"" Writer's Wanderings: Exploring Biltmore--Part One

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Exploring Biltmore--Part One

 Imagine buying 125,000 acres in the Blue Ridge mountains. Imagine having that much money back in the late 1800s for the purchase. Today the estate is just over 8,000 acres as some of the acreage was sold to the federal government to establish the Pisgah National Forest. George Vanderbilt, the purchaser of the acreage and the builder of the Biltmore mansion was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt who earned the family's wealth through railroads and shipping.

The story of Biltmore starts in 1888 with George's visit to the Asheville area and his purchase of the property. He began the building of his mansion in 1889 and eventually was able to move into the quarters with his new bride, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, on Christmas Eve of 1895.

Is it any wonder that Christmas is a special time at the Biltmore.

We arrived at the first gate around nine o'clock the morning of our visit. The tickets for the mansion are timed so that it is not overcrowded with visitors at any one time. Our time was set for 10:15. They ask you to enter the gate at least 45 minutes before your timed ticket. It takes almost that long to drive from the gate to the mansion. 

We passed through the first stone gate and got in the line of cars who were also here early as we had to pass through a second gate where our tickets were scanned for entry into the grounds. It was a rather chilly morning, cold you might say. but the ticket scanner wore a smile on her face and greeted us as she scanned the tickets on Bob's phone. She directed us to the left to begin our drive to the mansion.

The speed limit is 20 mph which was more than enough as the road wound through the acres of trees and fields. While there was still a lot of foliage, I imagine in the spring and summer months it must be truly beautiful. We passed a few ponds and followed a creek until finally we came to a sign that said there were several parking options. Three of them were a distance from the mansion with a shuttle service in a trolley car. Two of them were within walking distance of the mansion (an estimated 8 minute walk).

Hotel in foreground. Inn on hill.

Somehow Bob managed to pass them all up. We won't discuss how. We ended up by the conservatory and stopped next to a truck with an employee in it. He told us we would have to follow the road all the way around to the beginning again. The road is a five mile loop which is mostly one way. There was no way to backtrack,

Knowing our ticket time wasn't for another hour yet, we took a relaxing drive through the grounds, past the mansion, past the conservatory, past the Antler Hill Village where the Biltmore Inn and Hotel are, past several private homes which I believe can be rented for a stay and finally arrived back where we had entered and had our tickets scanned. We continued on again and this time managed to find Parking Lot B where we could park and walk to the mansion. 

It may have been a short 8 minute walk but it was a cold one. Lo and behold there were a few white flakes speckling the air. We arrived with plenty of time left before our ticket time and were directed to a covered area that was an outdoor cafe, not quite ready for business that early. We passed through the tented area and into what we realized was the stables. At one end was a restaurant and the other end a gift shop. In between were several other little shoppes with candies, books, toys, etc. And it was warm!

If you ever visit for Christmas, be prepared. While North Carolina can be mild, it can also be cold. We were wishing for scarves and gloves. Thankfully we knew we would be inside for most of this day.

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