Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains lies one of the most opulent homes in America, the Biltmore Estate. The home is the largest in the United States and is known as America’s Castle. It’s a must-see destination and I got an in-depth look. Read on to learn more about this American treasure.
Once upon a time…a long, long time ago, George Vanderbilt, the grandson of the railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, was considered the most eligible bachelor in the United States. Have you heard of the Grand Central Terminal in New York? His family built it. They also owned steamboats and railroads, as well as other businesses and they amassed a large family fortune.
In 1888, George visited Asheville, North Carolina with his mother and imagined building his own English estate among the Blue Ridge Mountains. That became a reality in 1895 when he opened his home, Biltmore House, to friends and family on Christmas Eve.
Construction on Biltmore began in 1889 and took six years to complete. Around 1,000 workers helped construct the 35-bedroom home which also includes 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and a 70,000-gallon pool. The original estate had 125,000 acres of land.
During the construction, the land in front of the home was transformed into a mini-town with small factories producing the materials needed to construct the home. An on-site kiln was able to produce up to 32,000 bricks daily. A private railroad was built from the village depot to the construction site. That 3-mile route was eventually transformed into the Approach Road leading today’s guests to the Biltmore House.
The facade of the building is adorned with statues of knights and gargoyles and intricate detailing – exactly what you would expect to see on any great castle or building constructed at the time.
Just inside the entrance to the magnificent home is the Winter Garden. Underneath the glass dome is a marble and bronze fountain by Viennese artist Karl Bitter titled Boy Stealing Geese. I was enamored with all of the lovely woodwork supporting the glass roof.
George wed Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in a private civil ceremony in France. The two shared a love of learning and travel. They honeymooned in Italy and returned to Biltmore. In August 1900, they welcomed their only child, Cornelia, into the world.
The large tapestries above were woven around 1535 in Belgium and now hang in a 90-foot-long hallway used as a sitting room, and occasionally ballroom, at Biltmore. Guests were able to relax there before and after meals.
George was an avid reader and had 23,000 books in his collection. The Biltmore library houses 10,000 books written in eight different languages. The ceiling’s painting, The Chariot of Aurora, came from the Pisani Palace in Venice.
The Vanderbilts loved to entertain and dinner was quite a formal affair. George hired the best chefs and cooks, including a 38-year-old English chef assisted by a 29-year-old French cook. Records show an early inventory of 1,139 linen napkins and 111 linen tablecloths. There were 62 different patterns, all made by hand. Most were monogrammed by the famous French needleworker Madame Dufoir in Paris.
The Vanderbilt family and their guests ate breakfast and lunch in the breakfast room. The wall is covered in the original leather wallpaper. Hanging on the wall in gold frames are two original Renoir paintings, Young Algerian Girl (left) and Child with an Orange (right).
In addition to admiring the beautiful crystal, china, and Renoirs, I found the ornate ceiling in the breakfast room fascinating.
Managing a 175,000-square-foot home would be quite a daunting task. However, the Vanderbilts had 30-35 domestic servants to help them.
For a house built in the late 1800s, the home was technologically advanced. In addition to having running hot water, an indoor swimming pool, and a bowling alley, the home had an internal calling system (pictured below). When it was being used, the little flags would go up to indicate where the “call” originated.
The home also had early refrigeration. Here is one of the smaller refrigerators:
In the basement not far from the kitchen, there are two laundry rooms and a drying room.
I attended a special culinary tour of the Biltmore Estate where I was able to glimpse what life would have been like at the turn of the century. The Biltmore Estate showcases George Vanderbilt’s original collections of fine art, crystal, china, books, and more.
Want to really experience the Biltmore Estate? Book a tour to get a more in-depth look at the ins and outs of the house and gardens. There are a dozen-plus tours available. Book your audio tour or guided tour online before you go.
- Audio Guide to Biltmore House: A 50-minute journey through Biltmore’s grandeur, it’s guided by curators and hosts, delving into the Vanderbilt family history, architecture, and artwork. Kids enjoy their unique 50-minute tour narrated by Cedric, the Vanderbilts’ Saint Bernard.
- Guided Small Group Tour: An intimate exploration of Biltmore House, this tour offers insights into the perspectives of the Vanderbilts’ inaugural guests. Limited to 8 guests, this tour grants exclusive access to rarely-visited areas.
- Rooftop Tour: Limited to 12 guests, this exclusive guided tour provides behind-the-scenes access to Biltmore House’s design and construction, offering breathtaking views from the rooftop and balconies.
- Exclusive 90-Minute Tour: A Vanderbilt Christmas: Christmas is a magical time and with this tour, guests get to experience the enchantment of Biltmore during the holiday season. The 90-minute Candlelight Christmas Evenings tour features exclusive access and heartwarming stories.
- Biltmore House Backstairs Tour: Travel back in time on this 60-minute tour, exploring the rarely-seen domestic staff areas and gaining insights into life and work during the Vanderbilt era.
- Self-Guided Visit to Gardens: Roam through formal and informal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, experiencing the lush landscapes that pay homage to his genius.
- Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting: Indulge in a delightful pairing of chocolate and red wine, featuring artisan chocolates and insights into wine production at the Biltmore winery. Guests must be at least 21 years old to be served wine.
- Historic Barn Walking Tour: Stroll through Antler Hill Barn, unraveling its history and connection to Biltmore Dairy, accompanied by vintage photos and a private demonstration by a skilled craftsperson.
- Farm-to-Table Tour & Taste: Join an insightful tour of Biltmore’s West Side, showcasing the estate’s agricultural operations and offering a tasting of farm-fresh artisanal fare.
- West Range Loop Guided Bike Ride: Explore the exclusive West Range by bicycle on this invigorating 8-mile ride, highlighting the estate’s beauty and agricultural programs.
- Guided Bike Ride: Enjoy a leisurely bike ride along the French Broad River and agricultural fields, discovering the Vanderbilts’ history and the estate’s natural beauty.
- Guided Bird Walks: Embark on an educational birding adventure below Antler Hill Village, exploring the estate’s diverse habitats and wildlife with a professional birding guide.
More Things To Do at Biltmore
As if all of the above isn’t enough, Biltmore Estate offers additional activities that will make one’s visit truly memorable. Guests can go horseback riding through the woodlands or take one of their horse-drawn carriage rides to see the estate just as visitors to the estate did a century ago.
Nature enthusiasts will want to embark on guided hikes, try their hand at sporting clays with a basic lesson, or witness the ancient art of falconry in action.
For those with an appetite for good food, a stop at Bistro is in order where estate-raised and regionally sourced ingredients are on the menu. The Wine Bar at the Winery beckons with a selection of Biltmore wines, artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, and chocolates—a perfect blend of indulgence and sophistication.
For arts and crafts lovers, there are live demonstrations by skilled artisans, including a blacksmith, broom maker, and woodworker. Age-old techniques and craftsmanship are breathed life by these traditional trades.
Who couldn’t use some pampering? The Spa at The Inn on Biltmore Estate offers massages, facials, and manicure/pedicure treatments.
America’s largest home is located in Western North Carolina at 1 Lodge Street in Asheville.
Biltmore Estate Hours and Tickets
The Biltmore Estate is open daily from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm.
Ticket prices vary seasonally. From January to March, ticket prices start at $70 per adult, $90 from March 25 – May 23, and $80 from May 24 – September 2nd, when purchased online. Children under 10 are admitted free. Kids 10-16 receive a discount on admission.
If you wish to visit the grounds and skip the house, rates range from $50 – $85 and include complimentary wine tasting at Antler Hill Village and Winery, complimentary parking, and access to the 8,000 acres of gardens and grounds.
Annual passes are also available starting at $299 per person. In addition to unlimited admission, other benefits of an annual pass include discounts for art exhibitions, tours and activities, dining, shopping, and lodging, as well as discounts for pass holder’s guests.
You can purchase your tickets at the estate or online at Biltmore’s website.
*I would like to thank the Biltmore Estate for providing me with information about the tours and home.
**Additional source of information is Blue Ridge Smoky Mtn Highlander.