The History and Charm of North Carolina's Biltmore Estate
Many would argue that no first-time visit to Asheville, North Carolina, is complete without a trip to the Biltmore Estate. As the country’s largest privately owned home, the Biltmore House features four acres of floor space and 250 rooms, including dining rooms, sitting rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, an indoor swimming pool, and an indoor bowling alley, among others. Designed in the style of a French Renaissance château, it was the vision of George Washington Vanderbilt III, grandson of industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. Construction of his country home took place from 1889 to 1895.
Under the supervision of Vanderbilt’s daughter, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, and her husband, John Cecil, the house became open to the public in 1930 for the first time. (Admission in those days was just $2.) Over the years, Biltmore has stayed in the family. George’s great-great grandson William “Bill” A.V. Cecil, Jr. is current owner and CEO of The Biltmore Company.
Today, visitors can go on self-guided and guided tours of the house, which exhibits the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art, and antiques. One fun fact is that for his 21st birthday, George Vanderbilt received a chess set once owned by former emperor of France, Napoleon I. You can view this chess set in the library, which contains 10,000 volumes of Vanderbilt’s 23,000-book collection, including the Gutenberg Bible and the First Folio of Shakespeare.
While most people think of exploring Biltmore House, there are so many additional ways people can enjoy a visit to Biltmore. The estate encompasses more than 8,000 acres, including gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect of New York City’s Central Park, among other famous gardens. There are seven different restaurants on site, 22 miles of hiking and biking trails, and other recreational opportunities, such as horseback riding, fly-fishing, Segway tours, and carriage rides. A number of outdoor activities on the French Broad River that winds through the estate, such as stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, are also offered through Biltmore.
Antler Hill Village encompasses Antler Hill Farm and Biltmore Winery, the most visited winery in the country and offering complimentary tastings of more than 20 wines. All wines are produced under the supervision of Biltmore’s two winemakers, Bernard Delille and Sharon Fenchak. A visit to the Winery includes a production tour and wine tasting.
Although there is no overnight lodging in the Biltmore House, you can still book a room on the estate. The Inn on Biltmore Estate offers accommodations in a luxurious and private hilltop setting. Set in a casual and social atmosphere, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate opened last December as the second accommodation property.
The Biltmore Estate is open 365 days a year. Hours and admission prices vary. For the latest information, visit biltmore.com or call 800.411.3812.