Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile. ~ William Cullen Bryant
It is hard to believe that fall is already upon us. It seems as though the seasons literally changed overnight here in the Southeast. Cool mornings give way to clear sunny afternoons with splendid temperatures. As the sun goes down earlier in the evenings, there is a nip in the air reminding us that mother nature will soon be repainting her canvas of green with brilliant shades of red, yellow, and gold. Fall foliage will then be at its peak.
Fall is a perfect time to travel in this part of the country, especially to Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is one of our favorite places to visit any time of year, however, the area really excels in the fall. If you are planning a trip to “The Land of the Sky,” as it is known, I would highly recommend spending time at Biltmore Estate. It had been many years since our last visit to the estate and over the last several months we have had the opportunity to return several times. I had forgotten just how spectacular and enjoyable a visit to Biltmore can be.
We often forget there are so many treasures close to our own front door. Many times we choose travel destinations that are great distances from home in search of the perfect vacation, when perhaps the best places are in our own backyard. Biltmore Estate is one of those places. If you have never been, fall and the holiday season offer some of the best times to visit. This area is rated one of the top places in the United States to experience the spectacular colors of fall foliage and enjoy the changing of the seasons. If you wait until closer to Christmas, Biltmore House is in all its splendor, bedecked for the holidays and bustling with many special events taking place on property.
If you are not familiar with the estate, Biltmore House is the largest private residence in America. Situated on 8,000 acres of scenic rolling hills with majestic views, the structure was designed by Richard Morris Hunt. This 250-room French Renaissance château was originally home to George W. Vanderbilt, grandson of the industrialist Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who amassed a personal fortune during the industrial revolution building railroads, steamboats, and other industrial businesses. One look at the home and the breathtaking views from atop its perch on the mountain and you will understand why George Vanderbilt fell in love with this particular piece of property in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He originally owned 125,000 acres surrounding the site but gifted 117,000 to the community as a land preserve.
Biltmore House officially opened on Christmas Eve 1895 to family and friends after five years of construction. Three years later, George Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvesant Dresserand and brought his new wife to his home. They had one child, Cornelia, who was born in 1900.
George Vanderbilt died in 1914 and Edith took over the affairs of the estate. She remarried in 1924 to the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil and continued to live in the house until 1930. If you are interested, you can read more about the history of the home and the Vanderbilt family here.
During the Great Depression, it was requested that the home be opened to the public to increase tourism in the area and bring in much needed revenue. The family agreed and in 1930, Biltmore House opened its doors to the public. To this day, the home and property remain in the family. The grandson, William A.V. Cecil, owns Biltmore. Together with his son, William A. V. Cecil, Jr. (Chief Executive Officer) and daughter, Diana Cecil Pickering (Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Advisors), along with over 1,700 employees, Biltmore remains much as it was 100 years ago and contains most of the family’s original furnishings, art, and antiques.
Biltmore estate does not receive government grants or funds to maintain the property. As one of the United States’ most important National Historic Landmarks, it is supported entirely by private funding. The mission of Biltmore is to preserve and maintain the home, gardens, land, and other structures on the property with the monies it receives through donations and tourism. It is quite an undertaking to maintain and staff this large operation, as we witnessed while touring the entire property during our recent visits. As William Cecil said, “We don’t preserve Biltmore to make a profit, we make a profit to preserve Biltmore.”
As with many industrialists from this era, much of the money the Vanderbilt family earned has gone back to the people. “We believe strongly in the heritage of philanthropic giving. Biltmore’s corporate philanthropic efforts align with the legacy of self-sufficiency, stewardship of our natural and human resources, protection of the integrity of our mountains, and commitment to ensuring our community remains a model for living well and living purposefully.”
I would suggest allowing a full day to properly view the estate. There are self guided tours of the home, but if you want a real insider’s look at the behind the scenes workings of the home, or you are a history buff, you might want to look at some of the tours for small groups, such as their Butler’s Tour. This tour is more in depth and allows you access to some of the rooms and areas not open to guests on the regular tour. You might also be surprised just how technologically advanced and energy efficient this home is, especially considering when it was built.
There are numerous other activities to enjoy while at Biltmore estate including: the Outdoor Adventure Center (where you can go fly fishing or take a float trip on the French Broad River); the Biltmore Winery (visit the historic wine cellar or enjoy special wine and food pairings at the most visited winery in the United States); Antler Hill Farm (to explore the Historic Horse Barn and Kitchen Garden); Antler Hill Village (for several dining options, like Cedric’s Tavern for a casual pub environment and you might enjoy visiting the new Biltmore Legacy Exhibit); or our favorite, take a stroll through the spectacular gardens and Conservatory. It is a photo opportunity that you will not want to miss. You will want to allow another day or two in Asheville to enjoy some of these other activities.
All of our travels, no matter how close to home or far away, come back to great food and wine and there is much to enjoy in Asheville and at Biltmore Estate. Asheville’s farms are truly a market basket for the region and many of the chefs source local produce and farm raised animals for their restaurants.
As the cool weather approaches, we crave heartier dishes and autumnal flavors. This fall would be an excellent time to dine in the mountains to experience Southern fare as the menus begin to reflect the change of seasons. A trip to the Asheville City Market on Saturday morning will give you a glimpse at some of the beautiful seasonal produce that is available in Asheville. Maybe try some local Carolina Bison, Sunburst Trout or the Angus-Wagyu beef raised on property at Biltmore Estate while you are in town.
It had been many years since I visited Biltmore. When we were invited to attend the Moveable Feast Dinner in May this year, we decided to stay the following day to experience the estate. We took the entire day, explored as much as we could and have since returned twice. The Moveable Feast Dinners will continue through the fall. There is one dinner in October and another in November. If you have an opportunity to attend one, I would highly recommend it. The dinners take place at different venues on the estate that are not generally open to the public, so the setting is beautiful and the food, prepared by Executive Chef Damien Cavicchi and his culinary team, is excellent. Paired with some of the more elegant Biltmore wines, this is an outstanding culinary event.
If you would like to stay on the property, the Inn on Biltmore Estate is located within walking distance from Antler Hill Village. There are sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the back of the inn. This property has been awarded Four Diamonds by AAA, Four Stars by Forbes Travel Guide, and has been on Condé Nast Traveler‘s Gold List for seven years. The Dining Room at the inn is an excellent choice for a special evening and a great way to experience some of the produce and meats raised on the estate.
I will be writing another article about the farming practices and operations at Biltmore, their Field to Table program, and a special lunch with Executive Chef Damien Cavicchi at Biltmore Estate later this week. Chef Cavicchi has also shared a wonderful dish for fall that I will be publishing with that article.
*Photographs courtesy of Biltmore Estate
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