The Biltmore – America’s largest private house
While in North Carolina last year we had two opportunities to visit Asheville and the Biltmore Estate, which several friends advised us to do. But we never made it, due to the distances involved and other things we had planned. Well, this year we were back in the area waiting to take care of Betsy’s scheduled annual maintenance, and we made sure to stay near Asheville. With the Biltmore Estate only 17 miles away we had no excuse to miss it this time!
Like many of you, we have visited several famous homes and gardens in the good old USA; presidential homes, plantation homes, historical homes and even a castle. So I wondered what could make the Biltmore so different? Size matters!
Originally encompassing 125,000 acres, including a large chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the estate owns “only” 40,000 acres today. George Washington Vanderbilt was one of those very wealthy people (his money came through inheritance) who visited Asheville and never left. Instead, he made a name for himself and left us all a legacy to marvel and gawk at. The estate remains privately owned by his descendants, and with the home’s living space of 135,000 sq. ft. I’d hate to have to pay the power bill. It is considered the largest privately owned home in America.
My outside photos could not capture the grandeur, luxury and charm of the estate’s centerpiece home, but the architectural details are very pronounced.
Check out these stats – the four-story French Renaissance manor’s interior covers 4 acres, and has a total of 250 rooms – 43 bathrooms (at a time when bathrooms were practically unheard of), 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, 34 bedrooms, a grand banquet hall and a library containing 10,000 volumes. It took six years to build and it was completed in 1895. Oh, I almost forgot about the indoor swimming pool with changing rooms, 2-lane bowling alley and the gym! Some sections of the house were closed off, so we didn’t get to see all 250 rooms. But we did notice that the inside is tastefully decorated – elegant but not really ostentatious. We were definitely wowed!
Even if you’re not really into touring museums or massive homes of rich people, this is definitely a worthwhile stop if you’re in the Asheville, NC area. For one thing, you can get some pretty good exercise by just walking around the estate. After touring “the big house,” we walked around the main gardens, to the many specialty garden areas, to the pond and waterfalls, and back to the house again. I wish we had taken our walking GPS to measure how many miles we covered that day!
Everything we experienced was included in one price – the house, gardens, trails and Antler Village – even the tastings of their many good wines.
I must say I was a little disappointed, because in terms of blooming flowers our timing was not perfect, as usual. I missed the Tulips! And we were a bit late for the explosion of spring colors. Instead, the caretakers were just starting to plant summer blooms. Nevertheless, strolling around the acres of formal and informal gardens and lush landscape should not be missed, as it’s breathtaking on any nice day like the one we had.
Getting from the house to the Village Winery area was another story – it was definitely a drive and allowed us to get a feel for how truly massive this estate is. How someone can own so much land, build and run such a huge home in the late 1890’s and manage the workers and infrastructure to keep it all running is beyond us. But, we really did enjoy our day – thanks in equal parts to the beautiful weather and the fact that we were there during off-season and on a weekday. This place can get very crowded, and we were seeing that by the time we left.
Although we may be considered by some as California wine snobs, we weren’t disappointed in the wines that we tasted at their large tasting bar. We bought several bottles, but we must say we were surprised when the bartender told us that many of them were produced completely in California and are Biltmore wines in name only. But of course the estate has a vineyard as well which produces mostly white wines.
I learned that George Washington Vanderbilt created the estate name by combining two words, “Bildt,” for the region in Holland where the Vanderbilt family originated, and “more,” an old English word meaning upland rolling hills.
After our visit, Steve and I could not help comparing the Biltmore with the Hearst Castle in California. Both are located in such beautiful settings, I guess those rich guys just have to decide if they want part of a mountain range or a section of a coastline. Tough decisions! In terms of living space ranking, Hearst Castle ranks number 13 while the Biltmore House is number 1, hence the title, America’s largest private house.
While the Biltmore Estate is privately owned, the Hearst Castle is now managed by the California Department of Parks. We found the Hearst Castle to be a bit over the top in its decor when we were there. Coincidentally, Rommel of The Sophomore Slump recently visited the Enchanted Hill of Hearst Castle, and his narrative and photos about the castle convey its grandiosity very well.