I blame my sister Karen and her friend Donna Booshay (blogs at Quiet Life www.booshay.blogspot.com) for getting me hooked on watching the British TV drama on PBS, Downton Abbey. I caught up watching episodes on Netflix, hulu and pbs.org. They say the TV drama is addictive and I agree.
Watching the show, I feel like I’ve been in the estate featured on the show. Because over the holidays, we visited Asheville, NC and toured the Biltmore Estate. Before I knew anything about Downton Abbey, I learned about how the Vanderbilt family and their servants lived in the Biltmore Estate back in the early 1900’s. The Biltmore took six years to build and was America’s largest home to George Vanderbilt. He married Edith and had one daughter Cornelia that was raised in the home.
Photo Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
We visited the Biltmore on a spur of the moment “what do you want to do today” weekend in December, and it was Tom’s suggestion (bravo, well done!) We poked around downtown Asheville on Saturday (another story for another day, great city,) stayed overnight then visited the Biltmore on Sunday with a 10 a.m. reservation.
It’s quite a production. We purchased tickets for the four of us at the hotel and popped for the extra $10 audio tour. Driving into the estate includes miles of roads, and you end up parking and taking a bus to the actual estate. The grounds sprawl over 8,000 acres and over the years they have expanded the property to include a wine village, shopping center, garden shops, antique car museum and more. Bill Cecil is the great grandson of George and is president of the family run business. We had exactly 4 hours to see what we needed to see before we had to hit the road to be back in Knoxville (2 hour gorgeous mountain drive) for must see football games. Just enough time to complete the home tour and do a little wine tasting and exploring. I must go back.
The estate is magnificent. And I appreciate it so much more now that I’ve watched Downton Abbey. May I say Biltmore is much grander than Downton Abbey; it must have something to do with the size of the Vanderbilt fortune. From the Biltmore website (www.biltmore.com):
“The celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France. It would feature 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The basement alone would house a swimming pool, gymnasium and changing rooms, bowling alley, servants’ quarters, kitchens, and more.”
The headset tour had you wear a little audio device around your neck and the accompanying brochure had corresponding numbers to enter for each room, to hear the history of the space and stories of the family’s life at the Biltmore. What a treat! It was a busy December weekend, so we followed a snaking line of tourists from room to room, but that was fine. I had my chance in each room to step up to the cordon line and punch in the code to listen to stories from the early 1900’s, like in the master bedrooms, his and hers.
I observed the gorgeous home décor in each space, the colors, the textures, and yes, it was over the top but fabulous.
They would have loved having me as a guest I imagined, meeting in the gathering spaces for a before dinner drink, then retiring back to the library for an after dinner drink. Oh, I could only imagine.
Tom and the boys were sports and seemed to enjoy the tour, though they moved a little quicker than me. I really enjoyed seeing the servant quarters, which were also quite lovely, but very simple.
We wrapped up our visit by checking out the Antler Hill Village and Winery for some wine tasting. We’re not big winos (like so many readers of this blog) but are wise enough not to pass up a free drink.
While the boys explored the large wine and food shop with samples of cheese, ciders and snacks, Tom and I waited in a short line to begin wine tasting. Very nice, efficiently laid out form with various wines you could sample and make notes of. We enjoyed a few varieties and then were on our way. Last stop was a beautiful fishing hole on the property, of course we had to stop and take a look.
I’m looking forward to returning for another visit to the Biltmore Estate. I imagine they are doing a bang up business with the popularity of Downton Abbey here in the states. I expect Biltmore’s marketing department is working on tie-in promotions and exclusive rights to the Biltmore – Downton connection. I can see busloads (and plane loads) of Downton fans traveling to Asheville for their very own royal experience. My enterprising mind is running wild now. Certainly all of my Knoxville guests will be encouraged to consider a Biltmore visit and a trip to Asheville. You know I’ll join you!
p.s. after writing this, I found this link on Biltmore website with connection to Downton Abbey…off to read it now….http://www.biltmore.com/media/news-release.asp?id=127