The weather has been very wet lately, and the forecast was unsettled and changing by the hour. It generally included rain, though! I was kind of unsettled myself, deciding whether or not to spend the money on a half-day visit to a place I’d wanted to see for years.
A very European place…
…only, set in the Blue Ridge mountains of the Appalachians.
Since it’s only two hours away, I figured it was time to seize the day and finally visit the Biltmore House and gardens!
Although she was happy just to spend the day with me, Miss Chef wasn’t nearly as excited as I was about the place. She’s not into standing around in someone else’s house staring at their furniture and drapery. However, as we got our first dramatic glimpse of the mansion, she did exclaim it was a lot more spectacular than she’d expected.
The inside didn’t excite her interest nearly as much. I think she was still gun-shy from our overcrowded experience at Versailles last summer. I, however, enjoyed seeing the luxurious surroundings and imagining the Victorian lifestyle led by the residents and their guests.
Unfortunately for you, there is no photography allowed inside. I did sneak this shot through a window on the fourth floor, looking toward the front.
If I weren’t being sneaky, I might have tried to adjust the settings to wash out the screen. Oh well. At least I didn’t get tossed
We saw a great deal of the house, though I’m sure it’s only a small percentage of the whole place. We visited some of the manly areas: the billiard room, gun room and top-floor observatory. (No telescope or anything; we didn’t get the audio tour, so I’m not sure why it’s got that name.) I enjoyed seeing the grand banquet hall, with a seven-story arched wooden ceiling, triple stone fireplace, pipe organ and seating for 38 at one table.
We went through the bedrooms of Mister and Missus, as well as the ridiculously huge room where they had breakfast and planned their day with the help of the housekeeper and butler. There were several areas for entertainment, and a wonderful library with an enormous 18th-century painting “saved” from a crumbling palace in Venice. There were servant quarters, guest rooms, a bowling alley and a 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool! I can’t imagine living in this kind of luxury and splendor. How odd to be cut off from the realities of making a living and washing one’s own underwear.
Of course, the gardens were as much a draw to me as the house, and even more so for Miss Chef, who was tired at looking at other people’s dishes and changing rooms. So the rest of this post is pretty much pictures of plants. As you can tell, the light wasn’t the best, so I’ve punched up the brightness on some of these, and the color on others. Most of them are unretouched, though. (Oh, and some are by Miss Chef; we were trading the camera back and forth.)
Our first stop was the rather plain terrace off the library…unadorned, but sheltered by an arbor twined with ancient-looking wisteria. This was the largest of the trunks. The picture at the top of this post was taken looking 180-degrees from this one. This one is a bit to the left of that view.
Yeah, the Loire valley is pretty too, but them castles ain’t got no mountains to look at!
Next we wandered down toward the formal walled gardens. There were some bright forsythias and early-blooming azaleas, but it wasn’t exactly a riot of color. (It wasn’t as cold as this picture makes it look, either!)
You had to get up close to feel surrounded by spring color.
Ah, but as we descended the staircase…
…we could glimpse that our timing was just right for the tulips!
…lots and lots of tulips! Looks like this area’s about two weeks behind our schedule in the foothills.
Although the weather wasn’t perfectly gorgeous, it was still a good day for this:
On we went. Miss Chef liked these crazy-looking tulips. They remind me of Little Shop of Horrors (in a good way).
I loved this view of the wall at the top of the gardens, though we had to wait forever to snap this without cars in it. We later learned ourselves that every car coming into the estate is sent through this gate and along the perimeter of these gardens. Once again, we lucked out with the crappy weather. I’m sure there’s no chance in Hades of getting a car-free shot here on a nice spring day!
Next up was a quick stroll through the greenhouses…the many, many greenhouses! Oh, sorry…conservatory. Doesn’t the exterior look just the epitome of Victorian style?
You can only imagine how much time we could have spent here if we hadn’t been a bit disciplined about keeping moving! Once again, what a pleasure to have the freedom to see it all without the crowds.
Next up was a a peek into the azalea garden—15 acres in all, but we only had time to stick our noses in for a quick visit.
As it turned out, we were a bit early for the azaleas…
…but not for the dogwoods and redbud trees.
This Japanese maple was putting on its own show.
Speaking of attention-getting trees…as we came back out the way we came in, I was awed by these two guardians at the top of the stairs.
Can you imagine all those bushes on either side full of blooms??
As we wended our way back toward the way out, we had a few lovely glimpses of the house again.
I stopped to admire a cool little fountain fixture under an arbor. I thought you’d like to see me, since I rarely post pictures of myself here!
As you drive out, you’re directed through the pastoral section of the estate, acres and acres of tree-dotted grassland, river bottom and pasture. I just had to pull over to say hello to this handsome devil.
He was friendly enough to flutter his nostrils at us, but wasn’t about to stop munching that tender new grass.
There is also a well-known winery on the grounds, and a reconstructed “farm village” area I’d love to visit, but it was getting late and we had reservations for dinner. Miss Chef and I decided that we did want to come back to see the rest of the estate, so we stopped long enough to upgrade our passes to 12-month passes. Oh my! I’m a season passholder at Biltmore! I never expected that. This place is expensive, but it was cheaper to pay for the upgrade than to pay for another admission. So…wondering if Miss Chef might be willing to come again in a couple of weeks for azalea season? And then there’s always our traditional fall mountain getaway…we might have to get very familiar with Interstate 40 this year!
I’ll have to write another—much briefer—post about our dinner, but for now the sun has come out and I have my own estate to attend to.