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Biltmore Estate Blue Ridge Parkway Trip
June 21, 2007

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Biltmore Estate

800-624-1575

1 Approach Road
Asheville, NC 28803

My first visit to this incredibe estate was at Christmas time during my first year of fulltiming in 2001. I remember being absolutely amazed that a man-made thing could be so beautiful. So the first time I was there coincided with the same season when George Vanderbilt first opened his home. The grand opening was on Christmas Eve in 1895 with a lavish formal party and the descendants continue to make the estate a holiday showcase to this day. Every open room of the 250 room mansion boasts its own Christmas tree decorated in a different theme and precious one-of-a-kind ornaments. While seeing the house during that season certainly had its charms, I vowed to return when the gardens were in bloom because I also wanted to see its personality during that season.

So here I am again in June, 2007 in front of America's largest private home. Would you look at the size of that thing?? In perspective, I feel like my lil ole 380 sq. ft. motor home would fit in its keyhole!
And the gardens are blooming and the conservatory is sunlit and full of exotic colorful beings of every shape and size. It was a beautiful day for strolling along the paths and enjoying the different vantage points to view the house from.
But it's only when you step inside the house that the overwhelm factor really sets in. The vaulted ceiling in the grand banquet hall is 7 stories tall! It took six years to build this amazing "country retreat," and I bet you could spend six years exploring it without ever getting bored. It contains 4 acres of floor space and it originally sat on 125,000 acres with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains that could make you cry. Some of the 65 fireplaces seem bigger than some apartments I've lived in.
The quiet elegance of Mr. Vanderbilt's bedroom. The furniture is some of the most elaborate I've ever seen and the artwork, murals and tapestries are breathtaking. Everywhere you look you could spend hours just exploring that one little nook and cranny - and the house is just filled with interesting big and little nooks and crannies. I think the fact that the house has remained in the family throughout all these years is a big reason for Biltmore's present day attraction. Great care has been taken to preserve and protect what George created, and the original furnishings, fabrics and priceless art make this tour really feel like a step back into a completely different time. My own sense of place even became a little distorted as I walked down the Grand Staircase trying to conjure up what it must have been like to actually live in such a showcase. I could almost hear the swish of the long skirts flowing down the stairs on the way to the banquet room.
You can even see how well the horses had it in their hay-day, so don't miss a meal at the Stable Cafe. Everything is made fresh daily here from scratch using ingredients from their gardens. Even the beef is estate raised black Angus. We were in the mood for a light lunch, so we had the Spring Focaccia "Freshly baked focaccia bread stuffed with ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced prosciutto, mozzarella and basil pesto, served with mixed spring greens tossed in a feta vinaigrette." Mucho yummy! By splitting that with a cup of delicious creamy potato soup, we had just enough room left over for some of the best strawberry shortcake ever. The cherry on top of this meal, though, was the incredible service by our waiter, Bill Boeheim. He's been serving meals at the estate for years now, is intriqued with its history and loves to answer questions about the estate and its restaurants, saying it's "magical" here. When you visit, ask for him and you'll see that when service is equal to the quality of the food it makes even the best meal better.
Biltmore Estate is a massive operation with The Inn, a winery, conservatory and every kind of garden imaginable. Even the obligatory gift shops were so well done that you just had to stop in to see what they offered - of course, we had to have a memento of this visit. I would definitely recommend this stop for anyone anywhere nearby this area.
There is a large enough lot with designated parking for RVs, but this is definitely the kind of place that takes at least an entire day to really see, so don't rush through it and then have to drive afterwards. Especially since the admission price is on the Vanderbilt scale, as well ($42.00 in June, 2007), stay long enough to appreciate all it has to offer. Oh, and don't forego the $6 bucks for the audio tour cassette - it really is neat and adds to the enjoyment with good info on the tour stops. Wouldn't it be great if they put an RV park on the property so we could just stay here a couple of days and feel like gypsy Vanderbilts??

From the Blue Ridge Parkway: Take U.S. Hwy. 25 North exit; then approx. 4 miles
From IH-40: From East, exit 50; from West, exit 50B
Use address 1 Approach Road; Asheville, NC to get directions from mapping programs.

Note: The two pics of the interior above are courtesy of Biltmore for purposes of this review and are not to be copied for any other purpose.
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