Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who wanted to be a princess. She just knew a castled kingdom lay somewhere in her future, if only she could find her way there. And lo, though many years passed, she indeed found her regal domain in the realm of Asheville, North Carolina, where the Biltmore Estate succeeds in treating guests royally.
The scene was ordered straight out of a fairy tale. As my husband and I drove up to the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a wedding had just taken place inside. The bride, swathed in white, joined her groom for photographs outside. They and other members of the wedding party stood against a stunning backdrop of the inn, a modern-day palace rising from a hill.
From the moment of our arrival at the majestic inn for a romantic getaway, I knew the castle-filled dreams of my childhood would come true.
"Welcome," said the smiling young woman at the front desk. And welcomed we felt as we took in the elegant yet comfortable lobby and the sound of a grand piano.
"They're about to serve afternoon tea in the library," said the still-smiling woman. "You must try it." This proved to be a perfect start for faux royalty.
As we decimated the last of the éclairs, Sarah Thomas, who works with Biltmore Estate, told us about romantic places to visit in the area, including the lagoon, a perfect spot for a picnic on a pretty day. She also told us we had chosen a good month for our visit. "It's almost as if you have the estate all to yourself," she said. Also, being pseudo-royalty on a budget, we were delighted to find that the room rates were much less as well.
A late dinner in The Dining Room proved to be the crowning moment. Both food and service reign in this princely restaurant, where estate-raised beef and tempting desserts make a sumptuous meal fit for a king (and queen).To the Manor Borne
George W. Vanderbilt completed his palatial estate in 1895, using its 250 rooms to welcome guests and entertain on an extraordinary scale. Biltmore House continues that tradition, with its daily tours for those of us captivated by the history, beauty, and lavish furnishings of this enchanting manor.
After a yummy breakfast delivered to our room, we took a shuttle from the inn to Biltmore House. (Mornings are the least crowded times to visit.)
So the exploration began. From entrance hall to enormous banquet hall to music room, we took in the main floor. We most enjoyed the view from the loggia (a fancy name for porch), where I practiced a queenly wave to the imaginary peons below. Our favorite room was the library. Ten thousand books in nine languages are housed here under a stunning canvas ceiling painting. My husband's next favorite room was the bowling alley, one of the oldest in the nation. I was intrigued by all the pantries and kitchens and even a walk-in refrigerator, which was very unusual for 1895, as were the 43 bathrooms and indoor pool.Jewels in the Crown
We still had more of the kingdom to explore. Biltmore's winery provided a fascinating tour of its facility. Here we also had lunch at the Bistro Restaurant, which serves savory pizzas as part of its well-rounded menu. Its gift shop is the best on the property, selling housewares, glassware, and gift items, in addition to Biltmore wines.
For a final royal treat, a carriage awaited to take us on a 45-minute ride through the grounds. Soon, afternoon tea and the grand piano were calling to us again. As we enjoyed chocolate truffles, the newlyweds walked by. They smiled at us. We smiled back, secure in a shared knowledge. Fairy tales can come true, especially at Biltmore Estate.The Royal Treatment
Inn on Biltmore Estate: (828) 225-1600 or 1-800-858-4130. Rates: begin at $149 weekdays and $199 weekends. Romantic Getaway Package: This three-day, two-night escape includes sparkling wine delivered to your room; valet parking; daily breakfast and dinner; length-of-stay admission to Biltmore House, Gardens, and Winery; and some gratuities. Call for rates. Other packages are available. Outdoor activities: include carriage rides, hikes, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Call 1-800-858-4122 for reservations. Dining: The Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Afternoon tea is served 2-3:30 p.m. in the inn's library. The Bistro Restaurant is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Biltmore Estate: 1 North Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801; 1-800-543-2961 or www.biltmore.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Tickets: $36 adults, $27 ages 10-15, free ages 9 and under with a paying adult.
This article is from the February 2003 issue of Southern Living.Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.