Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Biltmore Estate--an American Castle

Rising up from the rolling green hills of the lush North Carolina countryside is the largest private residence in America, the Biltmore Estate.  Constructed by George Vanderbilt, son of the legendary entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt, perhaps nothing better exemplifies turn of the century opulence.  Originally situated on 125,000 acres, the four-story mansion boasts over 175,000 square feet, 250 rooms--including 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces--and a stunning collection of furniture and artwork.  The largest room in the home, the Banquet Hall, is alone 72 feet long, 42 feet wide, and housed beneath a gleaming 70-foot-high barrel vaulted ceiling.  The square footage of this room alone, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling?  Over 6,000.
Cornelia, the daughter of George, used to swim in the fountain as a little girl.

The gardens by the Conservatory.

Unfortunately, interior photos are not permitted, but photographs of the mansion and formal gardens (of which there are more than 77 acres) convey some sense of the atmosphere of the property.  Completed in 1895 (when George Vanderbilt was 33 years old), the Biltmore had electric power--the consultant was one Thomas Edison--which allowed for amenities such as elevators and refrigerators.  All bedrooms had water closets, but were also equipped with chamberpots because some guests were reluctant to use the new-fangled toilets.  Recreational facilities included a 70,000 gallon swimming pool, bowling alley, and gymnasium. 
Max discovers the Koi pond!

One of 3 Koi ponds right below the drive.

View of the mountains from the Loggia surrounded by sculptures.

Trellis Walk leading to the formal gardens by the Conservatory.

If you look carefully you can see the flower dragonflies in the center of the beds in front of the Conservatory.

Much of the original acreage of the estate became the foundation for the Pisgah National Forest, with 8,000 acres reserved for the estate.  The property now includes a winery, hotel accommodations, and restaurant facilities.  The Biltmore Company, controlled by members of the Biltmore family, operates the estate and other facilities.  During our visit, we stayed in Asheville, North Carolina, a charming town imbued with a college-town atmosphere (primarily the University of North Carolina at Asheville) and teeming with an array of restaurants, galleries, bars and shops. 

Front of the Inn.

Courtyard behind the Inn with a charming garden and dog sculpture that tinkles on a rock when you walk past.  Max loved it!

Our lovely bedroom.

The garden behind our room.  Max loved running up and down this little hill.

Our dream coach.
We stayed at the gracious 1900 Inn on Montford, a B&B operated with enthusiasm and care by a lovely couple who make certain that you feel right at home.  From cocktails shared at 6:00 with other guests, to dining recommendations and shopping suggestions, they make a great effort to satisfy every request.  We stayed in the pet-friendly Rossetti Suite, with heated floors, a large whirlpool tub, and a private garden.  The ambiance was refined and relaxing.  When we checked in, even our puppy, Max, was given a special treat embossed with his name.  The in-room breakfasts were fantastic and, on Saturday evening, we were chauffeured to dinner in a beautifully restored eighties-era Rolls Royce.  I nestled into the dark leather seat and felt, for a small sliver of time, that I lived the life of George Vanderbilt.

Well, not really.  That came later, after the martinis.

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