Touring Biltmore House
Biltmore House, the greatest mansion of America's "Gilded Age", is also Asheville's most visited attraction. And little wonder, for almost everyone who tours this remarkable monument to the artistry and excesses of the late 1800's comes away feeling awed.
A walking tour of the house includes up to sixty of the nearly unbelievable 255 rooms in this French Renaissance Chateau surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. No doubt about it, George Washington Vanderbilt had an eye for beauty, symmetry and superb craftsmanship, as did Biltmore's famed architect Richard Morris Hunt.
Sometimes called Biltmore Castle, the magnificent structure that Hunt designed was, first and foremost, a home for George Washington Vanderbilt, his loving and capable wife Edith, and their young daughter Cornelia.
Hunt's masterful skill at blending opulence with the warmth and intimacy required for daily living is most apparent in Edith's Bedroom with its dazzling gold color scheme and rounded walls. It is also present in the library, with its warm woods and two floors of bookshelves surrounding a massive stone fireplace, and in George's fourth floor observatory where he took guests to gaze out over the expanse of his estate.
But Biltmore House was also a grand space capable of entertaining on a magnificent scale. There were 35 guest bedrooms and, in a day when few homes even one indoor bathroom, Biltmore boasted no fewer than 43 baths. Even the servants had baths, not to mention bedrooms that were extravagant for their day.
Newly opened in 2009, the Louis XV suite is a set of four rooms including the Damask Room, the Claude Room, the Tyrolean Chimney Room and the richly ornate Louis the XV room with its sweeping views of the garden and estate. These were the finest guestrooms at Biltmore and the estate's conservators have spent years painstakingly researching and restoring these rooms to their original opulence. No detail in the restoration was overlooked, including the reproduction of hundreds of yards of the original fine silk wall coverings which were hand made by artisans in France.
Today, the rooms at Biltmore House are still filled with treasures; superb, centuries-old tapestries, the priceless paintings, elegant sculptures, delicate glassware and ceramics, and rare woodworks and furnishings that Vanderbilt himself collected on his many world travels. It is this collection that turns every visit to Biltmore House, North Carolina into an adventure of new discoveries. These priceless antiques add life to the house and make it one of the most authentic period homes in America.
Self-Guided Biltmore House Tour:
Of the original 255 rooms in Biltmore House, over sixty of the largest and most important rooms are open to the public. This may seem like a small number, but it will take you several hours to see all of them, and many people pick-and-choose rather than try to see everything, particularly if the crowds begin to swell. The tour leads through the first floor then climbs to the second, third and fourth floors, Then as you descend, you see different rooms on the third and second floors, before reaching the fascinating gyms and kitchens in the basement before returning to the ground floor.
First Floor Highlights:
The Winter Garden This spectacular circular indoor garden room has a multifaceted glass ceiling and was often used for impromptu family feasts and small banquets. The central fountain sculpture, titled Boy Stealing Geese, is by renowned sculptor Karl Bitter.
The Salon Here you'll find a chess set once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte as well as portraits of Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Both were painted by the renowned American artist John Singer Sargent.
Banquet Hall More than any other room, the enormous Banquet Hall illustrates why this grand home is often called "Biltmore Castle". Looking for all the world like it was borrowed from an MGM medieval movie set, everything about this room is larger than life, from the great table that seats 64 guests, to the walls covered in rare Flemish tapestries and the huge triple fireplace that spans one end of the hall. Measuring 40 feet wide, 70 feet long and over 70 feet high, this one room could easily contain an entire average American home with room left over.
The Library Anyone who has ever had fantasies of a personal library filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves of rare books, and a warm fireplace to read by, will appreciate Vanderbilt's over-the-top version. Paneled in warm woods with not one, but two floors of bookshelves that hold over 10,000 volumes which he collected from around the world.The gorgeous painting on the ceiling is the Chariot of Aurora by Pellegrini
Second Floor Highlights
The second floor is where the Vanderbilt's had their personal rooms and where the most important guests stayed.
Louis the XV Suite This group of four rooms were once reserved for the Vanderbilt's most favored guests. Recently restored to their original opulence, these are the newest rooms in Biltmore House now open to the public. The primary room, the Louis XV room, has one of the Biltmore Mansion's finest views and it was here that Edith Vanderbilt gave birth to their daughter and only child, Cornelia.
The Vanderbilt Bedrooms and Oak Sitting Room George Vanderbilt's bedroom, decorated in royal reds and dark woods, is decidedly masculine. Edith's bedroom is feminine but bold, with bright gold decor and rounded walls. Connecting the two is the long Oak Sitting Room where the family spent much of their personal time. There are two more portraits in this room by John Singer Sargent.
Third Floor Highlights
The Third floor was largely used for guest bedrooms and is most interesting for the insiders look it offers into the lifestyle that Vanderbilt's guests enjoyed. All of the guest bedrooms are individually decorated and each is named for its theme, or in some cases, for artists and writers that Vanderbilt admired.
The Third Floor Living Hall This was the informal library and living space for guests when they weren't enjoying other parts of the estate.
Fourth Floor Highlights
The fourth floor offers a glimpse into the daily life of Biltmore's servants, the maids, cooks and other employees that kept Biltmore House running like a Swiss watch. Vanderbilt was a social reformer and ahead of his time in creating a good atmosphere for the house staff. Here you can tour their bedrooms, baths and group sitting areas.
The Observatory This intimate space was George Vanderbilt's private oasis. The room features a spiral staircase to a second level balcony where French doors open to an outside balcony that presents unparalleled views of the estate. It was here that Vanderbilt took special guests to admire the view as well as to get a good look at the gargoyles and carved grotesques that made the roof of the mansion a work of art in itself. Tip: While the observatory is part of the self guided tour, the upper balcony is only accessible to participants in the Rooftop Tour.
Return to the Third Floor and Second Floor
This part of the tour takes you back down to the third floor where you'll see yet more guest bedrooms. Interesting, but if you are pressed for time return to the second floor to see:
The Chippendale Room The high point of the three guest rooms you will pass through on this part of the tour is the Chippendale Room where you can see two small but very fine paintings by Renoir, Child with an Orange and Young Algerian Girl.
We thought that the basement was, hands down, the most intriguing part of the tour. Here you see not only the kitchens and pantries that housed the real day-to-day workings of the Biltmore Mansion, but also the recreation and exercise areas that reflect the less formal activities of Vanderbilt and his many renowned guests.
The Stone Hallway This passage sets the stage for the basement tour with medieval-looking arched stone walls that hint at the massive construction of the house's foundation.
The Kitchens The Main Kitchen was the command center for creating massive amounts of food for the Vanderbilt's, their guests and the always hungry house staff. Also in the basement are the Rotisserie Kitchen, the Pastry Kitchen, the Staff Dining Hall and several pantries.
Halloween Room This is perhaps the only public room at Biltmore House that reflects the era of George and Edith's daughter Cornelia. The room is named for the walls which were elaborately painted by Cornelia and her guests during a Halloween Party in the 1920's.
Bowling Alley This elegant two lane Alley is one of the oldest in America.
Swimming Pool This pool was one of the most extravagant installations in this most extravagant of homes. Measuring over fifty feet long, it held 17,000 gallons of water.
The Walk in Refrigerator. One of the earliest of its kind in America.
From here you will return to the main entrance and then its:
If you started your tour at 9 am it is probably close to noon now. Your first choice for lunch is to walk to the stable courtyard attached to Biltmore House where you will find an array of food vendors (pricey but not too bad) and lots of tables in the courtyard where you can sit and enjoy. On bright summer days, tables with shade are at a premium.
Time for Lunch!
Here too, is the comfortable and pleasant Stable Cafe which offers sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, Carolina pulled-pork sandwiches and other southern fare.
You may prefer to plan ahead and pack a picnic lunch which you can take with you into the nearby gardens to enjoy while surrounded by greenery and blossoms. Or, head over to the winery to enjoy tasty salad and sandwich fare at the very pleasant Bistro.
Biltmore Estate Links:
Biltmore Guided and Specialty Tours
Biltmore Outdoor Adventures and River Bend Farm
Tips For Visiting Biltmore Estate
Return From Biltmore House to Asheville Mountain Magic Home Page
Biltmore House Tour
: We recommend renting the audio headsets that provide in-depth information, descriptions of many of the specific artworks and treasures, as well as stories about construction of the mansion and of the Vanderbilts during their years here.
Biltmore House Tour
: If you are pressed for time, make sure you see at least these rooms: The Winter Garden (1st floor), The Library (1st floor), The Louis XV Suite (2nd floor) George and Edith's bedrooms (2nd floor), Vanderbilt's Observatory (4th floor), As well as the Halloween Room and Kitchens (Basement).
Biltmore House Tour
: Be sure to stroll around the outside of the house to admire the architectural details. Highlights include the magnificent stone lions that flank the main entrance. Also of note is the elegant mansard roof and the ornate gargoyles and other sculptures that adorn the roofline. (For a better look at these, take the Rooftop Tour held daily).
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