On my recent road trip, I visited two of my daughters, I enjoyed a day at the Biltmore Estate, I drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I took part in a yarn shop hop in Cleveland, Ohio. I drove over 2000 miles – somewhat in a circle – first going south, then northeast, then back west.
I had never been to the Biltmore Estate, although I had heard it was amazing. What drew me there at this time, though, was that the glass artist, Dale Chihuly had an exhibit there. His work was displayed several places in the gardens, and even in some in the house. I wanted to visit while the exhibit was there.
The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate was built in Asheville, North Carolina, between 1889 and 1895 by George Washington Vanderbilt II, grandson of philanthropist, Cornelius Vanderbilt. The mansion was built as a home that could be shared with family and friends.
Unfortunately, he died in 1914, so he was only able to enjoy the home for twenty years. Due to its size, the home required extensive care. His widow was not able to continue taking care of it on her own, so she sold off some smaller industries. Her daughter Cornelia and Cornelia’s husband John Cecil, took over the the management of the estate, opening it up to the public in 1930. The estate is still managed by descendants of George Vanderbilt.
The Biltmore Estate is now a major tourist attraction in the city of Asheville. The Biltmore Winery serves wine at the estate and sells bottles to visitors. In recent years, two hotels have been added to the property. The Estate has also added a line of furnishings, bed and bath items, and gourmet foods.
Visiting the Biltmore Estate
Tickets to the Biltmore are available for purchase online. A week before my visit, I decided to go online to check the prices. I knew it would be rather expensive, but I had figured that in my budget.
Tickets have different prices for different days of the week and different times of the year. When I visited, there were several options available – weekdays, weekends, or evening visits. Since now is prime “color tour” time, the Biltmore seems busier. Tickets are more expensive and on most days in the next couple of weeks, visitors must choose a specific time to see the house.
When I visited, the ticket I chose was $65 and I could visit the house at any time that day. Before I purchased the ticket, though, I clicked on the “special offers” link. Here, I found that tickets purchased a week in advance were available at a $10 discount. I was lucky that it was exactly one week before my visit day, so I saved the money. Other discounts are available for children, military, seniors, or people visiting for more than one day. There is also a season pass for those who want to visit frequently.
My ticket included parking, all of the gardens, and a visit to the house. I could have paid extra for an audio guide, but there was a very informative paper guide that was free. Other optional expenses were lunch – delicious and reasonable priced – and a variety of souvenirs.
The ticket included a visit to The Biltmore Legacy (museum) in the Antler Hill Village location. I enjoyed the museum which included many family photos, life-size displays, and a video. The Biltmore Winery, also in the village, offers free tastings. The village has additional gift shops, restaurants, and an ice cream shop.
After a visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1888, George decided he would like to build an estate there. His siblings had built similar homes in New York and Rhode Island. The home was opened for its first visitors on Christmas Eve in 1895.
The home was built in the style of French chateaus George had visited, including Château de Blois, Chenonceau and Chambord. Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, the four story home includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. There is an indoor pool, an exercise room, and a bowling alley.
Visitors walk through the mansion in a prescribed route, starting in the foyer inside the front doors. One of the first rooms visited is the dining room, or banquet room, complete with a table large enough to seat 60 people. There is a triple fireplace at one end and an organ loft with a pipe organ at the other end. When the family was dining alone, they sat at a small side table.
The tour continues through the breakfast room, the salon, and the music room. The music room wasn’t completed until 1976. The loggia, or balcony offers a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that so enticed the owner.
The second floor includes the family’s bedrooms and sitting rooms. The third floor houses 33 guest rooms with private baths. The fourth floor was for housemaids, while the male servants lived in quarters over the stable.
The bowling alley, pool, and exercise room were in the basement, along with a row of dressing rooms so people could change into swimsuits or clothes for indoor or outdoor physical activity. The three kitchens – pastry, rotisserie, and main kitchen – were also in the basement. There was a walk-in refrigerator and two pantries. There was also an elaborate laundry room. The rooms in the basement level are no longer used, but remain as they were.
The gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, include formal and informal gardens, ponds and fountains, and over 2½ miles of walking trails. There is a conservatory where more plants are grown and displayed.
Environmental protection and conservation was important to George Vanderbilt. Today, the Estate continues that vision. They have recently installed six acres of solar panels that help to conserve natural resources.
The informal gardens contain many different trees, shrubs, and flowers. As you walk through each garden, placards detail the varieties in sight.
There are three formal gardens, the Italian Garden, the Walled Garden, and the Rose Garden. The Italian Garden is nearest the house and can be viewed from the terrace. It has three ponds with classical statues and fountains surrounded by lotus, waterlilies, and papyrus plants.
The Walled Garden and Rose Garden are adjacent to each other. The Rose Garden contains over 250 varieties of roses, including a selection of plants that are there for a trial period.
The four-acre Walled Garden displays flowers that are in season – tulips, summer annuals, or mums – changed by busy gardeners as the seasons change.
Dale Chihuly’s Glass Art
When I heard Dale Chihuly’s art would be on display at the Biltmore, I was determined to go, even though it did not fit well into my schedule. I’m so glad I was able to go, as I enjoyed the whole trip tremendously.
Throughout the gardens, under the library terrace, and in the house, Chihuly’s glass art was displayed. I first heard about this amazing artist several years ago when I saw his art at Cheekwood Estate and Gardens and the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Since that time, I’ve seen or heard about other displays.
The pieces of glass were individually wrapped and transported from the studio in Seattle, Washington, to the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. When they arrived – semi loads of glass pieces – they were unwrapped and assembled on site.
I walked through the gardens at the Biltmore in the morning, because I was concerned that it would be too warm in the afternoon. The weather was beautiful, but the gardens and art were even more so. I loved how the flowers and glass art worked together. Each piece fit perfectly into its surroundings. The display was spectacular!
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Biltmore Estate. Walking through the mansion was interesting. I liked learning about the Vanderbilt family and their vision for the future of the estate.
Visiting the gardens was my favorite part, though. I always enjoy walking through gardens and usually leave with hundreds of pictures. This visit was extra special with the Chihuly’s glass art mixed in.
Have you been to the Biltmore? What did you think?
Are you a fan of Dale Chihuly? I’m thinking about making a trip to his studio a year from now. Want to come along?