In the spring I had the opportunity to visit an American castle! It is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville North Carolina.
It is built on over 8,000 acres with commanding views of the Blue Ridge mountains which the estate is nestled in. Built by George Vanderbilt, construction started in 1889 taking six years to complete.
The house itself has over four acres of floor space with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces!
As you approach the main gates, the entrance appears to be very unassuming, directly off the main drag in downtown Asheville. Almost narrow it seems as you drive through those first gates, the speed limit is slow and the driveway winds it's way up to what you would at first believe to be the main gate, it's not, here you pick up or purchase your tickets (you can pre purchase online) after parking in a rather large parking lot!
Once you have your tickets in your hot little hands, back into your vehicle you go to be directed to one of the several main parking lots where you will then catch a shuttle to the main house and gardens.
When we first saw the Biltmore..Wow! It truly is an American castle...the 250 room French Renaissance chateau is massive! Lot's of neat details on the outside of the building, like funky gargoyles all different styles, turtles for downspouts, exceptional masonry work, and beautiful gardens leading up to the impressive front entrance way.
We arrived on Good Friday and the crowds were outrageous! This however was not going to deter us or take away from our experience.
You don't have free reign to wander about the place and do your own thing willy nilly. I estimate you see maybe a third of the actual house on the set tour route you are required to follow. It is still owned and run by the Vanderbilt family and it's not hard to believe that some members of the family may reside there. The place is so big you would never run into them unless they wanted to be found!
Beautiful artwork by such painters at Renoir and Sargent adorn the walls along side 16th century tapestries. The Library holds over 10,000 books, there is an indoor bowling alley, and upon entering the first stop is the marble atrium with it's huge skylight and intricate floor pattern.
No indoor photos are allowed and as you make your way through the house there are several, shall we call them "guides" to make sure you are not breaking the rules.
Another drawing card for me was that the costumes from the acclaimed show, Downton Abbey, were on display. They totally fit in with the ambiance of the place and the whole "upstairs downstairs" feeling. You get to see how both halves lived, upstairs is luxurious, with no expense spared on the needs or wants of the upper class and downstairs, the servants area,was were equipped with the latest and greatest inventions of the time to make their work more efficient and a I hope easier! Their quarters as you expect are very small and unadorned.
Outside there are gardens upon gardens all set out in geogmetric patterns, 75 acres of formal gardens. The greenhouse is full to the brim with every variety of plant you could think of or it seemed to me. The trial around these gardens is 2.5 miles long!
There is so much more, a winery, a horse farm, a shop, 3 different inns you can stay at...for a price! We didn't see it all, you need more than one day if nothing more than to give your feet and legs a break!
If you are in the area I say go! Buy your tickets ahead of time online and print them yourself, the more in advance you buy them the cheaper they are and you won't have to make that first stop(as we did) but will be directed to parking and shuttle.
Dress for comfort, bring your camera for outdoor photos and I don't think you will disappointed.