bonus: These formal gardens are the work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame. (Biltmore was the designer’s last professional project.) Tulips bloom after the crocus, forsythia and daffodils. After the tulips, look for irises, roses and acres of azaleas. Then come the mountain laurels and rhododendrons that western North Carolina is especially known for.
After tiptoeing through those tulips in the walled garden, be sure to head inside the adjacent, glass-roofed conservatory for more beautiful blooms and exotic plants, particularly orchids. It’s a nice spot, too, to escape summer’s heat.
Outside the conservatory is a garden shop for take-home treasures. Certain days, the conservatory features live classical musicians. Its architect was Richard Morris. The Vanderbilts’ love of flora is evidenced inside the estate with a soaring room called the Winter Garden.
Changing Exhibits: 250 Rooms
The expansive mansion — there are a whopping 250 rooms — houses changing exhibits as well as special events in every season. The estate was completed and opened to guests on Christmas Eve, 1895. The holiday season is especially spectacular here.
One recent exhibit featured costumes from movies based on books in George Vanderbilt’s collection. A voracious reader, he noted each book he read starting at age 12. Avid readers would enjoy a bit of extra time perusing the delightful library (Vanderbilt amassed 22,000 volumes, and they are stacked floor to soaring ceiling.) Also, step out on the upper verandah for breathtaking views.
When we visited the current exhibits were “Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie” (through May 13, 2018), plus fantastical creations from master glass sculptor Dale Chihuly (May 17-Oct. 7, 2018). “Chihuly Nights at Biltmore” will spotlight dramatic outdoor lighting of some of his large-scale sculptures. Both day and evening self-guided tours are offered. There’s a wide range of tours inside the home, including “Behind the Scenes,” so check online for schedules and pricing.
Two other magnificent mansions — one in Buckinghamshire, England, the other, influenced the design of the grand estate in France’s Loire Valley.
Olmstead called the home and surrounding land “the most distinguished private place, not only in America, but in the world, forming in this period.”
Today, annual visitors top one million.
Stay on the Property
With so much to see and do, we recommend overnighting on the estate at either of two available accommodations. Our experience at the upscale Inn on Biltmore Estate was memorable for the chance to daydream amid lush furnishings and superb service about what it must have been like in the Vanderbilts’ heyday with the array of guests and entertaining, hunting and fishing on the grounds and so much more.
Unable to pull ourselves from the inn’s incredible views, we lingered over a full Southern breakfast in the white-tablecloth dining room with fireplace. The inn has 213 rooms, a spa and fitness center, outdoor pool and hot tub, complimentary shuttle to the estate plus afternoon tea service.
The newest addition to the 8,000-acre estate is the activity-centered Village Hotel, perfect for multi-generational getaways with much to do: hiking, fly fishing or kayaking on the French Broad River, horseback riding, winery visit and barn animals to meet at Antler Hill Village. The village is a look at yesteryear with farming and livestock, blacksmiths, woodworkers, and craft demonstrations.
Also on the village grounds is Biltmore Winery, which in a former life was Biltmore Dairy. (Today’s village creamery is popular for ice cream and pastries.)
As the most visited winery in the U.S., Biltmore’s is producing an estimated 150,000 cases annually. The winery tour and tasting are another reason to extend a stay into one or more nights. The winery boasts a one-of-a-kind, art installation of handcrafted paper and metal blossoms – some up to four feet wide and reminiscent of magnolias, dogwoods, poppies and roses. Its new, limited spring seasonal release, Wine-a-Rosé, offers notes of strawberry, kumquat and lime.
Biltmore Blooms runs through May 24, 2018, but not to worry; Biltmore is gorgeous in every season.
There’s summer’s meticulous grounds beneath a Carolina blue sky (perfect for the Guided Roof Top Tour), autumn’s explosion of color here in the Blue Ridge, and the estate’s magical Christmastime transformation. In fact, as the tulips begin to fade, the herculean effort of holiday decorating has already gone through several months of planning.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Stunning architecture and grounds make Biltmore fascinating for history buffs, gardening fans, and the winery is a bonus. A winery tour and tasting is included in the admission ticket.
- Visits can be self-guided at your own pace, or choose from a good variety of guided tours to hone in on your special interests.
- The Biltmore library has 22,000 volumes. Avid readers would enjoy a bit of extra time perusing this delightful room.
- Plan in advance. There’s a lot of ground to cover inside the home and across the estate, so download a map ahead of time.
- Allow a minimum of one day; overnight so you can to savor the experience.
- There are many stairs. Although there is elevator access for wheelchairs, it is limited to the first and second floors.
- Lines can be long as crowd capacity in the home is controlled. Bring a small backpack with snacks and water.
- A pergola-covered sitting area to the left of the mansion as you face it is a good spot to catch your breath and some shade.
- There are no restrooms in the house, only off of its main entrance.
- The snack area (and restrooms) behind the garden conservatory may be less crowded than other food venues.
IF YOU GO
- To learn more, visit the Biltmore website. The website has lots of great info to plan your visit. You can also purchase tickets online in advance for some savings.
- For additional information about the Biltmore and surrounding area, see: ExploreAsheville.com/
The authors’ visit to the Biltmore Estate was hosted by The Biltmore Company and ExploreAsheville.com.