Sunday, August 8, 2021

5th Anniversary Weekend Getaway, Part 1: The Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC - The Grounds and Gardens :)

Being that we didn't have time to visit here during our vacation in June, my husband whisked me off for our 5th anniversary weekend to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina :)

What is The Biltmore Estate?

The largest still privately owned home in America, and the closest thing we Americans have to a European manor house/chateau/palace :)

In 1887, George Washington Vanderbilt III - grandson of shipping and railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt, great uncle of Gloria Vanderbilt, and great-great uncle of CNN anchor and journalist, Anderson Cooper - first visited Asheville, North Carolina, and began to dream of building here for his country estate. 

He purchased 125,000 acres of of pasture and forest land, choosing to situate the manor at the center of the valley, with the best view of the surrounding Blue-Ridge mountains.  In 1889, he commissioned the renowned American architect Richard Morris Hunt to design and build a 250-roomVictorian French-Chateauesque mansion, as well as the man considered to be the father of landscape architecture,  William Law Olmsted, to design seven different styles of gardens on 75 acres of land (we weren't able to see them all).

The home took six years to build, and George immediately moved his new bride, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Vanderbilt (Gerry),  into the home as a permanent residence in 1898 :)

Unfortunately, though the marriage was a happy one, George died at the age of 51, leaving only one heir, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, who married British Aristocrat, John Amherst Cecil.  The Vanderbilts unfortunately had a habit of spending more than they made (ya think?) and thus by the Great Depression, they were already facing hard times, and sold most of their New York City properties, and sustained the estate during the Great Depression by opening it up to tourists in the 1930s for $2, and formed the Biltmore Company, turning the estate into a official business.

Unfortunately, Cornelia divorced John in 1934 and left the house, never to return.  (Apparently, she dyed her hair pink, fell of the public radar, and lived a "Bohemian" almost lifestyle. )  

However, her ex-husband remained in the home, and her children and grandchildren, the Vanderbilt-Cecils, still own the home today.  

(They do not, however, still live in the home, as the family formally moved out in the 1950s, but they do still visit the home today at Christmas and other holidays, often staying in the private wing of the home or one of the guest cottages :)

The money that went into building this estate (at the time, in the middle of nowhere) -  combined with her uncles and mother squandering the rest of the family wealth, as often happens with future generations of American "aristocracy" - of course means that Gloria Vanderbilt inherited very little from a trust her father left her, before his death, and Anderson Cooper inherited absolutely nothing from her original trust  - meaning that the fortunes amassed by both later were earned via her artwork and fashion design, as well as his career in broadcast journalism.

Today, you cannot stay in the main manor, but you can stay in one of two hotels built on the property in 2001 and 2015 - but no dogs. 

Dogs are allowed anywhere on the property except indoors, including the patio of two of the five restaurants and the ice-cream/refreshment courtyard of the home - so we stayed nearby and brought Brookie with us when visiting the grounds :) 

To visit both the house and grounds today - which are now reduced to 8,000 acres, as the Cecils having sold off much of it to either the National Forest Service or the City of Asheville -  it's a far cry from  the original $2 - try $186 for two people - for a one-day pass 

That's more than a one-day pass at Disney World!!!

That's fine, I'd rather my money go to historic preservation than rides on spinning teacups, but still - pricey.

Well, you know, the Vanderbilt-Cecils gotta make their money back somehow, plus everything was overpriced this summer to recoup COVID losses. 

(You can also visit just the grounds and gardens for $119 for two people for one day.) 

Thus, we weren't able to visit each day of our stay and weren't able to see it all in one day :/

I really think it should be $186 for the entire weekend, so you have time to see everything, but c'est la vie - it was still a memorable, romantic getaway - in fact,  this has been one of the best weekends of my life  :)

For this first post, I'll show you just the exterior of the home and the Italian garden, walled garden, rose garden, and conservatory  - which are absolutely breathtaking!

The rose garden may look a little sparse, but remember, the blooming season for roses in North Carolina are in May and September ;)

The conservatory was my absolute favorite spot on the estate, housing flower species from all over the world, as it has since it was built - and includes miniatures of the Biltmore mansion as well as other buildings on the estate, and 7 model trains running throughout the exhibits (paying homage to the original business of the Vanderbilts, railroads and shipping :) 

Upon entering, you feel like you've stepped into a fairyland :) 

Train #1 

Train #2

Train #3 

Trains #4 and 5 


Next post ... the interior :) 

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