Last week Marc and I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina – home of lots of hippies and more importantly, the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in North America. Move over Marjorie, I think the Vanderbilt’s have you beat!
The Biltmore was constructed by George Vanderbilt from 1888 to 1895 as a country retreat. George’s Grandaddy was Cornelius Vanderbilt, the man, the myth, the legend who began to build the families initial fortune, then his son (George’s father) doubled it. Back when there was no income tax the Robber Baron’s had a lot of moola.
George was the youngest, so he didn’t have the biggest inheritance, but that was no problem. Since his older brothers were managing the family fortune he had some time on his hands to build his estate. The 250 room french chateau inspired behemoth was opened to friends and family during Christmas of 1895. With 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms there was PLENTY of room for guests. Along with 125,000 acres of land (yes that’s a comma not a period), there was also PLENTY of room for frolicking, hunting, fishing and a little town near the estate. The estate today is only a wimpy 8,000 acres.
George was a bachelor until the age of 35 when he married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, lucky beyotch! They had a daughter in 1900 at the estate who they named Cornelia, after Grandpa. Sadly George died at the age of 51 after complications from an appendectomy, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Edith then sold 85,000 acres to the Federal Government, which is now national park land.
During the depression his daughter Cornelia and her husband John Amherst Cecil (as in the British Cecil’s, descended from William Cecil, advisor and dear friend of Queen Elizabeth 1) opened the estate to the public to generate tourism for the local economy.
Since then commoners have been able to visit this grand house. It is still owned by the Vanderbilt Cecil family. Cornelia’s son William A.V. Cecil is the owner and of the estate through The Biltmore Company (which he started of course), while his son Bill Jr. and other children run the day to day operations.
Marc and I took the first tour of the day, at 9am. It was great to get there early as we weren’t running into people as we toured the 55 rooms open to the public. We opted for audio-guides, which I would say are a must. They tell you just enough, and point out a lot of things you’d miss just following along with the guidebook. Unfortunately no cameras are allowed inside the house. The bedrooms on the tour had some great fabrics which I’d like to use to decorate my 35 guestrooms (someday) and there were also a few Renoir’s on display. Highlights of the tour also included the indoor swimming pool, library and the 3 kitchens.
After the house we took in the gardens, which were designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmstead, the man who also designed Central Park. When you are a Vanderbilt you don’t just hire any landscaper! I quite enjoyed all the flowers, but it was HOT out, so we didn’t last too long.
After the house and gardens we headed over to the Biltmore Winery, it used to be the dairy (because when you have 125,000 why not also produce your own cheese?), but now guests can sample wines made right on the estate, or for $3 per pour you can also sample wine from California. We opted for the free tasting and then bought a few bottles and settled down to a lovely lunch on the grounds.
Wow, I wish I didn’t have to pay income tax! Maybe I could get myself a place like that too. If you are ever in the area the Biltmore is a must. However, if you don’t happen to be passing through Western North Carolina, it makes a lovely weekend getaway!