Biltmore Estate in Asheville makes for a great escape from the beach any time of year.
When you live in paradise, where do you go for vacation? Of course, the sand and saltwater of Topsail cannot be beat, but when you’re looking for a change of scenery, it may be time to head inland. So, fuel up the car, jump on Interstate 40 and head west for your next road trip. You’re only a few hours away from an exciting adventure at Biltmore Estate in Asheville.
December is a great time for a visit to Biltmore, as it was on Christmas Eve 1895 when George Vanderbilt first opened his new estate to family and friends. The tradition of a house “marvelously decorated and full of festivity” continues to this day.
LeeAnn Donnelly, senior public relations manager with Biltmore, says that Christmas at Biltmore will be in full swing in mid-December and will continue through January 8, 2023.
“That means Biltmore House and the rest of the estate will be decorated in traditional Christmas finery,” Donnelly says. “This year there will be 64 Christmas trees in the house alone!”
The Biltmore Estate was first conceived by Vanderbilt in 1888 when he visited Asheville for the first time and was captivated by the Blue Ridge Mountains. He decided to purchase land that would be the site of his new country home, hiring Richard Morris Hunt to design and build the house and Frederick Law Olmsted to design the gardens that would surround it.
Today, Biltmore is still family-owned, as Vanderbilt’s descendants oversee the operations of the 250-room home, a winery, cottages and an inn, special exhibits, shops, restaurants and 8,000 acres of gardens, managed farmland and forest.
Construction of Biltmore House began in 1889 and took six years to complete. The French Renaissance chateau first conceived by Vanderbilt on his initial visit to Asheville is a “true marvel” and has been touted as the “largest undertaking in residential architecture in the nation.” When it was opened up for family and friends to visit on Christmas Eve in 1895, it contained more than 4 acres of floor space with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces.
In 1930, in response to requests for the Vanderbilt family to help increase tourism in the Asheville area at the height of the Depression, Biltmore House was opened up to the public for tours and visits. The decision also generated income that allowed the family to continue to preserve the estate. In 1963 Biltmore was designated a National Historic Landmark, based on the theme Conservation of Natural Resources. Preservation and conservation continue to be important to the estate.
The holidays are a special time at Biltmore, but there are things to do and see throughout the year.
For those looking for a more relaxed road trip, Donnelly explains, “Historically, January and February are our quieter months.” She adds that “After the holidays, the estate offers a quiet retreat after the hustle and bustle of the season. It’s a wonderful time to visit and enjoy crisp winter hikes, wine tasting at the Winery, the Conservatory and more.”
In fact, she explains that “the Conservatory itself is a welcome retreat as you’re exploring the historic gardens and grounds on a winter day. Its internal temperatures mimic those of a jungle, with thousands of tropical plants experiencing their peak blooming time. January through March, the orchid room turns into an absolute showplace with a huge variety of stunning orchids.”
After the holidays, there will still be plenty of time to catch the special exhibit Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius, which runs through February 20, 2023. An immersive exhibit, this look at DaVinci’s incredible achievements is “the world’s most comprehensive and thrilling” examination of the “inventor, artist, scientist, engineer, sculptor, anatomist, musician, architect, philosopher” whose work is still so relevant today.
For those on a road trip with kids during the winter months, Biltmore offers audio guides for both adults and kids, including the Kids’ Audio Guide to Biltmore House that is narrated by Cedric, the Vanderbilts’ Saint Bernard.
This fun tour helps young guests learn more about the many rooms in the house and the stories of the people who have lived there.
In addition, the estate offers Biltmore Gardens Railway – Wonders of the World, a large-scale botanical model train. This display features many handmade replicas of some of the world’s most recognizable buildings, including the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Great Wall of China. Created by Applied Imagination, the model train display connects visitors to the Vanderbilts’ ties to the railroad industry.
Antler Hill Village offers several kid-friendly activities. Adjacent to the village, you’ll find Antler Hill Barn, Farmyard and Pisgah Playground, fun for visitors of all ages and providing a bit of education about Biltmore’s agricultural past. The Farmyard features horses, goats, chickens and roosters, and they all love visitors!
The estate is also home to a herd of working goats who roam about the grounds throughout the year.
For visitors who enjoy the outdoors, even in January and February, Donnelly says, “Guided outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, horseback riding and carriage rides are available throughout the winter, though are weather dependent.” She encourages travelers to check out the Biltmore website to confirm that activities are available before hitting the road.
All exhibits, tours and other activities at Biltmore do require advance reservations. The Biltmore website lists all exhibits and special offers, including suggestions for things to do and see during the winter months.
After a long road trip, you might want to spend the night — or several nights — on the grounds of the beautiful estate. Biltmore offers a number of options, including the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, The Inn on Biltmore Estate and Cottages on Biltmore Estate, ranging from moderate to four-star luxury to premier accommodations and experiences.
Donnelly says they will have specials for winter lodging and encourages visitors to check out the website for the most current information.
So, pack up the family and head west for a refreshing change of scenery and an experience you won’t soon forget at Biltmore Estate.
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One Lodge Street, Asheville, NC