See Biltmore House at Christmas for a real treat
Published 9:57 am Wednesday, December 15, 2021
Biltmore House with its 125,000 acres is a sight to behold any day. Outstanding doesn’t convey what guests to George Vanderbilt’s grand 250-room French Renaissance château are privileged to see. It wasn’t our first time there, but our first time to see Biltmore at Christmas.
This house is considered America’s largest home because it continues to be owned by George Vanderbilt’s family. Lucky for all of us they have opened it up for the world to see, but it feels a world away. Interstate 40 has divided up the property (though very discreetly) which is still used for farming and grazing animals. Many of the structures on the property are original, like the barn and the dairy barn which have been restored for other uses.
First a walking tour of the gardens with breathtaking views of the mountains. And the Conservatory with 5000 square feet of tropicals, unusual houseplants, blooming orchids, interspersed with gingerbread versions of the Biltmore buildings plus poinsettias tucked in was more than a feast for a plant lover’s eyes!
Our tour was at 6:30 p.m. We shopped and had supper in what once was the stable until the sun went down and the lights came up. People were everywhere but the whole process was organized and efficient, the staff courteous, thankfully the weather was mild, and masks were required.
Inside the house overflowed with Christmas…. beautifully performed music, trees in every room, and period holiday decorations. Handheld audio devices described what we were seeing. Guests are welcomed into the entrance hall then take a right into the glassed winter garden room.
The Banquet Hall was most amazing with a seven-story high ceiling and tapestries from the 1500s, but the piece-de-resistance was the 35-foot Christmas tree. Mr. Vanderbilt loved Christmas. He celebrated Biltmore’s first Christmas with one huge tree covered with 500 ornaments and 500 presents and began a tradition of giving presents to the children of his staff which continues to this day.
The breakfast room is homier than the banquet hall, but also filled with important art. It took my breath away to see two paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and portraits by John Stringer Sargent. The tour continued through the salon (a French style formal sitting area) and music room.
The loggia looks out over the Blue Ridge Mountains and leads to Mr. Vanderbilt’s library of 22,000 hand selected volumes. It looks like a slightly smaller version of the Cistene chapel. Here again I gasped when the room’s docent pointed to the large blue and white “flower pot” which once held a palm tree, and casually noted that it was from the Ming Dynasty.
Back through the gallery we see 3 roaring fireplaces and more room size 15th century Flemish tapestries and more portraits. Art is everywhere in this home, even a portrait of Mrs. V painted by Whistler himself. In Biltmore you are privileged to be up close to so many fine things (but way too many to mention).
Up the grand staircase are the family rooms. Mr. V chose red for his bed linens and draperies, and purple and gold for his wife’s lovely room which was completed while they honeymooned. The oak sitting room connects their bedrooms and is where the family spent private time together.
Guest bedrooms are on the third floor, each with its own beautiful furnishings and private bath including a large soaking tub, a novelty at the turn of the century. This house was built with 43 bathrooms and electricity! Such was unheard of!
Upstairs hallways are lined with a collection of fine lithograph prints featuring historical architecture, religious scenes, and of people’s faces along with many photos of their devoted St. Bernard, Cedric.
Down in the basement you can see one of the massive foundation walls and get an idea of how this huge structure was built. But this is not your normal dark and dank basement. Here is an indoor swimming pool made for diving, a bowling alley and a gym. Dressing rooms for male and female guests are on separate hallways, for it was totally unacceptable for anyone to traipse around the house in swimming suits or gym clothes.
And finally, the tour takes you into the servant domain…pantries, kitchens, even a walk-in refrigerator and the state-of-the-art laundry. The Vanderbilts took good care of their staff and provided furnished bedrooms for female employees. The men lived in the stable. Getting to work at Biltmore was a highly coveted job in the Asheville area. For many families it was a tradition that was proudly passed down through the generations.
It was glorious! And you know what? Biltmore decorators and staff have already started planning for Christmas 2022. You should go. Make it a Christmas present to yourself.