I’m not sure when or where I first heard about the Biltmore Mansion, but it was probably almost 20 years ago. I’ve wanted to see it ever since.
When I came up with the idea of emptying the bucket list this year, I knew I had to make it to the Biltmore. Since moving to Nashville, Asheville was so close… but yet I still hadn’t checked the Biltmore off my list. While many of the things I’m emptying off the bucket list were already planned when I came up with the idea, this one was legitimately planned for this year. Time to empty the bucket. So I mentioned it casually the night of my birthday. “Has anyone ever wanted to go to the Biltmore?” Luckily, a few friends were game.
Asheville was…an interesting place. We stayed about a half an hour away, up in the mountains, in a house fit for a party. But we planned so much in our days that we didn’t have much time to party back at home. It was rainy and cold all weekend, but we still managed to have a good time. I’m a big fan of craft beer, so I managed to hit up four breweries, although I wouldn’t mind going back and trying some others.
But for all the craft beer and bbq (which I’m also a big fan of, and we visited two places- Luella’s and Buxton Hall), it was the Biltmore that was our real destination.
You have to go. If you haven’t been, you should definitely put it on your own bucket list. It’s worth it to get the audio tour – I’m usually ambivalent about those sorts of things, but I’m happy I spent the extra money. It was worth it to know what I was seeing and not just wander around some big house following everyone in front of me.
I can’t imagine living in the place. It was absolutely beautiful. I can’t imagine hanging out there in my jammies, though, so maybe it’s not the house for me.
The audio tour did a great job of reminding us how philanthropic the Vanderbilts were. They not only employed a lot of people, they took care of them. They cared for their families, giving them Christmas presents or delivering baskets when there was a new baby or sickness. They paid their servants New York wages, unheard of in North Carolina at the time, and for many of their servants, this was the first time they ever had a bedroom to themselves. We can tend to assume, seeing the opulence, that the rich always take advantage of the poor. But it reminded me of the scene in Downton Abbey when Matthew doesn’t want a valet, and he has to be reminded that by having a valet, he’s giving someone a livelihood.
Naturally, I was reminded of Downton Abbey a lot. A certain Brit I know didn’t think highly of the wannabe-British-estate, but hey, it’s pretty much the closest I’ll come to having a glimpse into the classic upstairs-downstairs life. I’d like to go back and do the specialized upstairs-downstairs tour.
They were having a special exhibit at the time – Designed for Drama – that featured costumes, displayed throughout the house, from movie adaptations of George Vanderbilt’s favorite novels.
“Inspired by George Vanderbilt’s love of literature, Designed for Drama showcases more than 40 award-winning movie costumes from films based on favorite books in his collection. Vanderbilt amassed a personal library of more than 22,000 volumes at his North Carolina home alone. He also counted leading authors of the era as personal friends, including Henry James, Paul Leicester Ford, and Edith Wharton—all of whom stayed at Biltmore House as guests. That literary connection is brought home in the exhibition with the costumes accompanied by the original books from Vanderbilt’s library that inspired the films.”
It was such an added treat to see that display. The library was one of my favorite rooms by far. (The balcony even had little secret doors so that guests could access the library from their rooms and then head back to their bedrooms with a good book! Maybe I could hang out there in my jammies.)
But what was even better? In the awesome library were two outfits from the BBC Pride & Prejudice – including the famous shirt Mr. Darcy took a little swim in. ha!
Even though it was a little chilly and rainy, we walked around the gardens a bit, taking in the gorgeous roses and other flowers that were in full bloom. We missed the azaleas at their peak, although we saw a few of the last ones to bloom.
I insisted on visiting the Creamery (natch), but I was pretty bummed to learn the ice cream was no longer made with milk from the cows on the premises. For some reason that bummed me out more than learning that most of the wine wasn’t made with grapes from the premises. But maybe that’s because the winery offers unlimited samples during the wine tasting, and that made me a pretty agreeable visitor.
All in all, I was really pleased with the Biltmore. While I never felt rushed and I feel like we did the entire place justice, I still feel like I could go back and see more — maybe to see it decorated for Christmas, and maybe to do one of the specialized tours. Most of Asheville I could do without – I found it a wee too liberal for my tastes – but give me some bbq, craft beer, and the Biltmore, and I was pretty happy.