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Travel North Carolina

December 16, 2007
By Barb Romick Staff Writer
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — I first visited Biltmore House during the “Christmas at Biltmore” season in celebration of my birthday; and my husband, John, and I couldn’t have picked a more magical time.

After purchasing tickets, we drove through acres of North Carolina’s woods to a number of free parking sites from which we walked (you can also shuttle) to Biltmore House.

I could not believe the sheer size of Biltmore House, which is America’s largest home.

Building started on the house in 1889, and it was officially opened on Christmas Eve 1895 by George Vanderbilt. Biltmore House is now owned by his grandson, has 250 rooms and sits on about 8,000 acres that were planned by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York’s Central Park.

I loved the whimsy of the two lions that stand as sentinels on each side of the main entrance doors since they were each decked out with a wreath hanging around their necks for the holiday season.

I entered through the front doors and was stunned. The entrance hall is huge, beautifully decorated, and I really didn’t know where to look first. There’s just so much to take in. I felt like a kid in a candy store. 

We decided on a candlelight evening tour, which does require an extra admission price; and because of the huge demand on certain days, all tickets are for a timed entry. Once inside, though, you can spend as much time as you want soaking in the ambience of your surroundings. 

As dusk settled, hundreds of luminarias were glowing on the Rampe Douce, the Espalande and the walkways as we made our way to the front doors. 

The candlelight Christmas tour is a self-guided, digital audio tour that is terrific because you can listen to the description of a room and go on or listen to additional facts about the Gilded Age, the Vanderbilt family, or present-day information before moving on at your own pace. More than seven miles of pine roping is used and more than 30 trees are decorated — and this is just inside the house. We listened to every single description offered and spent about three hours to complete our tour. Also enjoyable was the live choral program offered during the evening in the Winter Garden area of the first floor.

I have to admit that the candlelight evening tour was the perfect way to see Biltmore; the glow of hundreds of candles gives the furnishings, artworks and holiday decorations a sparkling festive air.

The rooftop tour, behind-the-scenes tour, guided house tour, premium house tour and legacy-of-the-land tour are specialty tours. John took the rooftop tour and the behind the scenes tour, both of which he raved about for hours.

If you are into the nuts and bolts of how a house of this size is heated and taken care of, or you just want to see some of the rooms not open to the general public, then these tours are for you. All are offered for an additional charge; reservations are needed.

Also available to ticket holders are free holiday seminars offered on a variety of topics such as “Discover Vanderbilt Traditions,” “Craft a Beautiful Wreath,” and “Become Best Friends with Chocolate” at various locations around the estate.

Biltmore also has a winery, River Bend Farm, the conservatory with walled gardens and a wide variety of eateries from the Bake Shop to the Stable Cafe to an elegant dining experience at the Dining Room of the Inn on Biltmore Estate.

I’ve now been to Biltmore Estate three times. And, don’t get me wrong, Biltmore House is always gorgeous regardless of when you visit.

But to see the house and furnishings during a candlelight Christmas tour is to see Biltmore at its best.

Article Photos

The lion is dressed for the holidays at the entry of Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C.

Photos by Barb Romick

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