Christmas at Biltmore – A Winter Palace

In my last post, I said Asheville NC is the ‘North Pole of the Southeast…’ We started our Asheville Christmas Tour with a bit of history and a delicious meal at The Omni Grove Park Inn – where dreams of gingerbread and hot cider around the crackling fire set the holiday mood.

I met Rudolph and his sleigh just outside the Grove Park Inn and with a little magic dust we’re going back in time to Christmas 1895, where we are invited as guests to the majestic Biltmore Estate to enjoy a delicious meal to celebrate the holiday George Vanderbilt as he debuts his new estate…

Christmas 1895

George Vanderbilt moved into his 175,000 square foot Biltmore ‘castle’ in October 1895, but the house did not officially open to guests until Christmas Eve of that year.

Vanderbilt had been planning this moment for years, putting his blood sweat and tears into turning this castle in the clouds – the smoke of the Blue Ridge, a reality.

Working with famed architect Richard Morris Hunt, Vanderbilt’s vision of a French chateau – a Loire Valley style estate in North Carolina rolling hills, took seven years to complete. While, Biltmore is opulent and towering in size – it’s classical design and beautiful construction is not flashy – it is elegant and has a warmth and old world charm that speaks to the heart of wonder.

Vanderbilt wanted that wonder to illuminate Christmas 1895. He took painstaking effort to ensure the finest hospitality as he debuted his new mansion to friends and family. Perhaps the biggest focus was finding the perfect Christmas tree for the massive 70 foot Banquet Hall. Even a 20 foot tree seemed small compared to the massiveness of the space.

He invited 500 guests (friends, family and staff) to his 1895 Christmas Grand Opening. At the time, George was still a bachelor, so his mother and sister served as gracious hostesses.

The family and guests gathered around the forty-foot Banquet Hall for a sumptuous feast including plum puddings and mine pies. Festive decor and candlelight, with crackling fires warmed the evening as George’s mother read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ to the children s they exchanged gilded and jeweled Christmas cards.

For 126 years, the tradition at Biltmore has continued – welcoming guests into the spirit of Christmas – the lights, hope, decorations and enchantment only America’s Largest Home can provide.

Christmas 1898 – This Christmas, George and his new wife, Edith celebrate their future – building a life of love and gracious hospitality at Biltmore.

Flash forward to 2022:

We might not be able to travel back to 1895, but we can enjoy the wonders of Biltmore’s Christmas traditions with the same joyful spirit of that first toast 126 Christmases ago.

I grew up visiting Asheville several times a year from my hometown of Raleigh, NC – we always tried to make time for a Biltmore visit. Surprisingly I never visited Biltmore at Christmas until 2021.

Check out the post here.

My mom and I instantly fell in love with Christmas at Biltmore – for as many times as I’ve been blessed to have visit America’s Castle, words cannot express the majesty and enchantment of celebrating the holidays at the estate.

Even the meanest Scrooge or heartless Grinch will yield to the spirit of Christmas as they walk the hals and meander the glistening stone corners of the house.

Each year the decorations change, providing a unique and new Christmas experience for returning guests, without compromising the charm and timeless character of Christmas traditions at Biltmore.

In addition to the boughs of holly and illuminated trees decorating the main house, you can also enjoy delicious food and spirits at one of the several restaurants on site. The Biltmore Winery and Wine Tasting is a must stop for wine lovers. Don’t forget a ginger bread cookie and hot cocoa…

My adventure:

I chose to visit earlier in the season to avoid the larger crowds. No matter when you visit, Biltmore rolls the red carpet out for guests.

Upon entering the estate, you will drive down an ambling river road, surrounded by farmland to the parking areas.

The gardens and surrounding environs were planned by Frederick Law Olmstead. Considered ‘The Father of American Landscape Architecture,’ Olmstead is known for designing New York Central Park, but his personal crowning achievement was Biltmore.

In 2022, Biltmore is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Olmstead’s birth (April, 26/1822) – including this year’s Christmas theme – Winter Landscapes, which is bringing the outside inspirations of a winter forest into the estate’s Christmas decor.

From the parking lot, a shuttle picks up passengers and drops them off at the resort. My driver was AMAZING – his sense of humor and knowledge about Biltmore’s history.

“This year, you’ll see 67 Christmas trees in Biltmore house and additional 45 trees spread throughout the property. The tree in the banquet hall is over thirty-five feet tall and takes dozens of workers coming together to get the tree set up in the historic home.” To learn more about the behind the scenes I recommend this article from another great travel blog, Romantic Asheville.

Once you arrive at the house, be blow away be the grandeur and massive scale of the home. Take a few minutes to just gaze into the heart of the castle and let it soak in. Each time I return I find additional details in the architecture from unique ironwork to stone statues.

Quick tip: Use the restroom before you start the house tour – even though Biltmore House has forty-three bathrooms – NONE are in working order. There is a nice restroom area near the entrance – just follow the signs.

When visiting Biltmore you are given a timed entry for the house tour, but can visit the grounds all day. The timed entry helps manage crowds and ensure you have time to really engage in the interior of the home.

I arrived at 10 a.m. for my house tour…each visit I re-listen to the audio tour, which is updated by season and any decor changes (usually do to exhibits or trading in a new painting or piece from their collection).

The tour highlights a behind the scenes look of life at the estate, from the grand Banquet Hall that emulates a European Castle’s Great Hall (i.e. Hampton Court in England or Bavarian Hall)…to private quarters, guest rooms and the quarters and life of estate workers.

My favorite room is the library with a thousands of books that I would love to read tucked in a corner of the estate looking towards The Blue Ridge.

The Vanderbilts were extensive art collectors from Rembrandt sketches to Renoir and Monet…Biltmore also is home to numerous John Singer Sargent’s – who was the official portrait painter of Biltmore. Here are a few art highlights from Monet to Renoir

Biltmore has 250 rooms, a swimming pool, bowling alley, kitchens – all decorated with trees, presents ornaments, silver garland and frosted icicles – each tree has hundreds of ornaments and so much detail – you could tour again and again and still not catch all the details.

One of my favorite parts of my 2022 house tour was a new exhibit: Building Biltmore House – in the Halloween Room. Click here to learn more.

This exhibit tells the stories of the hundreds of workers who built Biltmore and worked at the estate. The Vanderbilt’s treated their employees as an extended family. Every Christmas they’d spent the day treating their staff to a delicious meal. Mrs. Vanderbilt (Edith) made sure every child of staff members got a personalized gift.

Speaking of Edith Dresser Vanderbilt – she was an amazing woman – who didn’t fall into the trap of snobbery. He was an agriculture pioneer and helped ensured education of those in poverty. This article tells about Edith.

After touring the house I enjoyed a delicious meal at The Stable Cafe…housed in the former stables, this is one of my favorite spots at Biltmore. The majority of food is raised on the estate or is locally sourced. They have the best pulled pork sandwich (with Gluten Free bun) in western NC. And the maple creme brule speaks for itself.

The stable houses are home to a mix of eclectic and fun shops – from The Candy Shop to Christmas Shop and more.

It was just under forty degrees, and blustery so I decided to bypass the winter gardens and move to the Antler Hill Village and Winery.

Antler Hill includes a hotel, several restaurants, Biltmore Creamery Shop and gift shops…

The highlight is the winery…Biltmore began experimenting in winemaking during the 1970s and today Biltmore produces a wide variety of amazing wines.

Enjoy a free taste testing of five wines of your choice…from sweet and crisp whites to earthy and succulent reds – Biltmore has it.

If you are more in the mood for sugar, the Biltmore Coffee and Ice Cream Shop is a must stop.

This spot has sentimental memories for me…every year growing up, my dad would take me to Asheville in the fall and we’d eat at the now closed Biltmore Creamery Restaurant. The Biltmore Ice Cream excursion was the highlight of my year.

And although the Biltmore Creamery is gone – you can still indulge in the sweet goodness of Biltmore Ice Cream on the estate.

I hope this visit to Biltmore lifts your spirits and keeps your season bright.

Interested to learn more about the behind the scenes magic that brings Christmas at Biltmore to life – check out their YouTube page.

To book your own Biltmore adventure, start here.

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