Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville North Carolina – you’ll discover Biltmore. Sprawling over 8,000 acres in the shadow of the mountains, Biltmore is America’s largest home, a working farm and a place where time invites you to dream.
Biltmore is one of the world’s finest works of architecture. It’s size is graciously appointed – but not ostentatious. The estate is thoughtfully designed to marvel and soothe. I have been blessed to have visited Biltmore many times throughout the years – and each visit impacts me with a renewed wonder. Yet, I’ve never visited at Christmas.
At Christmas – Biltmore becomes ‘America’s Christmas Castle’ – a wonderland that invites guests from across the globe to enjoy festive décor, Christmas traditions, good food and the spirit of the season.
This season (2021), my mom and I decided to give each other the ‘gift of Biltmore’ and book a getaway to the estate in early December. Christmas at Biltmore runs from November to early January – and is gets pretty crowded. We decided to take off and go during the middle of the week.
Before we escape into this Christmas fairytale – I’ll give readers historical background on the estate…
After visiting Asheville in 1888, George Vanderbilt fell in love with the land and decided to build his estate in the Blue Ridge. George was the grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. While money seemed no option, George’s goals in building the estate were not just pomp and circumstance. He wanted to create some impactful – a gorgeous architectural jewel inspired by the old world and uniquely American. He also envisioned the property as an economic driver to help the region – a working estate that would truly be a community. This vision continues today – with Biltmore continuing its legacy as a gathering place – community and estate.
Construction on Biltmore began in 1889 by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt. The 250 room French-Renaissance Chateau was a massive undertaking – with inspiration drawn from Vanderbilt and Hunt’s trips abroad.
George Vanderbilt officially opened Biltmore to friends and family on Christmas 1895. The estate dazzled with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. The tour guide jokingly told us that now only 1 or 2 of the bathrooms are in working order (for historic and functionality purposes).
The estate first opened its doors to the public in 1930 in efforts to bring tourism to Asheville during the Great Depression. This history of hospitality, glamour and community continues to this day.
Biltmore is renowned for its Christmas celebration – thousands of tourists of all backgrounds make the pilgrimage to the estate for the holiday festivities.
We arrived at Biltmore just after 10 a.m. Visitors drive down a meandering country road – surrounded by fields and rolling hills. The landscaping and grounds were designed by none other than master landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted also designed New York’s Central Park.
The weather was crisp – in the 50s with a gorgeous blue sky. After parking our car we boarded the shuttle to the main estate. Biltmore is very organized and makes it easy to park, shuttle and tour the various estate properties.
“Our reservation for the house tour is at 11:00,” I noted to my mom as we arrived at the glorious entrance of America’s Largest Home.
The tour starts at the main entrance and guides you through the history and majesty of the home – from the grand banquet room to the Vanderbilt’s private quarters and the scullery rooms (kitchens, washing, etc…)
The house is immaculate and feels as though it is hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Which makes sense as through the tour you will encounter Renaissance works of art from fine wall covers to Durer print blocks.
George Vanderbilt loved to travel the world and was a student of history and literature. His love of culture is crafted into every piece of wood and stone, furniture and library book on the premises. Words cannot get to the heart of the design – not in a short blog post. To learn more about the architecture and history I recommend visiting Biltmore’s website and online bookstore.
The decorations at Christmas are something Santa would be impressed with. The main house has over sixty-two (62!) fresh Christmas trees that are hand-decorated by Biltmore’s fantastic floral team. The ornaments are unique and themed to each tree, decorative piece and arrangement.
The largest tree is the jaw-dropping 35 foot tall Fraser Fir in the Banquet Hall. This tree is so large it takes around fifty staff members to carry in, raise and secure the fir into place.
This year’s theme was centered around ‘Carols of Christmas’ – each tree/room telling the story of a Carol – which was very creative. The rooms are decorated with antique toys and the audio tour tells stories of Christmases gone by at Biltmore.
George’s wife, Edith – loved Christmas. She is known for her compassionate heart and humble nature. She hand picked Christmas gifts for all the staff members and their families. The Christmas orange was a special gift for staff.
What is remarkable at Biltmore is the attention to details – from the floral arrangements to ornaments. The fireplaces are lit – crackling a warm of holiday welcome.
Please see some pictures from our tour below:
As an art lover – I was over the moon to see the pair of Renoir paintings as well as Sargent’s. Biltmore is more than estate it is an art collection of antiques and unique sculpture and paintings.
After spending two hours enjoying the house tour, my mom and I ate lunch at The Stable Café. Biltmore boasts some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. They have multiple eateries spanning across the estate – each with a unique flavor. The restaurants each focus on a field to table philosophy – handcrafted food.
The Stable Café has a great atmosphere – true to its name the restaurant is housed in the former stables – beside the estate. The menu is southern inspired and fantastic for any palette. I ordered the BBQ sandwich on a gluten free bun with a salad. It is some of the best barbeque I’ve ever eaten (and I’m a BBQ snob from NC). My mom loved the chicken special with fries. The icing on the cake was the rich pumpkin creme brule. YUM.
Biltmore has excellent shopping. At the main estate – Christmas shops abound from a bookshop to old time Christmas store and more. My mom and I bought several boxes of their wassail mix as well as postcards.
Just after 3 p.m. we took the shuttle back to the parking lot. Because Biltmore is a vast estate it has several additional campuses outside of the main house, including the Antler Hill Winery District.
Stay tuned for my next entry as we enjoy Biltmore Wines and Van Gogh.