Roadtrip: Biltmore Estate

Heidi says, this is turning into an architectural roadtrip.  Next stop, the Biltmore Estate: the largest private residence in America, and an inspiration to hedge fund managers everywhere.

Being noobs, we had no idea what to expect.  We plotted the route on the iPad and set out from the Black Walnut for the 10 km drive.  But just as we left town, a little more than half way there, a sign said to make a hard right to enter the estate.  iPad’s new map app was wrong?

Well, no.  Turns out that the entrance is still several km from the house itself.   This is bigger than we thought.

Exterior view of the Biltmore

Exterior view of the Biltmore

Built at the end of the 19th Century, with a budget thought to be in the $5MM range (but nobody really knows), this is a country home on Lance Armstrong-strength steroids.

It reminds me of the line from Downton Abbey, where Earl Whatsit tells the lad who will inherit the property that he knows the youngster looks at the building and sees the crumbling bricks and inevitable repair bills.  But the Earl sees “his life’s work”.

Wish I could remember what I said - maybe something about positioning the shot so that the big x-mas tree sprouted out the top of her head.

Wish I could remember what I said – maybe something about positioning the shot so that the big x-mas tree sprouted out the top of her head.

Biltmore was George Washington Vanderbilt’s life.  He inherited ~$10MM, and never worked.  Instead he orchestrated the Biltmore Estate.

Tile roof on the Biltmore Estate

Tile roof on the Biltmore Estate

The building, and the 85,000 acre property (originally 125,000) survived as a home for several decades, but was opened to the public as a tourist attraction for the Asheville area in the 1930’s.  It is, today, owned by one of GW Vanderbilt’s grandkids.  It is also the region’s largest employer thanks to the onsite luxe hotel, restaurants, non-luxe winery, Land Rover off-road driving school, clay shooting and fly-fishing classes etc.  The staff also offers some very good tours of the house (see our guide Garret below).

On the roof of the Biltmore with tour-guide Garret.

On the roof of the Biltmore with tour-guide Garret.

A day at the Biltmore isn’t cheap (we paid ~$180 for two day passes, two audio guides (very good) and the architectural tour with Garrett.  So I’d guess that the Vanderbilts aren’t hurting.

Biltmore - view from the Loges

View of the back yard at the BIltmore.

More fun facts: the building looks like a French château, but is actually constructed with a steel frame and limestone cladding.  Important because Asheville sits on a pretty active fault line, and earthquakes are frequent.   The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who is also famous for a little project called Central Park (you know, in NYC).

View of the water gardens at the Biltmore

View of the water gardens at the Biltmore

Next stop, the Great Smoky Mtns.

Biltmore gargoyles

Biltmore gargoyles

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