Photo courtesy of Biltmore
Biltmore at Christmas
The Biltmore Estate’s Library is resplendent at the holidays.
Historic Biltmore Village is a destination unto itself with its unique collection of shops, restaurants, galleries and places to stay that are clustered together in the walkable, family-friendly community that arose to support what was the most ambitious undertaking in the history of American residential architecture at the time.
The village served then and now as the entrance to George W. Vanderbilt’s estate. Workers arrived to help construct the home—4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.
But in the little village life was more practical. The village had a hospital, shops, a school, a railroad depot, and other services available to residents who made their homes in several small cottages throughout the community, which was designed to reflect a European lifestyle. Some buildings remain today, while others have been constructed to evoke the village architecture. So strict are the historic district’s building codes that even the fastfood establishments blend in among the tree-lined streets—McDonald’s serves its BigMacs in the ambiance of vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, outdoor patio seating and a baby grand piano.
For a more gourmet experience, visit Rezaz Restaurant and Enoteca where an extensive wine list complements hulking yet tender pork chops, sweet and sour glazed calamari, comforting butternut squash ravioli, and seared Carolina trout. The setting is modern yet welcoming for lunch and dinner.
The Corner Kitchen is a must—the restaurant recently played host to President Obama during his visit to Asheville—for anyone with a love for creative Southern cooking. During warmer weather, coveted spots on the outdoor patio go fast and are a lovely spot for any meal, although are perhaps best during breakfast when the village is still sleepy and quiet. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday when one can more blithely indulge in a large plate of homemade corned beef hash with poached eggs or buttermilk dipped fried chicken with greens and grits.
Family-friendly dining is best found at Neo Cantina, which gussies up Latin favorites and features locally-raised beef, or Village Wayside Bar and Grille, which is located in the original 1896 train depot and features a turkey Reuben, slow roasted and brined in house with sweet peach hibiscus tea and a beef brisket, smoked in house, and smothered in homemade Cheerwine BBQ.
Other great places to stop in for a snack include Gianni Panini, a sister restaurant to the Corner Kitchen, and Books and Breadboard, where deli sandwiches are beautifully served in a building that was originally part of the Biltmore Estate and which owners moved to its present location. Pick up a book while you’re there.
When it comes to shopping, Biltmore Village has a lot from which to choose. The Compleat Naturalist is a fun place to visit—even for those who not an outdoorsy type. Head here before any trips to go out exploring along the Blue Ridge Parkway or in nearby Pisgah National Forest for birding supplies, magnifiers, hats, identification books, compasses and more. The Compleat Naturalist, Once Upon a Time, which is a toy store, and Just Ducky, a children’s clothing store, are the most child-friendly shops in the village.
Curtis Wright Outfitters has everything for fly-fishing, even guides. Trips are held on rivers across Western North Carolina, and clinics and classes on casting, fly tying, and fishing are also available.
Be sure to visit New Morning Gallery, one of the region’s premiere art stops offering handcrafted furniture, home accessories, glass, pottery, jewelry and other imaginative gifts handmade by American artists and showcased in a beautiful 12,300 square-foot space. Other great stops for the crafty and decoratively inclined include the Yarn Paradise and Old World Christmas Shoppe.
Biltmore Village’s rich history
Up on a hill overlooking the village is the Biltmore Village Inn, officially named the Samuel Harrison Reed House. The house was constructed in 1892 for the eldest son of Joseph and Katherine Miller Reed. The family had been in Buncombe County for several generations. Joseph Reed was a captain in the Confederate army.
Reed developed ponds, saw mills, carding, and grist mills on his property, and built a new home for himself. He was the first man in Western North Carolina to house and sell ice, and owned a brickyard and meat market.
In 1879, Reed negotiated with the Asheville and Spartanburg Railroad and the Western North Carolina Railroad for a right of way contract for their junction. Reed then built a brick station at the junction, presented it to the railroads, and added a brick store and hotel to his earlier buildings at the site, creating the village of Best.
Construction of Biltmore House began in 1889. George W. Vanderbilt is credited with transforming the junction town of Best to serve three purposes: to present an aesthetically pleasing prelude to the entrance of Vanderbilt’s estate; to create institutions to serve as a framework for his philanthropic endeavors to benefit the people of the area, and to create a self-contained and self-sustaining community that would also provide rental income.
Building the estate itself was, at the time, one of the largest undertakings in the history of American residential architecture. Over a six-year period, an entire community of craftsmen worked to build the country’s premier home. The estate boasted its own brick factory, woodworking shop, and a three-mile railway spur for transporting materials to the site.
Vanderbilt officially opened the home to friends and family on Christmas Eve in 1895, though construction continued for another six years. After marrying the American Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958) in Paris during the summer of 1898, Vanderbilt and his new bride came to live at the estate. Their only child, Cornelia (1900–1976), was born and grew up at Biltmore.
Richard Morris Hunt, the architect for the Biltmore House, designed four of the original buildings in Biltmore Village—All Souls Church, the Railway Station, The Biltmore Company offices and the Post Office. After Hunt’s death, the job of completing the houses and shops was left to Richard Sharpe Smith who was Hunt’s on-site architect. Some of the original buildings still stand including as All Souls Church, the depot. The Corner Kitchen, one of the Village’s most notable eateries, was first occupied by the Waddell Family, who were the parents of one of the engineers for the Biltmore Estate.
The street plan and landscape design of the Village was executed by Frederick Law Olmsted— the founding father of American landscape architecture and designer of New York’s Central Park. Olmsted had been hired to design the grounds of the Estate. His vision for Biltmore included a small pleasure ground and garden, a major arboretum and nursery, and a systematically managed forest. A conservation-minded man, Olmsted felt creating a managed forest at Biltmore was important because it could serve as an example for the rest of the country.
Olmsted ensured the long-term success of the estate’s forestry program by persuading Vanderbilt to hire a trained forester named Gifford Pinchot in 1892. Pinchot implemented a unique management plan that included identifying tree species, growth conditions, and volumes of timber per acre and improving tree growth with selective thinning. The plan, which was designed to improve the forest while returning a profit to the landowner, was the first of its kind in America and served as a national model. German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck took charge of Biltmore’s forest in 1895, which at the time totaled over 100,000 acres. In 1898, he established the Biltmore Forest School—the first of its kind in the country. During its 15 years of existence, the school educated more than 300 students, many of who served as the first generation of American foresters.
The portion of the original estate that visitors experience today is only a fraction of what the Vanderbilts once owned. Edith Vanderbilt sold approximately 86,700 acres of the estate’s forested mountain land—known as Pisgah Forest—to the federal government on May 21, 1914, to form the beginning of Pisgah National Forest. In the northern-most portion of Pisgah National Forest, the Cradle of Forestry is a 6,500-acre historic site set aside by Congress to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation in the United States. The Forest Discovery Center honors forest conservation history with an 18-minute movie about Vanderbilt, Pinchot, Schenck and the beginning of forestry in America.
Luxury accommodations in Biltmore Village
Within the historic Biltmore area there are two hotels known for providing destination accommodations with refined amenities—the Grand Bohemian and the Inn at Biltmore.
The Grand Bohemian is modeled on a European hunting lodge and consequently exudes a more masculine personality. A cozy fireplace, dark woodwork, animal statuary, warm taupe colored chairs, deep red accent décor and a herd of antlers welcome visitors. The old-world feel is partnered with contemporary flair in the artwork, which is all part of the private Kessler collection. Each property has its own art gallery featuring jewelry, paintings, sculpture, pottery and other works, all available for purchase in addition to the works that decorate the hallways of each floor.
Rooms at the Bohemian are comfortably plush, and bathrooms feature extra large soaking tubs that offer a romantic and relaxing in-room experience complete with dimmable lighting. Room service is available from the hotel’s Red Stag Grill.
The Red Stag’s menu focuses on local and seasonal items, as well as aged Angus beef and game such as duck and elk. Start with the Hunt Plate offering Black Forest ham, San Guiseppe salami, soft and aged cheese, locally made mustard, olives and rustic bread. White cheddar creamed spinach should be selected to accompany beef entrees, and don’t miss the Black Forest Lava Cake served with black cherry ice cream. Special holiday menus also are offered.
An advantage to the Bohemian is that it is within the village and thereby offers easy access to everything within walking distance. Tickets to the Biltmore House can be purchased directly from the hotel’s concierge desk.
On the Biltmore Estate itself the Inn on Biltmore Estate offers a unique way to explore all the estate has to offer. Being at the Inn after the gates have closed to visitors affords a glimpse into the wild mountain beauty that drew Vanderbilt to the area. Long-range mountain views are best enjoyed from the Inn’s outdoor seating or while taking afternoon tea in the library—a treat that women traveling in a group or mothers and daughters should not miss. Choose from an assortment of teas from Mighty Leaf Tea, a glass of Kir Royale, or a flute of sparkling wine to savor along with traditional English finger sandwiches, scones, fruit breads, and tea pastries.
The Inn’s amenities include hiking trails, an outdoor pool and hot tub, and complimentary shuttle service to Estate facilities. Most Inn packages include complimentary admission to the Estate.
Those who are looking to spend multiple days on the Estate enjoying the winery, gardens, outdoor recreation opportunities, dining options and behind the scenes tours will want to stay at the Inn.
The Inn on Biltmore and the Grand Bohemian each have a spa. At the Inn on Biltmore visitors choose from an array of treatments incorporating the estate’s natural offerings. The Bohemian’s Poseidon Spa offers an eclectic blend of traditional spa services and uniquely Asheville-inspired delights.
A great place to spend the holidays
George W. Vanderbilt introduced his new home to family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895. The Estate continues the tradition today with a special holiday celebration featuring dozens of Christmas trees, hundreds of wreaths, bows, and poinsettias, miles of evergreen garland, and thousands of ornaments.
Christmas at Biltmore during the daytime includes access to Biltmore House, the Gardens and Antler Hill Village and Winery. The village links to the Winery, where visitors may take a complimentary guided tour culminating with a complimentary wine tasting. You'll also find Santa and Mrs. Claus each weekend at the Antler Hill Village Barn. The celebration lasts through Jan. 2.
Other special events are held throughout the year; however, one need not necessarily time his or her visit to coincide with an event. The house is open year-round and guided tours are a great way to get a unique experience. Those with an interest in how the house actually was run shouldn’t miss the Behind-the-Scenes tour. Also, the Red Wine and Chocolate Seminar offers a fun and educational trip into the depths of the estate’s winery. Children will particularly enjoy the Farm Guided Walking Tour and Farm Wagon Rides.
Tickets to the estate start at $50. A value package includes two tickets, two audio tours, and a $35 dining voucher for $140. The estate typically closes at 4:30 p.m.; however, hours are extended for the holiday season.
Take it by the reins
For a unique experience exploring the sprawling lands of the Biltmore Estate saddle up a horse and ride. Trail rides, which are appropriate for first-timers and experienced horsemen, meander through the estate’s pastures and forests, allowing riders to connect more intimately with the terrain that brought Vanderbilt to live here.
Serious horse riders may bring their own horse and explore more than 80 miles of estate trails — the same paths used by the Vanderbilts and their guests at the turn of the century. Guided riding groups are not large; however, a private two-hour ride or three-hour ride including lunch provides a one-of-a-kind experience.
If you don’t eat lunch on the trail, head over to the Deerpark, located adjacent to the stables. The Deerpark offers a buffet that features Southern and Appalachian cuisine plus an expanded Sunday brunch. While the brunch is quite popular, and the Deerpark is a prime destination for holidays, on a regular day it may afford a quieter meal than at the restaurants closer to the house.