At Christmas time, this Gilded Age mansion sparkles with shimmering lights, festive fragrances, and melodious music.

Biltmore by Candlelight

Biltmore Estate tops any holiday display we've seen south of the North Pole. Our favorite festive scene is the entrance to the mansion, just as dusk settles. The glowing embers of sunset silhouette the towering building in soft orange and velvety purple. More than 300 luminarias flicker in subtle parchment hues, like so many Tinker Bells lining the huge panel of lawn.

During the Candlelight Christmas Evenings, Biltmore dazzles you with embellishments, transforming the magnificent mansion into a winter wonderland. Bells, bows, and bangles perch on every pedestal, tabletop, and horizontal surface in the château. You could stand in one spot in any room, turn slowly for 15 minutes, and still feel as if you've missed something. You probably did.

But you'd better not pout, better not cry. We're telling you why. Here's what not to miss on your tour.

Local choirs and musical groups give nightly concerts in the Winter Garden. The setting--surrounded by an ocean of poinsettias, lush green ferns, and swirling garland wreaths--harmonizes perfectly with the celestial music.

Yes, the big tree in the Banquet Hall is real--a Fraser fir, freshly cut and delivered to the estate. Because the event lasts more than a month, the tree is changed out halfway through the season. Ornaments off, and out with the old tree; then in with the new tree, and ornaments on. Listen for the sonorous tones from the pipe organ, tucked along the wall beside the tree.

But the real magic has to be the candlelit 3 ½-acre front lawn. In these days of digital effects and techno-blinking baubles, it's nice to know that something as simple as a candle in a paper sack can be so classically beautiful. But then again, that's Biltmore--classically beautiful, especially this time of year.

Candlelight Christmas Evenings: November 6-December 31, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina; 1-800-624-1575 or Admission: $38 adults, $29 ages 10-15, $10 ages 3-9 Sunday-Thursday; $43 adults, $32 ages 10-15, $10 ages 3-9 Friday-Saturday. Prices for daytime tours are $36 adults and $27 ages 10-15.

If you plan on attending Candlelight Christmas Evenings at the Biltmore Estate, check out these lodging options.

Biltmore's new inn beckons, and you can't beat the location ($239-$369); 1-800-922-0084. Other choices include The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, which also does the holidays in high form (check out the entries in their gingerbread house contest that are on display); rooms are $209-$369; call 1-800-438-0050. Less expensive choices include the Hampton Inn ($74-$99), 1-800-426-7866, and three Best Westerns ($49-$89), 1-800-937-8376.

"Biltmore by Candlelight" is from the November 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.