Escape to Biltmore Estate

If you have ever been to Asheville, NC then you know about the prestigious Biltmore House. Okay, it’s not really a house – they call it a chateau (but it’s more like a castle). Anyway, the entire place inspires those who are open to its beauty and character, and at Christmas, the whole estate is shrouded in magic.

I visited Biltmore for the first time on January 1, 2015. It reminded me of Lord James Wilburn’s chateau Edenstone in BLOODFIRE. I could see Nora wandering the halls and getting lost moving around the 250 rooms. As a writer, I saw it as “research” and knew I had to come back again and again for more “research.” We were so dazzled by all the estate had to offer tourists that we upgraded to the annual pass right then and there. (Tip: You get a discount if you do it that way, and if you only visit TWO times in one year, you have already made your money’s worth & then some! Also, kids under 16 are FREE.) Since then, we made three additional trips, the last being this past weekend. I just had to go back for Christmas at Biltmore.

**Important Note: Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking and a LOT of stairs in this grand house, not to mention the shopping and the dining and the winery and the… ahem. You get the picture.**

The first thing you notice when you drive through the front entrance is the long, winding drive to the house, surrounded by what can only be described as meticulously kept forest. The minute you leave the bustling streets of Asheville behind, you are drawn into the serenity of the babbling creek that flows alongside you and pulls you into the Vanderbilts’ world.

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As pass holders, we did not have to stop at the Reception & Ticketing Sales Center (pictured at the top of the map). We were able to just show our IDs and drive right on through. You are guided along the path by Estate Employees (all of whom are exceptionally cheerful and never rude or grumpy) to one of three parking lots. From there, you board a free shuttle that drives you the next mile or so to the house. The drivers are always interactive and welcoming in a way that makes you feel like their favorite next-door neighbor.

The shuttle drops you off in front of the house. Trust me when I say it is far more beautiful in person than in these photos (my iPhone has had a rough start in life).

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You have either already reserved your ticket to tour the inside of the house (self-guided tour is included with estate admission) or you are a pass holder; either way, you need to first stop at the ticket hut situated to your right as you depart the shuttle.

Once you’ve got that printed ticket in hand, I recommend heading into the Stable Courtyard just off to your right (don’t worry; they’re not stables anymore) where you will find a small bakery, an ice cream shop, and an outdoor cafe – if you’ve got time before the tour starts, that is. You cannot bring food or beverages inside the house, so allow yourself enough time to enjoy your treat.

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Neither personal photos nor video recordings are allowed inside the house, so put those devices away and avoid the temptation altogether. The last thing you want to do is force the staff to ask you to leave. They don’t want to, but they will. Besides, you can have your photo taken at the photo op set up behind the Winter Garden (beautiful backdrop!) for a pretty penny. (The momento is totally worth it.) Anyway – check out the website to get a glimpse of the inside.

My favorite rooms are the Winter Garden (an indoor atrium at the front of the house) and the drool-worthy Library (filled with George Washington Vanderbilt’s ACTUAL personal collection). The self-guided tour is at your own pace, so take as little or as much time as you like at each stop along the way.

I found this gem online courtesy of ABC News: “Unlocking the Hidden Doors Inside the Biltmore Estate“. It’s a video tour of the secret passageways built into the house for the family and the staff to move about. Super cool.

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It is so very Christmassy this time of year! I asked one of the staff members standing at the entrance how many Christmas trees were decorated inside the house. Are you ready for the answer? “Sixty-five trees for sixty-five fireplaces.” That’s right – Biltmore house has sixty-five fireplaces! And while you won’t be able to see each one on the self-guided tour alone, you will not be disappointed.

Don’t forget to explore the outside areas of the house for amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My favorite spot to sit after all that walking (and all those stairs) is the Library Terrace. In the spring and summer, these trees and vines are a lush, full arbor of wisteria and trumpet creeper.

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If you’re up for a bit of shopping, head to the old stables beyond the Stable Courtyard where you’ll find several small shops and the Stable Cafe. Passholders, veterans, etc. get discounts here like in most places on the estate.

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We made our way to Antler Hill Village, the estate’s own private shopping and dining experience separate from the house itself. It was too cold for us to stop at the Creamery for ice cream this time, but the decorations really put us in the Christmas spirit. I didn’t want to leave!

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The boys chatted with Santa Claus before we made our way into the Winery. It was another photo op with the option to buy – again, a bit $$$.

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The Biltmore Winery is in the old estate dairy building. The pathway leads you into the winery’s lower level with stone walls and barrels of aging wine on display. Once you reach the end of the hall (there are restrooms along the way if you need them), a flight of stairs beckons you up to the wine tasting room. Don’t forget to do a little shopping on your way out. (My personal favorite is the Biltmore House Red. I bring home at least two bottles every time we go.)

After the winery, we took the kids to play. Just beyond the Village (and within reasonable walking distance) is a playground for kids 12 and under. Next to that, a farmyard where guest are allowed to mingle with small farm animals.They are building an Outdoor Adventure Center that looks like a tiny cabin (pictured below), but it wasn’t quite finished yet.

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If you go back up the hill from the playground and the farmyard, you will find the old barn. Lots of antique relics to be found in there (and more restrooms). If you are there at the right time, you can watch a real blacksmith at work, or a woodworker. Of course, the Farm has its own little shops (full of country charm) and a place to grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee.

We couldn’t go back to our hotel for the night without stopping back at the house to check out the Christmas lights.

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You can stay on the estate (I’ve stayed at the Inn, and it was wonderful but also $$$), or you can be savvy and find somewhere nearby to stay for significantly cheaper. This time, we stayed at Red Roof Inn Asheville West for less than $100 per night. We found it to be remarkably clean for a pet-friendly budget hotel and it had a “new” feeling to it. The staff was super nice and they have an ATM in the lobby. Bonus: Cracker Barrel is within walking distance.

Before driving back home Sunday afternoon, we stopped at the Conservatory. Being short on time, we did not take the walking trails to visit all the different gardens (though we have in the past and it was so worth it). This is part of the reason I told you to wear those comfy shoes: you’ll want to explore these trails and see the beauty. I’d make sure to take a bathroom break at the Conservatory before embarking on any trails because you won’t see a bathroom out there. There is more shopping in the Conservatory. Be sure to sample the Wassail and the Blackberry Lemonade!

I cannot wait until our next opportunity to take a trip to Biltmore. We barely scratched the surface! My darling husband keeps fantasizing about what he would do with the place if we lived there; I keep telling him I would never live in a house that big. (Guess who would have to handle all the cleaning? I mean 45 bathrooms. Forty-Five. C’mon, man! Give me a bungalow and I’ll be as happy as a seagull with a french fry.) So go! Experience the awe of Biltmore Estate (& take better pictures than I did).

Cheers,

~NS

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