If you are planning a visit to Asheville, be sure to tour the town’s crown jewel: the Biltmore Estate. The four-story mansion is set on 8,000 acres, contains about three dozen bedrooms and is the largest privately owned home in the United States. George Washington Vanderbilt completed this fairy-tale estate in 1895, and today it is run by his fourth- and fifth-generation descendants.
On arrival, the crowds were sizable and shuttle buses packed, but the second we glimpsed the mansion, we knew braving the masses would be well worth it. Reminiscent of a 16th-century château in the Loire Valley, the estate is an architectural tour de force, with towers, spires, turrets, steep gabled roofs and medieval gargoyles. The rooms display 16th-century tapestries, notable oil paintings (including “Young Algerian Girl” by Renoir) and priceless antiques. The naturally lit winter garden, with its glass roof and center fountain sculpture, was my favorite space, though the library, which houses about 10,000 volumes (including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible) and a chess set that once belonged to Napoleon, came in a close second.
After about an hour and a half of exploration, we headed out to the gardens to escape the crowds. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the grounds include a rose garden featuring around 40 varieties and a 15-acre azalea garden; an exceptional glass-roofed conservatory contains palms, ferns and rare orchids.
A wine tasting at the Biltmore Winery is included in the entry fee. There are about 20 wines available to taste, but I recommend sampling the limited-release offerings, as the best of the flagship bottles are available in restaurants and shops around town. Many of the white wines are heavily oaked, but the fruit-forward Cabernets and Merlots proved more to my taste.
The Biltmore Blooms event occurs between mid-March and the end of May and includes a display of some 50,000 tulips. And the outdoor Biltmore Concert Series is held each July and August.
One Lodge Street, Asheville, NC 28803. Tel. (800) 411-3812