Saturday, 21 April 2018

Biltmore - America's largest private house.

Biltmore
Our plan was to visit Biltmore Estate in North Carolina to see the azaleas flowering. David has a soft spot for azaleas. This particular plan also involved blue skies and sunshine. I have a soft spot for not being cold and wet. Unfortunately neither the weather nor the azaleas co-operated. On the day of our visit, in early April, the skies were grey, the weather was cold, there was a constant threat of rain and only a few of Biltmore's azalea bushes had begun to blossom. At least the tulips were flowering. They were a great consolation prize. It is hard to imagine a more perfect flower. There were row upon row of them - vivid yellows, reds and purples all in full bloom challenging the chilly weather to move over and make way for spring.


Biltmore House


Biltmore House was built by George Vanderbilt in 1889. The 250 room French chateau style mansion took six years to complete. With four acres of floor space, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and a whopping 65 fireplaces it is the largest privately owned house in the United States.  You have to wonder why Vanderbilt wanted such an immense home, given that he was still in his twenties and unmarried when he commissioned it, but whatever his motives, thousands of visitors now arrive every year to enjoy the estate.

With the temperature hovering around 7°C (44°F) and light rain falling, we headed straight for the house, hoping it might warm up while we were ticking off George's 250 rooms. It didn't! Did I tell you the house is massive? I didn't count how many rooms we were allowed into but it was more than enough. We saw not just parlours, dining rooms and other formal areas but also bedrooms, kitchens, laundry and servants' rooms. There was even an indoor bowling alley and swimming pool. An engineering masterpiece at the time, the swimming pool, was built in what felt to me like an underground dungeon. Actually it was pretty awful and to make matters worse - it leaks! Having done battle with leaking pools at home I have sympathy with the current owners there. My advice is to give up trying to find the source of the leak and swim in the estate lagoon instead.

By the time we escaped the house we were ready to brave the wintry weather - well almost. When the icy wind struck us we went with plan B and had an early lunch in a warm and cosy cafe instead. I could see a pattern developing here and wondered if we would ever brave the gardens.

Biltmore
Me trying to look warm in front of Biltmore.
Biltmore Dining Room
An intimate dinner for 20 - anyone?
Bedroom at Biltmore

Biltmore and the Titanic


We visited Biltmore during 'Glamour on Board', an exhibition of costumes from the movie 'Titanic'. The Titanic sank on 15 April 1912. Just a week before it sailed, Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith, cancelled plans to return from Europe aboard the ship and sailed on Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, instead. The most likely explanation for their sudden change of heart seems to be that a family member, possibly Edith's sister, warned them of the perils of sailing on the Titanic because 'so many things can go wrong on a maiden voyage'.  Sadly, Edwin Wheeler, a 25 year old servant of the Vanderbilts, died in the tragedy. He was on board to look after the family's luggage which had already been loaded onto the ship and couldn't be offloaded in time.

Have you seen the Titanic movie? Many of Biltmore's rooms had mannequins wearing clothes from it, as if the house's occupants were going about their daily lives. The ladies' dresses were lovely. I would love to try one on, just once, but I couldn't help wondering whether upper-class women of the time didn't get heartily sick of dressing-up all the time. Dinner every evening seems to have been a formal occasion. They must have spent half their lives get dressed and undressed. No wonder they needed personal servants.

Titanic costumes at Biltmore
Titanic costumes
Titanic costumes at Biltmore
I could see myself in the ivory dress. What about you?
Parlour at Biltmore
The lounge looks lovely, but is it comfortable? I couldn't imagine stretching out on it for a night of TV and popcorn. Could you?

Biltmore Gardens


Having toured the house and lingered as long as we could over lunch, there came a point where we couldn't avoid the weather outside any longer. At least the rain had stopped.  Like the house, the gardens at Biltmore are on a scale hard to comprehend from a 21st Century perspective of quarter acre blocks and high-rise apartments. Imagine having an 8,000 acre backyard. I am beginning to understand what the occupants of great houses did all day - the ladies spent their time dressing and undressing and the men spent their time weeding and mowing! 

David and I spent our time wandering - more or less aimlessly. First through the formal gardens with their flowering tulips then along a path around Bass Pond and the Boat House and later in the afternoon, when it had finally warmed up a bit, we went for a cycle. Cycling past the lagoon we got a stunning view of the house.

Sadly, except for the redbuds (at least I think that is what they were), a couple of blossom trees and the odd azalea, there wasn't much in flower. It didn't stop the landscape from being magnificent - it just would have been a little more magnificent with some colour.

My tip - If you like flowering trees and shrubs come when the rhododendrons are out. On our first visit to Biltmore many years ago the rhododendrons were spectacular.

Biltmore Lagoon.
My favourite photo. I took it from the cycle path next to Biltmore's lagoon. Can you see the house in the background?


Tulips at Biltmore
The tulip garden.

Tulip garden at Biltmore
More tulips!

My tips for visiting Biltmore

  • Plan on arriving early and staying at least half a day - the whole day if you can. The self-guided audio tour of the house takes more than an hour and you could wander the gardens forever. 
  • There is no escaping the fact that at $75 per adult on peak days, Biltmore is expensive. This is one of the reasons why I recommend on planning to spend the whole day there. You can save up to $10 by avoiding peak days and another $10 by buying your tickets online. The audio guide for the house is not included in the entrance price. You will need an extra $10.98 per person for that. If you want to stretch your visit over two days, a second day's ticket costs $15.
  • Biltmore is open 365 days a year. On some days entrance to the house is by timed ticket only. Click here for a list of 'high volume' dates in 2018.
  • There are several optional extra guided tours. We didn't do any of them but if I was to pick one I would go for the Upstairs - Downstairs Tour. Had I lived in the sumptuous surrounds of Biltmore when the Vanderbilts were in residence I am fairly sure I would have spent my time in the kitchen or laundry rather than looking decorative in the dining rooms, parlours and other upstairs rooms.
  • If you want to know what is in flower check out the Bloom Report but treat it with a grain of salt. Although the report said the azaleas were in bloom we found they were only just beginning to come out.

Blossom tree at Biltmore
A blossom tree in bloom.
Bass Pond Biltmore
Bass Pond
Biltmore gardens
Have I got this right? Is this a redbud? I don't think we don't have them in Australia.

Azalea at Biltmore
One of a handful of azaleas we saw. Just in case you were wondering what an azalea looks like.

NOTE: David and I received complimentary tickets to Biltmore Estate.

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30 comments:

  1. When I was a little girl, I excitedly sat in front of my tv on Saturday mornings to watch America's Castles the way other kids watched cartoons. I know I have to see Biltmore in person someday. You're post made me want to go all the more. I'll definitely heed the advice and go in warmer weather #WeekendWanderlust

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    1. Try to go when the rhododendrons are in flower. It should be warmer then too.

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  2. The Biltmore House is stunning and I like the mannequins dressed up in their finery. I agree with you on the tulips. They are perfect and their arrangement in the garden is gorgeous. I would definitely wait for warmer weather to visit if I ever plan a visit. Cold is one thing but cold and rain would have me staying inside as you did for part of the time.

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    1. I think we got unlucky and it was unseasonably cold for the time of year.

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  3. Lovely post .. I had not heard about Biltmore estate.. The details are quite interesting. feels sorry for the luggage keeper in the Titanic though:(

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    1. I have a 25 year old son so I related a lot to the sad death of Edwin Wheeler. 25 is so very young.

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  4. My hometown! So happy you had a wonderful trip to Biltmore. I recommend it to everyone during pretty much any season. I particularly love the candlelight tours at Christmas. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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    1. We loved the whole area. We went for a drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway but it was mostly closed off because of the icy conditions. On the upside we saw hoar frost which we had never seen before in our lives. I don't think we get it in Australia - certainly not in Sydney where we live.

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  5. Wow! $75 is pretty steep to visit! I have always wanted to visit the Biltmore but I'm not so sure with those prices!So glad you included a few tips on saving some money! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!
    (www.caliglobetrotter.com)

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    1. If you want to go I recommend checking out Biltmore's website and going on one of the lower priced days.

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  6. The Biltmore estate is probably the closest thing we have in America to a modern castle in the UK or western Europe. Who could imagine calling that huge place home? Harkens back to a different era and social class, pre-income tax and all that. I can imagine how pretty the scenery must be during the colorful fall season. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. I agree with you about fall. It would be spectacular - reason enough for us to go back one day.

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  7. Wonderful experience. I've visited two vintage Biltmore Hotels but didn't know about this amazing house. Love the mannequins too.

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    1. The mannequins were the icing on the cake. They made the house feel as if it was being lived in.

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  8. beautiful pictures of an exquisite property. We are traveling to North Carolina in September and hope for better weather. Glad you were able to endure it and still see some amazing sights.

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    1. Will you get autumn (fall) foliage in September or is that a bit early?

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  9. Somehow the gray day seems a perfect backdrop for this mansion! Loved the table and the tulips.

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    1. I am not sure I mustered a lot of optimism for the grey day but at least we didn't get rained on.

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  10. I has heard about Biltmore Castlw on one of those TV documentaries and find it fascinating how millionaires spend their money! But at $75 to enter, you’d have to be almost as rich to visit! Good tips on how to save on that fee, thanks.

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    1. I suppose if you are that rich it doesn't much matter what you spend your money on. I think George Vanderbilt was the richest man in America at the time.

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  11. The Biltmore looks like a not-to-be-missed destination. You've made a great case for visiting and it's now on my bucket list!

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    1. If you ever get there I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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  12. The Biltmore Estate is on my Bucket List. I really enjoyed this preview tour with you.

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    1. Thank you. If your bucket list is anything like mine it is a mile long - lol!

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  13. The Biltmore Estate looks fabulous. I'd love to visit it. I think the Titanic costumes add a lot to creating the setting of the time. Like you, I suspect I would have been in the kitchen or laundry had I been there when the Vanderbilts were in residence.

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    1. We could have kept each other company in the laundry - lol!

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  14. Interesting Lyn! The Vanderbilts are a study in wild excess. Other than Commodore, nobody genuinely earned their billions. So of course, these family members spent wildly, never knew how to earn or handle money, and lost insane amounts of dough. One in-law of mine did electrical work on their Long Island estate. He noted such lavishness including a special lane aka landing and take off spot for a seaplane, right beside the home. Amazing.

    Ryan

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    1. Wow - but then having experienced Long Island traffic first hand maybe your own seaplane parking spot isn't such an extravagance.

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  15. I feel chilly just reading the article Lyn. I imagine in a few weeks Biltmore Estate will be in full bloom and hopefully not requiring a winter jacket for wandering the grounds. The tulips are lovely as a consolation prize. Interesting fact about the decision not to go on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Possibly the wisest advice ever. Sad for the employee it was too late to off load.I've pinned your post to our USA Pinterest board. I have no doubt your practical tips will be very useful to many.

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    1. You might have considered the day warm. I image it would have been almost balmy had we been in Canada near where you live. The Titanic was so sad for everyone who went down on it but I always think it is saddest for young people who haven't yet had a chance to live their lives. Instead of 'women and children first' I would make it 'children and young people first' and I say that as someone who is 60 years old - not quite sure how that happened!

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