|Yup. Just us and a few friends.|
[Dang. I don't think they're buying it.]
[SIGH] Fine. This is Biltmore, the largest private home in the entire country, and it's just up the road in Asheville. We visited for the first time in December, when the house was decorated for the holidays (and boy, howdy, was it ever), and we went back on Good Friday, when The Cajun had the day off, to look at the gardens and take another tour. It's a magnificent heap of rocks, set up in a gorgeous location in the mountains, and it's really an amazing place to wander around and stare at. There's a basic, self-guided tour, which brings you through many of the public areas of the house* (including the library. Drool.), and a number of "special" tours that take you to other areas of the house not on the basic tour. This time, we took the "Butler's Tour," which took us to some of the service areas of the house, including the housekeeper's office, the boiler room (more interesting than it sounds), and the sewing room of Mrs. Vanderbilt's lady's maid, including a glimpse of Mrs. Vanderbilt's bathroom.
|The Grand Staircase from the outside. Even more impressive inside.|
|And they have gargoyles. I like gargoyles.|
Alas, pictures are not permitted inside, so all I have for you is some pictures of the outside of the house (which is worth several hours of examination all on its own) and some of the gardens. There's also a winery, farm, horse stables, bike rentals, several restaurants, and a bunch of shops. A nice way to spend a long day, or even an entire weekend.
|This is only half the house. It's... big.|
There's a reason that George Vanderbilt stuck his chateau up in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina - he had views like this:
With all the land he bought up, he needed to hire somebody to gussy up the house's immediate surroundings so that they matched the views. And when you have as much money as Mr. V., you can hire good people. Like Frederick Law Olmstead**.
|I want this at my next house.|
Biltmore's grounds were one of Olmstead's last projects, and they are SPECTACULAR. He chose plants so that, regardless of where or when you are in the gardens, there's always something pretty to look at, even in the depths of winter. Fortunately for us, however, Biltmore's "Festival of Flowers" started on April 1st, and there was plenty to look at.
April is azalea season (and they have an entire, large, azalea garden), and the tulips were also really good. Next month we'll probably have to come back for the poppies, and then in June we'll have the roses and rhododendrons... And then it'll be December and time to come back for the Christmas decorations again.
|Everybody's festive at Christmas!|
Yes, it's a trifle expensive***, but it's completely worth it; this place is unique, inside and out. Also, the food at the tavern is pretty good, even if most of the wine is somewhat mediocre (the sparkling wines are pretty good, though). And the scale of the operation is staggering. Nice place to visit, but I'm so grateful it's not my responsibility!
* A running joke with the tour guides is that the house has 35 bedrooms and 45 bathrooms, and, no, you can't use any of them.
** "But I'm not a gardening dork like you! I've never heard of him!" Yes, you have. He designed such spaces as the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the main campus of Stanford University, and the Emerald Necklace parks in Boston. Oh, and Central Park in New York City. You've heard of that.
*** I find it hard to begrudge them the price of admission; the upkeep on the estate, even with the hotel and restaurants and stores, much be absolutely nightmarish.