English lady in a French dress

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Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

As you know we have often found some wonderful gems along the way, on our travels, some small item or a place familiar only to locals, has brought us and we hope all of you, pleasure. Today we 'found' just such a treasure...however this one was hardly hidden from view! But for our quest to travel some of the Blue Ridge Parkway, we would probably never have come across it at all, however it did feature in all the reams of literature and web sites we have used. Biltmore House in Asheville is as they say 'awesome'.
Nancy in the visitors centre in Asheville, (who by the way has somewhat restored our faith in NC because she was so pleasant and extremely helpful) advised us to spend the whole day there as the tour of the house would take 3-4 hours and then there were the gardens and winery to visit too.
It was one of those days that appealed to both of us and by the end of it we were literally in awe of the achievements of the Vanderbilt family who still own this magnificent building. We arrived early with the plan that we would wander around the grounds in the cool of the morning and then take ourselves inside as the temperature rose later in the day. This turned out to be an excellent choice as it also meant there weren't as many people around outside when we wanted to take photos - you know us; never go out without the camera! We have put an album here: http://picasaweb.google.com/on.travels/BiltmoreHouse# for you to browse as there were so many pictures we liked it was difficult to choose which ones to put on the blog.
You enter the estate across the road from Biltmore Village (built by the family too) and then wend your way up the 3 mile drive to the house itself, Nancy had said it would be breathtaking at first sight, she was so right. Bathed in the early morning sunshine it looked almost like one of those castles in fairytale books, so unlike the kind of houses you find over here. OK there are some fantastic modern mansions tributes to new money if you like, but this was a remarkable home from a bygone era.
As I wandered round the walled garden, the Italian garden, the conservatory etc. etc. I wished that you, Gill & Nita were here, you would have really loved and appreciated it too! Pauline I think you would have felt the same. z08 It was a bit like walking through a 3D gardening magazine, it was as near to heaven as I've been lately!  The colour schemes so perfect, the blooms so vibrant, the profusion so enthralling it was just 'awesome'.  
There were lots of plants I didn't recognize, but lots that I did. Imaginative planting and grouping made every bed, border and pot a feast for the eyes - forgive me if I ramble on but it was really wonderful. Take a look at the photos and enjoy a little of what I saw first hand. I'm not going to bore you with facts and figures, history and explanation just look and enjoy!

Well that's Betsy for you; I get the "bricks and mortar."
The house itself looks rather French Château from the outside but is definitely English stately home on the inside. Hence the quote from our greeter "an English lady in a French Dress."
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside the house so when you are in the area go and look for yourself. Alternatively check out: http://www.biltmore.com/our_story/ Can you imagine what you could build, money no object (and it certainly wasn't for this family) and every technological invention available to be used. This house is that and more!

 George Vanderbilt had the house built for his family and friends, it took six years to complete (including building a railway line to the site in order to transport the materials) and the house has 4 acres of floor space, so he could invite a few friends at a time.
We collected the headset and audio tour guide and set off on our wander round some of the 250 rooms. George (as we came to know him) was an eclectic collector; we saw Napoleon's chess set rare wall tapestries, porcelain, artwork and artifacts from around the world. The family and guest bedrooms with private bathrooms (indoor running water was a very new thing let alone hot water and central heating to boot). There was his library, a keen reader he catalogued reading somewhere in the region of 3000 books - well there was no internet or TV - however if there were they would have been in every room I'm sure. I was very impressed with the basement - where all the workings for the house were! The basement housed all the kitchens, refrigerated rooms, food stores, heating etc. but also the first ever privately owned indoor bowling alley. There was an indoor swimming pool and a complete gymnasium. Whatever you could imagine wanting, at the time, was included in this building and it was all self sufficient. Supplied by the Biltmore village (part of the 125,000 acre site) and the onsite farm/dairy. Our tour of the house took a good 3 hours - just think, if we had access everywhere we may still be there now!
After the house we drove on through the estate, stopping for a picnic lunch before visiting the old dairy which was converted in the 1970's and is now a winery - our admission included free tasting... had to be done :). Then finally on to the farm where we rounded off the day with a huge ice cream, home made to an original Biltmore recipe - more smiley faces...
If you only visit one "stately home" in America, this is the one we recommend!
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