Southeast Vacation: Biltmore Estate

Biltmore dining room

I was so excited to visit Biltmore Estate, one of the highlights our trip had been planned around. I’d heard a lot about it over the years, but had never seen it myself. That was about to change, however!

We drove through Asheville’s beautiful mountains to the estate, and then through several miles of roads before reaching the visitor’s center. The Biltmore estate was huge, originally 125,000 acres — if you can imagine that (and you thought your yard was a lot to mow). The estate was just amazing to drive through, with various types of plants and trees. Frequently, you’d notice big groves of bamboo, for instance.

How about a little history on who built this place? I was curious.

George Washington Vanderbilt

photo credit: The Biltmore Company

This is George Washington Vanderbilt. He was born in 1862, and was the grandson of famous businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt. As a young man, he visited the Asheville area, and fell in love with it. This is where he wanted to live.

When he was 27, construction began on his Biltmore Estate. The house was an architectural marvel, with over 250 rooms. It was six years in the making, and the finished house covers four acres of floorspace!

At 36, George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in Paris in 1898. After a European honeymoon, the couple moved in to Biltmore (interesting side note: George and Edith had booked tickets on the Titanic, but changed their plans before departure). They had one child, a daughter named Cornelia.

George was introverted and studious. He enjoyed reading, and he spoke eight languages. I think I would have liked him! Sadly, he died at just 51 after complications from an appendectomy, in 1914. Quite the reminder that none of us is here forever, regardless of our riches (or lack thereof).

Biltmore Estate

Photo credit: The Biltmore Company

So, after buying tickets at the welcome center, a short bus ride (you can walk if you prefer) takes you to an opening in the trees. And here is what appears!

Biltmore House lion

Every detail is amazing, and there are details everywhere. Biltmore House was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, one of the most famous architects of the time.

Biltmore winter garden

Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

Inside, one of the first sights is the “winter garden.” I knew these were popular during Victorian times, since King Ludwig had had several of them built in his Bavarian castles. They provided a way to bring the outdoors inside during the winter.

Vanderbilt party Biltmore winter garden

Photo Credit: The Biltmore Comapny

Here, you can see the Vanderbilts at a party held in the winter garden.

Biltmore dining room

Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

Here is one of the house’s most famous rooms: the dining room. If you were standing where this photo was taken, and turned around, you’d see the pipes of a pipe organ up in the balcony. As we were visiting, we had the great good fortune to hear organ music playing. Just lovely!

We were able to walk through numerous rooms in this huge house. The girls kept saying, “This is so much like Downton Abbey!” and I had to agree. In fact, I read that just a month or so ago, an exhibit of costumes from the show had been here. Darn, I wish I had not missed it!

Biltmore pool

Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

There was even a swimming pool, although much to the girls’ chagrin, it was not filled. We were able to walk through halls and halls of bedrooms and servants’ quarters (more Downton Abbey overtones). There were not tours, but you could rent headphones for an audio tour, which most people were doing. These always make a visit more interesting.

Once you’ve made it through the house’s interior, there’s so much more to see outside. The architectural details are just breathtaking. Here’s just a little taste …

Biltmore Estate cherub

Biltmore Estate view

Biltmore Estate

And the house is just the beginning. There are beautiful gardens all around Biltmore, too. Let’s take a little peek …

Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate gardens

Biltmore Estate flowers

Biltmore Estate gardens

Biltmore Estate gardens

Biltmore Estate gardens

I was really wishing I could go through the “trash” on this truck parked in the gardens!

The park and gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, a famous landscape architect I’d known of from his work at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He planned the 3-mile road through the estate to the house, with its various plant types. Many things in the formal gardens (and house as well) reminded me of King Ludwig and his castles and their grounds. It’s no surprise, really — all these buildings and gardens were constructed in the same era.


A few more thoughts, before we walk off toward the next destination —

  • We also visited a winery on the estate, where an informative tour was given. Since I’m not a drinker, it wasn’t of a lot of interest to me, but basically: Cornelia Vanderbilt had two sons. As you can imagine, the costs to maintain Biltmore Estate are huge, and so to help with that, one of the sons began a winery here in the 1970s (and by the way, the estate is much smaller than it used to be. It’s now 8000 acres, down from the original 100,00+). Really, the costs to keep this place up must be astronomical. I’m reminded of watching a show about Althorp, Princess Diana’s ancestral home. Her brother, who currently is in charge of the place, said that just to replace the aging roof cost millions.
  • The Vanderbilt family who originally lived here had a St. Bernard dog named Cedric. There are pictures of Cedric here and there, and stuffed versions of him in gift shops 🙂
  • During WWII, several dozen works of art were stored at Biltmore for protection in case of an attack on the US (see, another connection to Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein, where artwork was also stashed during the war!).
  • The Vanderbilts’ daughter Cornelia married John Cecil. When the marriage failed, Cornelia left Biltmore. However, John lived there until his death (is it just me, or does this seem a little odd?).
  • Biltmore Estate truly lived up to my expectations. It’s definitely a must-see!

Thanks to Biltmore Estate for press passes to visit Biltmore, and for permission to use the photos labeled as such.

9 thoughts on “Southeast Vacation: Biltmore Estate

  1. I love visiting that place. My favorite room is the library (or is it called a study?) with the scene painted on the ceiling. I also like the bowling alley.

    I remember learning one time that one of the feats of Olmstead was that he had to plan the landscaping not just for what it would look like then, but also for what it would look like in the decades to come. I think he did a great job!

  2. I have wanted to visit Biltmore for a long,long time. Thanks for sharing the gorgeous photographs. (you’re a wonderful photographer too, Susan!) I think this is going to have to be on my “spring break” bucket list very soon!!!

  3. Beautiful! The architecture from Richard Morris Hunt is amazing! I’d love to visit. Thank you for all the amazing photos! It’s on my travel bucketlist now.

  4. The photographs really add much to your descriptions! Somehow, although familiar, everything looked even better than when I visited this mansion and gardens with my Aunt Edith (Mom’s sister) a few decades ago. The anticipation during the drive going in was very exciting and worth it. I definitely remember that, but we were there in Spring and the dusty, musty smells got my sinuses and spring allergies going big time. Glad your family was there at a drier time of year, so Caroline was not bothered by that problem! The early spring flowers on that long drive in still stick in my memory all of these years later.

  5. My husband and I visited the Biltmore Estate about 15 years ago and your account and pictures brought back lots of wonderful memories. It truly is an architectural wonder. I was so impressed by the indoor pool when considering the age of the house. The gardens were so lovely. I enjoyed the gift shop and still have two items I bought there. I would love to go back someday. Thanks for sharing your experience, Susan.

  6. I’ve done a bit of homework. My Grandpa Schulte was born in 1869. My Grandpa Kamman was born in 1879. So George Washington Vanderbilt was the oldest of the trio. The fact he spoke eight (8) languages blows me straight down. After my brief stint with Spanish, he has ALL my respect! A friend, Becky Miller, told me she & Mike go to Asheville often because their daughter is a physical therapist there. Becky said by far the time to go to Biltmore is at Christmastime! She said the decorations are fantastic!
    I am happy that you thought of me while there and bought a birthday gift for me from Biltmore, a plant which is a perennial, Peach Crisp Heuchera.

  7. I really enjoyed my visit through your description of Biltmore. This is another place I’ve wanted to go for years and probably will never get to do so. So thanks for giving me the best tour I’ll probably ever have.

  8. I’ve been within striking distance twice in the last two years but couldn’t go. I may take Mom this year just to get there! But I really think the Roosevelt homes are top of my list….hint, hint.

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