Live like a Vanderbilt. New activities make it more than just a house tour: Sip wine, ride horses, paddle the waters.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
This article is from the October 2005 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.
Each day, thousands trace the velvet rope-lined passages weaving through one of America's grandest homes. Few, however, know that the total Biltmore experience begins outside. Through hikes, carriage rides, float trips, and rooftop views, discover what really brought George Vanderbilt to this land almost 120 years ago.
When driving across the estate, you'll notice paved trails lining the roadways. Walkers sometimes stroll here, but you'll mostly see folks on bicycles leisurely riding beside the fields of cornstalks showing their post-harvest browns. These are just segments of the paved, graveled, and primitive paths for walking, hiking, and biking that navigate Biltmore's thousands of acres. Make your first stop the Outdoor Center, near the Winery, for trail maps and information. Also, while you're in the area, visit the Winery Welcome Center, and make a reservation for the Red Wine and Chocolate Seminar. This event, held at 4 and 5 p.m. daily, gives you a taste of the sweet life.
Left: Bike trails lead guests to some of the more remote areas of Biltmore Estate.
One of the best and easiest walks starts just beyond the South Terrace of the house. Footpaths lead through the Walled Garden,
awash with mums. Stop in at the Conservatory, a glass-roofed building designed by the house's architect, Richard Morris Hunt,
and be sure to visit the Orchid Room.
Walk farther south of the gardens, and you'll pick up the Bass Pond Trail (roughly a half-mile loop) that leads to the pool known best for its picturesque arched rock bridge. The Meadow Trail, a quarter-mile offshoot of the path, meanders through a rolling landscape, home to bluebirds and mourning doves.
Left: Explore the property on transport of the four-legged kind.
One of our favorite short foot trails begins at Parking Lot A, leads through the woods, and ends at the hemlock-lined Vista.
A statue of the goddess Diana, with a hound heeled at her side, stands at the summit of this grassy slope. Here you'll find
the best view of the front of the house.
Left: A statue of the goddess Diana and her hound stands at the top of a grassy slope known as the Vista.
Peer into Doc W. Cudd, Jr.'s past, and you'll discover there has been at least one blacksmith in his family for 400 years.
"I didn't have any choice as to what I was going to be," he says with a smile. Doc creates wrought iron reproduction pieces
of the original ironwork found throughout the house. He preaches blacksmithing to anyone who lends an ear in his shop, one
of the newly restored areas of Biltmore's 1902 Historic Horse Barn.
The complex also features a woodworker, antique farm equipment exhibits, and a farmyard full of heirloom chickens, lambs, calves, and Belgian draft horses.
Left: Walk the paths south of Biltmore's Gardens, and you'll discover the serenity of the Bass Pond.
"Many of these same forest trails were used by the Vanderbilts," says Ed George, an interpreter with the estate's carriage
rides. He speaks above the wagon's wheel squeaks and the jingle of the Belgian horses' tack. We roll through a pine plantation,
into an oak grove, and finally onto a ridge facing Biltmore House's west facade.
Guided outdoor trips through the estate showcase the trails and breathtaking views otherwise missed on a normal visit to Biltmore. Climb atop a horse, and clop down the trails. Hop on a raft, and ease down the 3-mile section of the French Broad, Asheville's largest river, which runs through a portion of the property.
Left: Carriage rides follow a few of the same trails the Vanderbilts used almost 120 years ago.
You'll find a multitude of colors from the roof of Biltmore House. The gray slate and patina-green copper contrasts with the
bright blue Carolina sky and fluffy white clouds above. Below, the trees and gardens share their autumn golds, reds, and ambers.
Left: You won't get this kind of vantage point anywhere else.
Two special behind-the-scenes tours, the North Wing and South Wing, lead through various rooms all the way to the roof. Up
here the architectural and structural elements sit within arm's reach. Look into the eyes of stone gargoyles, and trace the
first owner's initials--GV--on the copper panels. Remnants of gold leafing, like fading brush strokes, still reflect the sunlight.
While countless others traverse the house below, you can't help but feel you've found the secrets. Consider that when George Vanderbilt stood in this spot, he owned everything he saw. Out here, the incredibly grand scope of Biltmore eases into focus.
Left: On the North Wing and South Wing Tours, you'll see the mansion's architectural details up close.
You've filled your senses with the natural side of Biltmore, and now you're ready to relax. If you prefer to pass on the wine
seminar, reserve a table for afternoon tea (2:30-4 p.m.) in the library at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a perfect respite from
your outdoor activities. Full tea (starting at $16.95) includes finger sandwiches, scones, fruit bread, and pastries.
Inn on Biltmore Estate: toll-free 1-877-324-5866. Rates: from $249 on weekdays, from $319 on weekends. As an inn guest, you have access to the estate's grounds, which include the gardens, Historic Horse Barn, and Winery. All excursions and tours, including the house, are extra. (The concierge staff will help you set up anything you need.) Be sure to check the Web site ( www.biltmore.com) for a variety of exclusive packages and special rates.
Left: For an elegant break from the outdoors, take afternoon tea in the inn's library.