Masthead header

Travel Talk: The Biltmore Estate – Part 1

Over 30 years ago, when we were on our honeymoon, my husband and I toured the Biltmore Estate.  The grand home – often called America’s Castle, is located near Asheville, North Carolina. This past August we decided to visit it again, taking our daughter along with us this time.  If you have never visited the Biltmore, let me just tell you that every.single.thing about it is impressive. You arrive as the first guests did on Christmas Eve in 1895 – slowly… via the 3 mile long approach road that snakes through natural woodlands, building up your anticipation.  Then you come into the clearing, round the curve.  That is when you finally see the house – the 250 room French Renaissance chateau that took bachelor George Vanderbilt 6 years and an entire community of workers to build.

It has 250 rooms in its 175,000 square feet spread throughout 3 floors, a basement, and a subbasement.  There are 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 16 chimneys.  In 1888, when George Vanderbilt was 26 years old, he visited Asheville with his mother for the first time and decided that this piece of property was the perfect location for his “country home.”  He hired Richard Morris Hunt as the architect to build the house and Frederick Law Olmsted (the designer of New York’s Central Park) to design the grounds and estate.

Now remember, Vanderbilt was not married at this time.  There are bachelor quarters that he lived (and partied) in until he married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in Paris in 1898..and she had not even seen the house until they returned from their honeymoon in Italy.  What a house to come home to!  There are so many other details to know about the house – like how it was built ahead of its time with electricity… and hot and cold running water… and refrigeration… and a pool… and so much more.  But let’s look at some of the rooms now.  I know that is what your really want to see. 🙂  Here is a floor plan of the main level so that you can follow the layout of the rooms we are going to see:

source

We entered through the corridor and walked first into the Winter Garden. This room has a trap door that was used by the servants to care for all the plants in it.  The center sculpture is called Boy Stealing Geese.  The ceiling in this area was amazing.

We turned and entered the Billiard Room next with its custom made billiard tables (built in 1895. ) To the right of the fireplace you can see a door with artwork hung on it.  That is actually a secret door (when it is closed) that leads to a smoking room.  There is a matching door on the left that opens to a corridor leading to an office.  Doesn’t this look like a room a bachelor would want in his home? 🙂

On the other side of the Billiard Room is the Banquet Hall with its 7 story high ceiling. The 40 ft. long table can seat up to 64.  (The Vanderbilts were wonderful hosts with frequent guests.)

A triple fireplace is at one end of the room, and Flemish tapestries hang from a side wall.

The other end of the room has a loft with a 1916 Skinner Pipe Organ.

Of course the family did not eat all of their “regular” meals in the grand banquet room.  They had their breakfast and lunch in the Breakfast room.  The artwork alone in the Biltmore is quite impressive with 185 paintings and 1,228 prints.  Two original paintings by Renoir hang in this room.  The walls are covered in handtooled Spanish leather.

The salon was an unfinished room during the time of the Vanderbilts.  It was left with a rough subfloor, an unfinished tile ceiling, and bare brick walls. It was restored and open to the public in 2013.

 Stepping outside you find the covered logia.  I loved all the wicker seating out there (and the view!)

When we walked into the next room, my daughter and I immediately channeled Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  The Biltmore library, with its 10,000 books written in 8 different languages evoked the library from Beast’s castle.

And its ceiling came from a palace in Venice.
(Sorry for the blurry photo. 🙂 )

While the library reminded us of Beauty and the Beast, the Tapestry Gallery with its 90 ft. long walls covered in 7 tapestries, reminded us of Downton Abby.  The tapestries were woven in Belgium in 1535.

And now let’s take the stairs up to see some of the bedrooms.

source

Upstairs we toured the gilded bedroom of George Vanderbilt, whose furniture was designed by the architect himself.

An oak sitting room connects Mr. Vanderbilt’s room with his wife’s.

And here is part of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom:

There is also an upstairs living room to tour:

In addition to that, there are bathrooms with hot and cold running water….

And a number of guest bedrooms.  Some of their guests would come and stay for months.
(It really could have been a grand hotel!)

 We are going to stop our tour here today, but we will go down to the basement to visit the servant’s quarters and out to the garden in the next post.  In the meantime, if you get a chance I would love for you to read a couple of articles for more information on the Vanderbilts.  First – this one will give you more information about the history of the family, and this one (my favorite 🙂 ) really gives you some insight into the personalities of the people who lived there.  I think you will enjoy it!

Until next time…

You might enjoy these posts:

   
Lavender Dreams - January 24, 2017 - 8:24 am

I saw your post in Nanaland’s sidebar and just had to come visit. We’ve been to the Biltmore many times (and still have a home in that area) but I never get tired of seeing the photos. I always want to ‘live’ in the library….extraordinary! Wonderful photos!

Karen B. - January 22, 2017 - 7:46 pm

Kelly,
Wow. I’ve never been to this mansion and I’m mostly impressed because of the forethought that went into building this “castle” during that time in history. How fun to get to visit twice. I’ll check out the two links you’ve provided. I have this on my bucket list now!
Karen

Irene Kelly - January 22, 2017 - 9:06 am

Hi Kelly, Very nice post and your pictures of Biltmore are so much better than mine. Your next visit should be to The Boldt Castle on Heart Island, Alexandria Bay NY in the 1000 Islands.SO amazing that castle was vacant for many years and now in beautiful shape. Thank You for your Blog I am so glad that I recently found it !

Irene Kelly from New Jersey

Amanda Coughran - January 21, 2017 - 10:34 am

Love visiting The Biltmore. We’ve visited on three different occasions. Once in spring. The gardens are beautiful! Another time in early summer and then with my parents in late November when it was decorated for Christmas and they had a tree displayed practically in every room. I never tire of The Biltmore and your post has rekindled a desire to view it again. Great blog!

Ruth - January 20, 2017 - 7:40 pm

We stayed at The Inn at Biltmore Estate for summer vacations two back-to-back years — like you, both times in August. Our son was 11 and 12 at the time of those trips, and even he loved the castle tours. And to this day, whenever we have a wonderful breakfast while on vacation, the subject of the inn’s amazing breakfasts arises. Thanks for the stroll down Memory Lane!

Faye - January 20, 2017 - 2:23 pm

My Biltmore visit last spring had the added bonus of an exhibition of wedding fashion from films set in the mid 1600s to 1935 and displayed throughout the beautiful rooms on the first floor(great pictures, Kelly!). Also on the grounds was a family wedding display with reproductions of the gowns worn by Edith in 1898 and daughter Cornelia in 1924. And best of all, the heirloom veil worn by Jacqueline Kennedy and her Vanderbilt cousin for their weddings in the 1950s. The estate is a must see if you love that early century era, magnificent gardens, and American royalty!

Kristy - January 20, 2017 - 1:07 pm

A friend & I made the trek there last summer. Beautiful. A friend who had been there the previous year, noted to take 2 days, and to take one of the extra tours. On day 2, I opted for the rooftop tour, as the servants tour was full already. A very worthwhile tour, and interesting tidbits. My friend had purchased a book in the gift shop on prior trip, so I had the opportunity to read about the house, grounds prior to the trip–so glad I did. My Favorites – logia and 3rd floor (?) guest bedrooms, some very good planning!

Lynne - January 20, 2017 - 12:19 pm

We have visited the Biltmore estate twice and both times in the spring. The gardens were beautiful. I love the river that runs through the property. I believe it is called the French Broad river. The whole area up there is gorgeous. I would love to live up there, not in the estate but in the area.
——————————————————————
Oh those gardens in the spring!!! I can’t imagine how wonderful that must have been! Asheville is an amazing city…very artsy. Our daughter seriously considered moving there before she took this position. In fact, the reason for our trip was so that she could check out the city (and others in NC…coming soon in other posts. 🙂 )
Kelly

Gina - January 20, 2017 - 11:35 am

Great recap of your visit to Biltmore Estate. It truly is a marvel to see. The grounds and scenery are just spectacular and I’ll never forget that view from the back veranda. I’ve only been once in the fall, but certainly hope to visit again. 🙂 Looking forward to your next post.
————————————————————————-
Thank you Gina. If you visited in the fall, the view from the back veranda must have really been something to see!
Kelly

Dawn - January 20, 2017 - 10:59 am

Kelly,

We have been to Vanderbilt twice and absolutely love it. I even have two of their books. I have the Christmas book but haven’t been there in person when it is all decorated but it on my list of things to do. Thanks for sharing!

Dawn
——————————————————————-
Your books probably would have helped me with my research Dawn. 🙂 Seeing it at Christmas is on my list too. It must be very beautiful all decorated for the season!
Hope you have a great weekend!
Kelly

Marianne in Mo. - January 20, 2017 - 10:31 am

Hard to imagine that some folks actually lived in these huge places! I bet some of the rooms are as big as my entire house! Extraordinary architecture and finishes. The stair railings and chandeliers alone are amazing, and that library is awesome. The upstairs living room was odd to me, with its lower ceiling. Almost seemed “New York” style.
I will have to brush up on the rest of the Vanderbilts. I have read Anderson Coopers book he wrote with his Mom, and was wowed at her life (and his!)
——————————————————————
It IS difficult to imagine living like that. The loggia alone was huge. I think I read that the chandelier that hangs in the center of the staircase is held in place with one bolt…hope that is not true. The Vanderbilts certainly have had a “wow” life!
Kelly

Malcolm Hutchings - January 20, 2017 - 10:25 am

Love your review and pictures of this beautiful old home. While Europe has many such old castles and estates, this is one of the few that we can enjoy here in the United States. I remember talking to one of the caretakers there about the Otis elevators which, when constructed, were the first ones in the Southeastern part of the country. They still operate on the original motors that were installed at the time of construction and when renovation was done, they required no rebuilding.They sure don’t make them like they used too!Also impressive is the original amount of land for the estate at over 100,000 acres. This was later reduced when the estate donated a large portion to create the Pisgah National Forrest.
For those interested, technical facts on the elevators and other Bitmore Estate items can be found at: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/biltmore-techtour/1308
—————————————————————–
Thanks for the link Malcolm! There are so many interesting facts about the house (and the owners) that it would take so much studying to be a guide there. I was equally impressed with the size of the estate.
Thanks for visiting the blog today!
Kelly

Donnamae - January 20, 2017 - 10:05 am

Thanks for the tour! I’ve never been there…but been to the area many times. It looks very formal…but then that is how some people lived back then. Not exactly my taste…but certainly interesting. But, I’m sure I would enjoy the grounds…I hear it’s gorgeous in the fall! 😉
———————————————————————
I think it is the formality that makes it seems so cold and not “home-y.” The grounds are simply gorgeous. Can’t wait to share the photos of it with all of you! The fall would have to be beautiful there with all the views of the mountains…might have to plan another trip back just for that!
Have a great weekend Donnamae!
Kelly

Louvina - January 20, 2017 - 8:40 am

What a lovely tour! It truly is a castle and the grounds are so lovely! It would be wonderful to see it decorated for the holidays! We did get to see the outside a long time ago and the gift shop where I bought a book and CD to play as we drove across the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had decided not to pay the $50 entrance fee. Now wishing we had! I will visit all the pictures again and read the sources and do research to learn more. Thank you for another tour and adventure!! Especially liked seeing your personal pictures of you and your husband and lovely Miss Hayley!! — a mini you for sure, Kelly! 💕
————————————————————————
I’d like to see it decorated for the holidays..and in the snow! I loved the gift shop and the gardens. You could easily spend a day just on the grounds!Thank you for your kind words about the photographs. Hayley looks a lot like her dad too. 🙂
Enjoy your weekend Louvina!
Kelly

Cheri - January 20, 2017 - 8:26 am

A few of us bloggers went when they were showing the Downton Abbey clothes and it was spectacular. My favorite room is the library. Now I have to click on your links to read more about the Vanderbilts and the Biltmore.
———————————————————————
I remember that tour and hate that we did not get to see it. They have a new exhibit called “Fashion from the Classics” that premieres in February. I am sure that will be a good one as well. I loved that library too! (We both must be Belle at heart. 🙂 ) Thanks for reading the extra homework assignment Cheri!
Kelly

Martha - January 20, 2017 - 8:17 am

We went to the Biltmore for our 30th anniversary (18 years ago). It is an amazing place, hard to believe it was a home. I found it very overwhelming and sorry to say, cold. I loved the grounds much more and we discovered several plants that we loved so much we have incorporated them in our gardens.As much as I loved Downton Abbey, the house was just too big. I think the practical side of me can’t handle it and then I like things cozy….with lots of red and buffalo checks. I’m looking forward to the servants quarters
——————————————————————–
Yes, it is overwhelming and hard to believe it is a home. It’s a whole different world, and I am right there with you wanting buffalo checks and cozy. 🙂 But it was interesting to see how people lived and entertained back then…just not what I would want to live in. The estate is a gorgeous piece of land, and I would have loved a rustic cabin somewhere in the middle of the forest.
Kelly

Terri - January 20, 2017 - 8:05 am

We were just at the Biltmore Estate this past October…… It had been many years since we had been to this gorgeous place!! Love everything about the Biltmore…… George Vanderbilt was most certainly a “visionary” !!! So much history here…… We ate dinner at Cedric’s … over at the winery !!! DELISH!!!
Thank you for sharing Kelly…..
—————————————————————–
I bet October is a beautiful time to be there Terri, with all the leaves changing colors in the mountains! George Vanderbilt was definitely ahead of his time in his plans, and I am sure the architect and landscape designer were as well. They were near the end of their careers and wanted the Biltmore to be their grand finale so to speak. Yum to Cedric’s! There are sooooo many good places to eat in Asheville. It is worth a trip there just for the dining alone!
Kelly

Kathy - January 20, 2017 - 7:58 am

Awesome job, Kelly! You really did your homework … and your photos are incredible! You won’t be surprised to know that Katrina and Josie have season passes. I hope Katrina shares the photos with you of her grandchildren when the Christmas tree and Santa arrive. (What great memories Katrina is creating!) It is hard to believe this is so close to home. I used to take my third graders on a fieldtrip to the Biltmore House . I always watched their faces as we rounded the curve and they saw the house for the first time. I am looking forward to Part 2 because I will be Josie’s guest there soon.
——————————————————————
Yep..lots of homework! I went looking for the brochures we received while we were there, but I cannot find them anywhere. This trip was right before we returned home for my father-in-law’s illness, and goodness knows what I did with them. 🙁 Anyway, had to start from scratch with the research. How fun to have season passes and go at Christmas with grandchildren. I bet it is amazing decorated for the holidays! And what a cool trip for your students! It really is like going to a castle. Have fun on your trip with Josie!
Kelly

S u b s c r i b e   b y   E m a i l