Visiting the Biltmore Estate

So my wife and I are stealing away to Asheville for a long weekend. We’ve been there a couple of times, but we’ve never actually been to the Biltmore, so this time we got a hotel package that included admission.

There seems to be an awful lot to do there. We have an audio tour of the house one day, and my wife will probably want to do a guided tour of the gardens. I’m a big wino, so I’ll definitely want to check out the winery. The float trip down the river sounds cool. I’ve heard the food is universally overpriced and blah, and with plenty of quality choices available in Asheville we’ll probably seek out dining elsewhere.

Has anyone been? Anything worth checking out/avoiding?

A warning: Don’t bother buying Biltmore wine. I’ve never seen anyone buy it twice. As a cashier in Boone I onced joked with a coworker that I could tell that someone had never had Biltmore wine. When she asked how I could tell, I said, “Because they’re buying it.”

ETA: But I still envy you your trip. I’d LOVE to be in the Appalachians right now.

I was there about this time last year (although we weren’t in such a heat wave at the time.) IIRC, most, if not all of the main house is not air conditioned, and can be quite hot, especially in large crowds.

Other than that, I had a great time. I enjoyed the wine tasting at the winery. Most of the wines were blah, but a few were decent. Nothing I wanted to buy, but after walking the grounds all day it was nice to sit and have a drink.

I used to work at the Biltmore–man, that was a weird gig, Dilbert meets Martha Stuart. Keep in mind that the Estate is run as a profit-making enterprise. Their primary purpose is not to educate or preserve history, but to make mega-bucks. They will gouge you for every penny.

A winery tour and tasting is included in the price of your ticket, so definitely check it out and try the free booze. The wine is mostly mediocre, and you can buy Biltmore wine more cheaply at local grocery stores, so don’t buy it at the winery.

The float trip is lovely and worth doing. There are also lots of trails around the property.

The Estate is still run by the family, so you’re not going to hear anything juicy on the audio tour–like the fact the Mrs. Vanderbilt forced her young daughter Consuelo into a loveless marriage with an English nobleman in order to bring a title into the family. It’s a lot of “This wallpaper was designed by so-and-so.”

Be prepared for lots of cranky, hot crowds. If you buy your ticket after 3 pm, you can get in the next day for free. If I were you, I’d do that. Try to do the float trip in the late afternoon, followed by the winery tour. Come back early next morning to do the house and garden tours. (You should call and double-check that “after three, next day free” is still the policy.)

The restaurants are meh and over-priced. For a truly killer meal, try Zambra in downtown Asheville.

My Father’s Pizza, in Black Mountain, NC. Not far, and excellent pie and beer. Worth the trip. :cool:

I love Asheville. I’d make lunch or dinner reservations at the Grove Park Inn just for the incredible view. Room prices there are a bit too extravagent IMO.

I was just there last weekend. Had an excellent time. We went the cheap route and camped at a nearby campground, rather than staying at the Inn.

The house is huge, and the grounds are huge, so yes there is a lot to do.

I did the wine tasting at the end, and definitely recommend that. You get to sip 6 different wines: one right as you enter the wine-tasting room, and then 5 more once you’re seated at the bar in a group, where the wine expert will give you sips of 3 wines of his choosing, then let you pick 2 of your own. As for buying the wine, well…we bought a bottle of their grape juice so we could share with the kids :wink:

You can pay for special tours that will let you (among other things) walk out on the roof of the house. You can also do an pre-recorded audio tour.

One thing to look for: In one of the sitting rooms (I think it’s the third floor), there is a portrait of the Vanderbilt family that shows the 10?-year-old George W. Vanderbilt (the guy who grows up to build the Biltmore at the ripe old age of 27). On the exact opposite side of the room, there is another painting that shows the Cecil family posing by the first painting. Well, I thought it was cool anyway.

I’ve had it, and you’re right–it’s thoroughly mediocre. Still nice to visit the winery, though.

Our package includes admission the whole time we’re there. We were planning to do it about like you describe.

Several people have made the same recommendation. Do I need reservations?

It’s probably a good idea to make reservations, especially since you’ll be going on the weekend. In addition to amazing food, Zambra also has a terrific and extensive wine list, so you can have some good stuff after trying the free plonk at the Estate.

Another thing which you may have already thought of: bring your own bottled water and snacks. You can picnic on the grounds, so you might want to stop by a grocery store and pick up grapes, cheese, and a baguette for a light lunch in the gardens. Much nicer than battling the crowds at the snack stands.

Consuelo was G.W.'s niece, though, so she actually wasn’t involved with Biltmore. The only real gossip about George Washington Vanderbilt II is that he was rumored in his own lifetime to be gay (though he did marry and have a daughter).

He was actually the “poorest” member of the family- he was a fourth son (of those who lived) and only inherited about $7 million cash + $5 million trust fund from his father, the reprehensible William Henry “The Public Be Damned” Vanderbilt. He later inherited a bit more from his mother, who lived with him.

G.W.'s dad was such a suck-up to his grandfather that even G.W.'s name was designed to win paternal favor- his name was originally George Henry but was changed to George Washington when William Henry’s brother, George Washington Vanderbilt I, the only one of the Commodore’s 13 legitimate children that the old man gave a damn about- was killed- later there was a really interesting battle over the estate in which it was revealed that Wm. Henry had bribed psychics to give the extremely superstitious old man messages from beyond to leave everything to Wm. Henry, but that’s another story.

G.W. died not “broke” as we would understand the term- he had Biltmore after all- but in a bad situation financially. He’d spent so many millions on Biltmore (building a private railroad and having thousands of acres landscaped by the firm that did Central Park and then the 255 room chateau all add up) that when his investments lowered due to stock market fluctuation he was pretty much cash broke and had to sell everything that wasn’t Biltmore to stay afloat. He died young and the place is now in the hands of his English noblemen descendants who operate it, as said, for profit (and successfully).

Movies filmed at Biltmore include Being There with Peter Sellers (great film) and Hannibal. It’s name is from the village of Bildt in the Netherlands (family name van der Bildt) and of course ‘more’. (The Vanderbilt family used to fascinate me beyond measure for some reason.)

If you’re into American literature, the Thomas Wolfe house is also in Asheville. I’ve never been there, but I do remember the bitter old woman who worked in the Biltmore gift shop 20+ years ago saying “Hmmph, why’d anybody wanna go there? I remember him. Sissy boy who lived with his black boy lover on the edge of town, can’t believe they opened a museum to him.” (If this was true- the lover part- I’ve never read it elsewhere.)

I believe the exteriors for the (poorly-reviewed) 1999 Catherine Zeta Jones/Liam Neeson remake of The Haunting were filmed there, too.

This is making me want to travel to the Biltmore. I’ve never been and always hear great things from everyone that has visited. This has been no exception. I hope you enjoy your trip!