As I write this post we are in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Myrtle Beach, not Asheville, North Carolina which is where we’re supposed to be, where it’s about 36 degrees and where the rain has been falling in torrential buckets for the better part of the day. We spent over two hours this morning in a nearby coffee house nursing cups of hot steamy goodness while watching the downpour. Now back in our hotel room, we are basically here in Myrtle Beach to wait out the storm.
Headed South to Asheville
With the forecast of a Nor’ Easter looming on the horizon, we packed the car and headed south straight to Asheville, North Carolina. And, although we started our southern loop road trip with a planned 4-day stay in Asheville, we lasted just 2 days. Asheville, was seemingly right in the path of that Nor’ Easter. With a 24-hour break in the storm we got out of
Dodge Asheville while the gettin was good and drove as far east as we could. And here we are, at the beach.
Off Season Travel
It’s always a tricky thing traveling off season, i.e. the dead of winter. Abi speculated that perhaps this will be the last time we travel in the winter, but I reminded him it was his idea to spend 3 weeks in Paris in 2013 – in January – and what a fabulous time we had. One of the upsides of off-season travel is rarely having to deal with crowds. While in Paris we walked right in to The Palace of Versailles, and we did the same in Asheville, we walked right in to The Biltmore House.
The Biltmore Estate
If you’re like me, you know the name Vanderbilt but not much more. Most likely, you know the name because of the designer, Gloria Vanderbilt, and her son, Anderson Cooper. And maybe you’ve heard the name associated with Vanderbilt University and/or The Biltmore Estate. Or, if you’re a history geek like me, you may know a little of the family history but not enough to hold up your end of the conversation at an academic cocktail party.
One of the greatest gifts of travel is the opportunity to walk in the path of those who came before us. If we don’t learn from history, we can’t move forward. It’s that simple. At least in my mind. And, it’s one of my most favorite aspects of travel. Walking in the path of George Washington Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith, was impressive to say the least. They were – in their day – the essence of American royalty in the 19th century gilded age.
The Biltmore Estate hosted our tour of the grand home and it was as if we took a walk through time. The house tour is 90-minutes at a minimum and a stroll through the gardens, at a nice leisurely pace, or a good long hike along the many trails could last as long as you’d like. Of course, if like us, you’re visiting in the path of a Nor’ Easter, strolling in the garden is not really high on the list. Although, a peaceful snowfall was certainly pretty to witness.
It’s a bit of a bummer, but the Biltmore House does not allow photography inside the house, but at the same time it was not a bad thing because it allowed us to just absorb the grandeur of the house without worrying about someone walking in to our shot or getting just the right light and angle.
Behind the Scenes
I’m someone who usually wants to see what’s behind the scenes on a tour. When we visited Versailles, I really (really) wanted to tour the kitchens, the nurseries, the servants’ quarters, etc., but of course those were not on the tour route. So, while Versailles was all kinds of fabulous, I left wanting just a bit more. I thought I would feel the same about touring The Biltmore House, but happily, the 90-minute audio guided tour totally satisfied me.
While touring the main floor with its massive banquet hall and sitting areas, it’s not hard to imagine the welcoming grandeur guests of George and Edith must have experienced. Exploring the 2nd and 3rd floors, visitors tour several of the guest bedrooms, the bathrooms, the music room and the family’s private sitting room which connected George and Edith’s bedrooms.
Then it’s down to the basement where I swear a small city of servants must have lived and worked. It was fascinating to tour the kitchens and the pantries. Just outside of the kitchen and down the hallway there is a cluster of servants’ quarters and in the other direction, a gym and an indoor swimming pool. Oh, and a 2-lane bowling alley. They had it all! These are the rooms I’m always keenly interested to view and the tour did not disappoint.
The Vanderbilt Family
What’s especially fascinating about The Biltmore House is that it has remained in the Vanderbilt family throughout its 100+ years. Most of the furnishings and objects of art are original to the home. George’s library holds 10,000 volumes and the tapestries throughout are incredible. There is nothing left to the imagination because it’s all there.
What was once a grand home, is now a grand museum offering visitors a walk through time.
This is a tour I’d really like to take, especially the grounds designed by an ancestor of mine. It’s hit or miss when traveling during winter, unless we head to summer and I’m all for that.
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Your ancestor?! Do tell, inquiring minds want to know! 😉
I hope the weather is improving for and gets better going south. I’m sorry it didn’t allow you to see more of Asheville.
Biltmore is impressive but also funny, being mishmash of all George found most admirable in castle or chateau. But he was an enlightened conservator of his land, ahead of his time in that. And today, everyone who who works on the estate is a shareholder. We really admired the cornus “Midwinter Fire” that lit up the whole left side of the December upper garden above the conservatory.
Biltmore was incredible – such a beautiful mansion with an eclectic sense of home. That’s an interesting note about the employees as shareholders, thanks for sharing that tidbit.
I love touring old homes from homesteaders’ cabins built in was once the American wilderness, to the historic homes of the Founding Fathers in my hometown of Philadelphia, to grand estates like Vizcaya in Miami, Winterthur (home of the Duponts) in Delaware and Hearst Castle on the Central Coast of California. (The opportunities to do so in Europe are endless as you know). The Blizzard of 2016 actually turned out to be kind of fun and beautiful helped by the fact that it happened on a Saturday and that this week, daytime temperatures are mostly over freezing. (Lots of dirty slush in the city, but streets and sidewalks are passable.) I hope you will be able to drive up to your house.
Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…Zentangle Diva Challenge #252 – Blizzard of 2016 Edition
One of the reasons I love touring old homes is learning not only about the historical significance of the house, but also about the family (families). It’s fascinating to me.
Fabulous – and I always love those old libraries with the books piled so high that you need a ladder to reach them. Funny thing is that I worked at a public library when I was a teenager and many of the customers were eccentric old men who hadn’t washed for days and who would at times shatter the silence of the library with crazy laughter when reading something funny in a book. I’m sure the Vanderbilts never had to worry about that though 🙂
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That’s a great memory, Frank! And, I think you’re probably right, I think those who visited The Biltmore House were too refined to burst out in laughter, maybe a little twitter or chortle. 😉 The books in the library were so pristine, I just wanted to reach out and handle just one book!
Being British,I have to admit I’d never heard of the Biltmore House and Estate, but it does look like something out of 19th century Europe. It looks amazing and I will have to pay this a visit if I get the chance to visit the area. How nice to see some history in an otherwise modern country.
We are probably two of a handful of people who have never seen Downton Abby but we overheard people comparing the house tour to the show. It is an extraordinary house, hopefully, one day you’ll visit.
Gorgeous place. It’s always been on my list. The architecture is stunning. I love travelling in off season as one avoids the crowds, like you did. As for the rain….that’s too bad, but at least you were indoors!
The Biltmore House had been on my list for a number of years as well, since seeing an A&E documentary about America’s castles. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself in Asheville touring the house one day.
We so enjoyed our day at the Biltmore House and Estate. Like you, we were most fascinated by “downstairs” – the kitchens, larders, cold rooms, and then at the end of the corridor, the indoor pool and locker rooms! What an incredible setup for house parties and recreation! Even though it is such a grand residence, I found it quite intimate in many places: the smoking room, their bedrooms, and the wisteria arbor overlooking the gardens beyond. Did you get to the pub named after their dog? 🙂
Yes, Betsy, the downstairs was fascinating. We got a kick out of the walk-in refrigerators, they were way ahead of their time. We did see the pub, Cedric, but didn’t go in. Instead, we had a late lunch at the Stables Cafe, which was fun. How often can you ask for a table in a horse stall?!
Sorry you ran into a bout of bad weather. The Biltmore House looks so lovely especially without any crowds.
Well, I suppose we can’t complain about the weather too much since our house in Maryland is covered under 3 feet of snow!
The library was to die for. The books were in such pristine condition it almost looks as if they’re not real. Lots of nooks and crannies and secret hallways, too much fun.
George and Edith had a very nice pad indeed, I love having a nose around old historic houses and like you seeing the actual living quarters and more private areas adds a new dimension to the visit. I am glad you managed to scape the “snowmagedon” that was heading your way and head South. Travelling in the winter season can have many advantages, like when we visited Florence in February and had it all to ourselves, no queuing at all, total bliss. Enjoy your road trip
Gilda Baxter recently posted…Iceland – Adding Up the Cost of Our Road Trip
It’s true, Gilda, not having to fight the crowds while traveling and/or touring just makes the experience that much better. Sometimes, you can deal with crowds, but when you’re on a house tour – for example – not having to be 1 out of 30 trying to hear the guide goes a long way!