Sunday, November 18, 2012

Asheville: Day 2

Day 2 in Asheville was all about the Biltmore Estate. But first, we had our amazing 3-course breakfast to start our day at 9am. Although I thoroughly enjoyed each and every course every day, this was my favorite combination of courses out of all of the breakfasts

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First, we had a cheddar-thyme biscuit with whipped chive butter. The biscuit was out of this world...I want the recipe.

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Then we had baked apples with cinnamon whipped cream. Do I even need to say how good this was? I assure you it was every bit as delicious as it sounds.

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The third and final course was grilled, marinated steak with a Merlot sauce served with roasted potatoes and a sunny side egg. That sauce was to die for. I wanted to lick the plate.

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We had a specialty tour that started at 10am at the Biltmore Estate, so after we'd eaten our breakfast, we drove the 5 minutes (two stoplights) it took to get to the estate entrance. Then, after winding through a few miles of beautiful landscape, we parked our car and hopped on the shuttle. George Vanderbilt designed the position of the estate (along with his architect and landscape designer) to be completely hidden by the trees until you turn the corner and then...there it is in all it's Chateauesque glory. Quite a stunning first impression.

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To give you a context for the house, George Vanderbilt commissioned the house, which took 6 years to construct...between 1889-1895. It is more than 170,000 square feet (!) with 250 rooms. George's inspiration for the house and gardens came from the estates of Europe, specifically the chateaux of the Loire Valley.

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We arrived about 15 minutes before our scheduled tour, so we looked around the outside of the house a bit.

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The first tour we took was the Architect's tour. The architect of the house was Richard Morris Hunt and the tour was excellent. It was an interesting tour to take first (for me...mom had already seen the house) because I learned about the bones and planning of the house before actually seeing much of the inside. Much of the architect's tour takes place outside, although we did get to see some rooms that are not open to the general public.

The best thing about the Architect's tour was that we got to go up on the roof in two different places and a balcony. The views were spectacular. It was really difficult for me to pick which photos to share.

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Yes, we're hilarious...

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Being near the top of the house gave us such a unique perspective on the grounds as well as the detail of the stone work and roof of the house.

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Mom and I are standing on the small balcony where George and his new bride, Edith, stood the evening they returned from their honeymoon in Italy. That was the first time Edith had seen the house. I completely loved hearing about all the history of the house and family.

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That's the outside of the grand staircase...a masterpiece inside and out.

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It was a good thing the sun was shining that day (unlike the day before) because it was still cold up on the roof with the wind.

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The roof is made of individual slate tiles tied to a framework one by one using copper wire. The craftsmanship is unbelievable.

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After the Architect's tour, we had a second tour not long after...the Family and Friends tour. This is a very popular tour because it shows rooms not open to the public and details the stories of people who came to visit the Biltmore Estate....from Edith's sisters to Edith Wharton and more. History really came alive on this tour because the guide read excerpts of letters that were written by the guests that stayed in the very rooms in which we were standing. Not only were these guest rooms restored as closely as possible to their original 1895 state (the year the house was completed), but clothing and other antiques from that era were staged in the room to complete the picture. Needless to say, this all spoke to my love of history and the rooms were fabulous.

However, you will notice the absence of photos of the inside of the house because it was not allowed. Three guesses as to how happy I was about that. Actually, I knew that before we even planned our trip, and it was kind of nice to just walk and listen and not worry about capturing all that we were taking in. There's no way photos could do it justice...but I still wish I had them!

After that tour, we had a couple of hours before our next one (we went on three tours that day...well, four if you count the normal house tour via audio guide). So, we wen to the stables, which are now converted into restrooms, shops and restaurants for visitors to the estate. The original tile, wood ceilings and brick floors still remain in the stables and it is very cool to visualize the original purpose of those buildings behind the modern adornments.

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The stores were so cool...each decked out for Christmas and each with it's own specialty. This was the sweet shoppe, of course...

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And there was an old world Christmas shoppe...

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And a huge general gift shop with a little bit of everything as well as a book store, toy store (where we bought a couple of things!), and several more.

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After spending some time browsing the stores, we ate lunch in the Stable Cafe...which actually used to be the stables.


You can kind of see behind our table the brick and iron dividing walls that make up the stalls where the horses would have been kept. They are booths today.  For lunch we each had soup and split a carved turkey sandwich with bacon butter.
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After lunch, we had one more scheduled tour of the house. On the way back into the house, I snapped a photo of the entrance. I haven't even discussed the fact that the house was decorated for Christmas while we were there. It was gorgeous. In the enormous banquet hall, a huge, live tree sits at one end of the room, decorated to the hilt despite it's height. It was only one of countless trees inside the house...all decorated. Also check out the amazing glass and wood work on that window below...just a small, tiny taste of the character seen throughout the house. The amount of detail on just about everything is insane.

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The last guided tour we took was the Butler's tour. It takes you to rooms that the servants would have used to keep the house running. It was a fascinating tour and my favorite part was the Butler's pantry where all the Vanderbilt china is displayed in gorgeous cabinetry. We also got to see the servant's sewing room where they mended the family's clothes and where the Vanderbilt's trunks are on display. This tour also includes a trip down to the basement and sub-basement to the boiler room. Very interesting. 

After our last and final scheduled tour, it was about 3:30pm. We decided that we had enough energy in us to go on the main tour of the house with an audio guide. So, my very last tour was the one in which I got to finally see the main rooms, bedrooms, kitchen, servants quarters, indoor pool, gym, and the bachelor's wing (plus much more). I think the library and breakfast room are top on my list of favorite rooms. I really enjoyed the audio guide because it wasn't too long, and I really liked hearing about all the interesting facts behind the things I was seeing.

When we made it through the tour, we enjoyed the beautiful light and walked around the outside of the house some more. We knew we'd be coming back the next day (we had 2-day tickets), so we didn't go down to the gardens.

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We also decided to walk up to the Diana statue which sits directly in front of the house beyond the esplanade and up on the hill. The view from there, especially with the afternoon light, was stunning. It would have been more stunning without the cranes putting up the giant Christmas tree on the lawn or the white shuttles that were constantly in front of the house all day. But, beautiful, nonetheless.

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Finally, after the house closed for the day, I was able to get a photo of it without the white shuttles in front. And hardly any people either. Vanderbilt called the Biltmore his "little mountain escape." Quite an impressive "escape," I think.

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After we snapped all the photos we wanted, we headed out on the road to the exit. It's several miles to get out of the grounds and we took our time, stopping in several places to have a closer look at the landscape. I just loved how the water was still enough on this pond to almost perfectly reflect the trees.

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And here's some more of the beautiful color that was still on the trees as we drove out...

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We stopped at one more gift shop at the entrance gate to the estate and then went back to the bed and breakfast to get off our feet for a few minutes. We had reservations that night at Rezaz, which was minutes from the inn at the Biltmore Village. I had the special that night...Mahi Mahi with sweet potatoes, peppers and butternut squash. It was absolutely wonderful. Mom had the seared jumbo gulf shrimp with pesto risotto (yum), kale, and roasted peppers. I tasted it so I can vouch for it as well.

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Of course, we ordered a side of Brussels sprouts with smoked bacon, which did not disappoint.  For dessert I had the chocolate ganache torte, which I did not photograph...probably because I was too busy eating it.

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After dinner, we watched a movie in our room(s) and then went to bed after a long, but awesome day.


4 comments:

Christina said...

How beautiful! And interesting. I need a mom/daughter trip this cool!

Emily said...

So gorgeous!!!

Mary said...

The history sounds amazing!

The T-Shirt Mama said...

I didn't know there was so much to do in Asheville! I so want to go now....I guess I'll have to wait 20 years once the kids are all grown to truly enjoy it!