Christmastime at the Biltmore Estate

4 Jan

Have you ever been to the Biltmore Estate? Or, perhaps more importantly, do you even know what or where it is? Up until a year ago I didn’t. It’s the largest private home in America (owned by the Vanderbilt family) and I had never heard of it. But after a friend visited at Christmastime last year and raved about it, my parents and I decided we had to go.

So a few weeks ago we drove nearly 6 hours to Asheville, North Carolina, to see what all the fuss over a giant house was about. Our first stop was the winery where I sampled too many wines like I knew what I was doing.

biltmore wine tasting

biltmore winery

Then we went to see the aminals! (Yes, that spelling is intentional)

biltmore goat

This goat enjoyed munching on my coat.

goat eat coat

And this one preferred tree branches.

goat eat tree

I was disappointed by the lack of pugs in the farmyard.

petting zoo pug

Once we got our fill of farm animals, we headed over to the house. And here comes the part where I sound like a spoiled world traveler with impossible standards: I thought this was the back or the side of the house. In fact, I was so convinced that it was that I actually asked an employee how I could get to the front of the house. She simply pointed back the way I came.

biltmore winter

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was photos like these online that gave me unrealistic expectations:

biltmore christmas night

biltmore-estate-christmas-schedule

…but the outside of the house did not blow me away like I thought it would. It was no Versailles or Schönbrunn Palace.

versailles

Schönbrunn Palace

However, the lions were in a festive spirit, so I had to be too.

biltmore lion

And once we got inside the house (where no photos are allowed), I took back everything I said about not being impressed. The entire house was impeccably decorated for Christmas, with hundreds of trees throughout and even carolers. This house built in 1895 had an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley! The inside tour was way more impressive and extensive than any European palace tour I’ve done. The Vanderbilts sure knew how to live!

After our evening candlelight tour we had dinner next door at the Stable Cafe, where we dined inside an old stable stall. The food was amazing, as was the ambiance.

biltmore stable restaurant

And then we got to see the house at night with the tree all lit up. For some expectation vs. reality, compare the photo I took below to the professional ones above.

biltmore christmas night

The next day we headed over to the Grove Park Inn to see the winners of the 22nd Annual National Gingerbread House Competition. The hotel was amazing and had a very impressive fireplace.

grove park inn fire place

The gingerbread houses were also amazing, even if they went by a very liberal definition of both “gingerbread” and “house.”

grove park inn gingerbread

gingerbread grove park inn

grove park gingerbread

I couldn’t believe these chipmunks (and the one to the left on them) didn’t win anything!

gingerbread contest

This was the grand prize winner, a gingerbread chessboard called Pawn Stars.

grove park inn gingerbread winner

Then we went back over to the house again since the weather was better. We walked through the gardens, which I’m sure are a lot more impressive in the spring than in December.

biltmore gardens winter

biltmore gardens

biltmore blue sky sunny

biltmore sunny

Overall we had a great time. The Biltmore Estate is in no way unimpressive, I just went in with impossible expectations. The inside of the house definitely blew me away. A part of me is bummed they didn’t allow photos, but on the other hand it forced me to be present and soak everything in instead of worrying about what angles to capture and how to maneuver around everyone else with their cameras out. I would definitely recommend The Biltmore Estate at Christmastime, or during the spring when all the flowers are blooming. I just hope you get warmer weather than we did — when we went the second week of December it was colder in North Carolina than Kentucky! We were told that was a fluke, of course.

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