Chattanoogan.com photographer Dennis Norwood and his wife, Gail, recently took a trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. While there, they toured the conservatory and house, itself, as well as taking the extremely enchanting candlelight tour of the house and enjoying a delicious and romantic anniversary dinner at the estate's Deerpark Inn.
Christmas-time is a truly magical time at the estate.
The staff decorates the house, built from 1889-1895, to resemble the first Christmas the Vanderbilt family spent in their country home the year it was finished. Decorations include 55 fully decorated trees, including the traditional 35-foot Fraser fir in the banquet room.
That tree alone has 500 lights, 500 ornaments and 500 gift boxes. In addition to the trees inside the house, there are 58 additional trees in other areas around the estate. Inside the house there are 30,000 lights and 150 candles with a total of 130,000 LED lights on the entire estate.
There are over 22,000 ornaments on the Biltmore Christmas trees and at night 300 luminaries line the driveway up to the house.
The Candlelight Tour in the evening gives an entirely different perspective of the house and is seen as it might have been when the Vanderbilt family first enjoyed the holiday after its construction. The house is lit by candles and the lights on the trees with fires flickering in many of the fireplaces. Music by a talented choral group adds to the festive nature of the house.
During the day you will hear renderings by a computer-controlled 1916 Skinner pipe organ, located in the massive banquet hall. This instrument was donated to the estate in 1998 by a private individual. When the house was built Mr. Vanderbilt did have a pipe organ installed, which he later donated to All Souls Church, which he built in the village just outside the estate's gates.
George Biltmore *1862-1914) first visited Asheville in 1888 and the following year construction was begun on the palatial estate. The house contains 35 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces and 43 bathrooms, none of which are open to the public our guide laughingly informed us.
The family, who still owns the estate, first opened it to the public in 1930 in an effort to bolster the estate's financial position and at the behest of the City of Asheville, which hoped to help its tourist draw. In 1942 a train load of paintings an sculptures was moved to the state from the national Gallery to protect them from any attacks on the nation's capitol.
There are a variety of events throughout the year, notably highlighted by the changing gardens and Conservatory, home to some of the most beautiful flowers and plants in the region.
Throughout the warmer months several nighttime concerts are hosted on the grounds beside the house.
The estate has also been a location for at least 15 movies, including Being There, The Swan, Last of the Mohicans, Richie Rich, Hannibal, A Breed Apart, Mr. Destiny and Forrest Gump.
If you visit, there are several dining options on the Estate itself, from the elegant dining room at the Inn to several cafes and the extremely delicious buffet at the Deerpark Inn. The Stable Café is a recommend lunch location.While staying at one of the three options on Biltmore can be pricy, there are more than adequate hotels/motels nearby.
Christmas at Biltmore remains open through Jan. 7, and is well worth the short drive to Asheville.
A new exhibit, "Glamour on Board: Fashion From Titanic the Movie," begins Feb. 9, 2018. It will be the first large scale exhibition of costumes from the movie.
For more information, including ticket pricing and purchase, go to www.biltmore.com
Dennis Norwood is a writer/photographer for The Chattanoogan.com; he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
and followed on Twitter at @DennisENorwood.