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The historic Biltmore Estate has a unique place in the heritage of the United States. Its centerpiece, the Biltmore House, is the largest private residence in the America. The house and its many other unique and awe-inspiring features have made it one of the most visited historic tourist destinations in the nation, welcoming more than one million visitors each year. The most visited winery in the country is not in Napa Valley – it is the Biltmore Winery.
George Washington Vanderbilt completed the Biltmore House in time to accommodate its first guests for Christmas 1895. Built of massive limestone blocks and incorporating numerous architectural details, the home represented the wealth of the Vanderbilt family and the opulence the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century. Richard Morris Hunt, the period's most renowned architect, styled the mansion after a French Renaissance Château in France's Loire Valley. Perhaps even more outstanding than the Château itself are the elaborate grounds and gardens designed by America's most honored landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted's credits include New York City's Central Park and the U.S. Capitol grounds. Olmsted called the Biltmore Estate, "the first great private work of our profession in the country."
The Biltmore Estate consists of 8,000 acres of land, a swath of land that is massive by today's standards. But consider that the property once consisted of nearly 125,000 acres of land! To manage these extensive holdings, George Vanderbilt had to hire experts. Thus was born the practice of modern American forestry. Gifford Pinchot, the father of modern forestry in the U.S. and the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, first managed the lands. His successor, Dr. Carl Schenck, did something that has become common in modern forestry but was revolutionary at the time—harvesting less timber than was available and leaving trees for future regeneration. Vanderbilt even paid for the operation of the Biltmore Forest School. Today, about 86,700 acres that were once part of the estate have been incorporated into the adjoining Pisgah National Forest. Visitors and residents alike enjoy hiking, biking and other forms of outdoor recreation in the very same lands where George Vanderbilt himself once hunted.
It is remarkable that, through the years, the Biltmore Estate has been preserved without any public funds. There is no comparable story of the preservation of such a property for public use and enjoyment in our country. The remarkable story of how this has been done is told best in the book, The Lady on the Hill by Howard E. Covington, Jr. The book is an engrossing saga of how the estate has been held together over the generations. It is most interesting in chronicling the energetic and innovative efforts of William A. V. Cecil, who began in 1963 to transform what David Rockefeller called a "white elephant" into a thriving tourist attraction. Now, the Biltmore Estate is not just among the most visited historic attractions in the country, it is one of the largest employers in Asheville.
So, just how big is America's largest private residence? Consider these numbers: Four acres under one roof, 175,000 square feet, 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, one indoor pool and a bowling alley. In addition to the sheer size, the architectural excellence remains a draw for many. The American Institute of Architects ranked the house eighth among 150 buildings in its America's Favorite Architecture feature. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is what the house contains. Thousands of original furnishings decorate the rooms, including original art from masters such as Renoir, magnificent 16th-century tapestries, more than 40 bronze sculptures, Napoleon's chess set, and a library with 10,000 volumes. Biltmore House has room after room of art, history, and luxury, including a banquet hall with a 70-foot ceiling. Although the scale and grandeur is almost overwhelming, the estate has gone to great lengths to make it welcoming and comfortable. Visitors can take self-guided tours at their leisure, but we recommend taking advantage of the audio tour on a first visit. This virtual tour from the official website will also prepare visitors for what's in store.
No serious gardener should fail to visit the beautiful Biltmore Gardens, which begin displaying their gorgeous blooms in April and continue to exhibit an ever-changing display of nature's beauty until the leaves fall in October. These wondrous gardens are the legacy of Fredrick Law Olmsted, described in the March 2005 edition of National Geographic Magazine as the maker of our nation's first great urban parks and the founding father of landscape architecture in America. Olmstead's work has been the inspiration of many generations of landscapers and was the inspiration of our own four seasons woodland gardens at Willow Winds.
The Biltmore Estate still nurtures these gardens, which are the legacy of Olmstead, as evidenced by this virtual tour. The estate's garden experts, using their years of observations, have also developed a Bloom Calendar to help Biltmore guests schedule visits to the gardens. The schedule varies according to the weather, of course, but offers a general idea as to which species bloom when. The Bloom Report and Fall Color Report also offer up-to-date information on where to find blossoms and changing leaves.
No tour of the Biltmore Estate would be complete without a stop at the most visited winery in America, Biltmore Wines. Long a dream of William A. V. Cecil, the modern winery completes the vision of George Washington Vanderbilt in creating a self-sustaining estate with vineyards and a winery in the tradition of France's Loire Valley. Biltmore Wines grows several varieties of vinifera grapes on 94 acres at the estate and imports other grapes as needed. The former dairy complex now houses the winery, which produces tens of thousands of cases each year in many varieties. They have been awarded gold and double-gold medals in prestigious national and international competitions. Best of all, a self-guided tour and wine tasting is included in estate admission. Wine experts will be on hand to pour samples and discuss the merits of each varietal and vintage. Afterward, visitors can purchase bottles at discounted prices at the gift shop. In addition, the winery hosts special events, has an outdoors dining area and occasionally features live music.
A major new attraction was opened in 2010 next to the Biltmore Winery. It combines opportunities for a quick snack, shopping, fine dining, and live entertainment, as well as a chance to learn more about the history and legacy of Biltmore. Go here for an interactive map and a description of the attractions of the Antler Hill Village.
There is never a need to go hungry at the Biltmore Estate, whether you're looking for casual or elegant dining, full meals or light bites. The casual choices include the Arbor Grill, Cedric's Tavern, Stable Café, Bake Shop, Courtyard Market, Ice Cream Parlor, Conservatory Café, Creamery, Smokehouse, Wine Bar and various food and beverage carts. Fine dining choices include Bistro, Deerpark Restaurant and The Dining Room at the Inn at Biltmore Estate. The chefs at Biltmore are able to utilize the bounty of products grown at Biltmore as well as produce and meats from local farms in Buncombe, Madison and Haywood Counties. Fresh trout and even caviar come from Western North Carolina fisheries. Through the Field to Table Program Biltmore operates a production garden that provides a large variety of vegetables, herbs and small fruits ranging from typical crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, asparagus, winter squash, blackberries, raspberries and alpine strawberries to unusual ones such as carrots in five colors, micro greens, red scallions and edible flowers. The Biltmore Farm raises Angus cows and White Dorper sheep to supply the estate's restaurants. Check out Biltmore's virtual tour page to explore some of their fine restaurants.
Consider the Biltmore Estate an 8,000-acre wonderland for numerous outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, horse riding, carriage rides, Segway tours, fly fishing, river running, sporting clays and even off-highway driving. The Land Rover Driving School will introduce guests to the fundamentals of four-wheeling on a specially designed off-road course. The estate outfitters also offer guided float trips and rentals for the French Broad River, a beautiful waterway that courses through the estate. The nearby Pisgah National Forest also offers a bounty of hiking, biking and other forms of outdoor recreation.
One of the many reasons why the Biltmore Estate attracts more visitors than most other historic sites can be found on its calendar of special events. These attractions last throughout the year, so that visitors can enjoy the splendor of all four seasons. The year's events begin with the Festival of Flowers in April and May, a prime time for enjoying the riot of color from estate-grown tulips and other flowers. The annual Easter Egg Hunt takes place on Biltmore's Front Lawn on Easter Sunday and features activities for children including an appearance by the Easter Rabbit, photos with the Easter Rabbit, magic shows, music, storytelling and crafts. The Biltmore Concert Series in August have brought performers such as Tony Bennett, Allison Krauss, Bruce Hornsby and many other major stars. Fall at Biltmore in October is a wonderful way to enjoy the autumn foliage, colorful mums in the gardens along with the diverse range of indoor and outdoor activities on the estate. Christmas at Biltmore and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings mark every holiday season and the end of each year.
No one celebrates the Christmas season quite like the Biltmore Estate does. It is a tradition that began in 1895 when George Washington Vanderbilt entertained his first guests during that first Christmas at Biltmore. It was continued in the early years when Edith Vanderbilt personally selected and supervised the wrapping of a gift for every employee and the members of their families on the Estate. The current holiday celebration began in 1979, when the Estate was opened to the public during the Christmas season. Christmas at Biltmore, held from early November into the New Year, has proven to be one of the most popular events at Biltmore, with thousands of visitors coming each year to see the fabulously decorated estate during the daytime and at night. The Biltmore Estate is even open Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. There is no better place to recapture the magic of the season with family and friends than with Biltmore's larger-than-life Yuletide celebration. During Christmas at Biltmore, the nation's largest home is decorated with a 35-foot Fraser fir, dozens more Christmas trees, more than hundreds of wreaths, bows and poinsettias, miles of evergreen garland, and thousands of ornaments, tinsel, beading and lights. The festive holiday experience is enhanced by live holiday music and inspiring holiday demonstrations. One of the most popular activities, requiring tickets well in advance, is the Candlelight Christmas Evenings. This popular evening event begins just as dusk falls as candlelight and firelight transform the elegant rooms of Biltmore House into a vision of beauty and warmth. Choirs and musical ensembles perform holiday favorites, leaving guests with a memorable experience of Yuletide cheer.
One of the greatest things about the Biltmore Estate is the fact that it offers a lot to see and do during every season of the year. Its beauty is year-round, and activities are scheduled to match every season of the year. Go here to check out what you can enjoy each season Winter | Spring | Summer | Fall.
Biltmore is well-known as a destination that provides plenty to see and do for all ages. Learn more about what makes it one of the best places in the world to take your entire family.
Admission prices to the Biltmore Estate vary with the season, with the best prices being available in January and February. In keeping with the family emphasis of the Biltmore Estate, children age 9 and younger are admitted free during the day throughout the year. Youths (age 10-16) are admitted free or at a discounted rate at other times of the year. Check the Biltmore Special for Asheville Cabins of Willow Wind for admission with our special Biltmore Estate Packages, For the hours that the Estate is open for tours, dining and shopping, check this schedule.