I’m not what you’d call an upper-crust kind of guy.
I’ve never owned a whole suit and prefer tennis shoes for all situations. I briefly studied international business in college but couldn’t stay awake in class and had to run with my tail between my legs back to the liberal arts.
It’s OK. I come to my place in society naturally.
My family is filled with successful, intelligent and thoughtful people, some of whom have done quite well. But we are, at heart, members of the hoi polloi.
We are proud to come from farmers and laborers, although if you climb far enough back in my Papaw’s family tree you’ll find George Washington’s grandfather, the bad guy from “Braveheart,” Pepin the Short, Charlemagne and St. Arnulf, the patron saint of beer.
We are, however, long since removed from any royal pretensions.
The few times I’ve tried to make entrée into the more structured world of the elite, I didn’t like it.
But what I do like? I like the trappings.
The grand churches and magnificent grounds. And the art and the literature and the vast libraries with winding staircases and hidden rooms. I love the tapestries and giant fireplaces and everything that came with being insanely wealthy in old Europe or the new world.
In short, I like Biltmore and places like it.
The grandeur appeals to my imagination. It takes me back to the stories of my youth – many of which left the opulent owners of such decadence paying for their hubris, lonely, alone and frequently mortally wounded by karma.
And while I wouldn’t want to live in that world, I like to visit it, maybe even imagine myself in it.
What can you do at Biltmore?
Biltmore – a massive mansion built in the 1890s as a summer home for a ridiculously wealthy member of the Vanderbilt family, George Vanderbilt – is the gilded age mansion of my dreams.
The grounds are a massive garden, the American version of Versailles. The house is 178,926 square feet of Downton Abbey relocated to mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
Each room is elegant and opulent and filled with American history.
It’s a man-made paradise, both inside and out.
I really lack the vocabulary to describe it. It’s magnificent, like the Titanic but on land.
It’s a tribute to exceptionalism and the power of money.
However, it can also be a bit depressing when considering how one family possessed so much wealth in a time when so many Americans lived in crushing poverty. But, honestly, it’s best not to think of all that whilst on tour.
Biltmore is far more than the house and grounds. It is essentially its own village with a hotel, an inn and cottages you can rent for overnight stays.
Antler Hill Village features a number of diverting shops and places to eat, like Cedric’s Tavern, as well as the winery.
There’s hiking, craft demonstrations and live music at the bandstand, which ends in October due to the weather. Hiking is included in admission or with a stay at one of the Biltmore Estate’s overnight properties.
There is also a farmyard where kids can see laying hens, lambs, calves, goats and draft horses. The crafts and the farmyard are included with your daytime admission. The live band is also included with admission.
What is the best time to visit Biltmore?
The Biltmore is beautiful all year round, but I especially love it at Christmas.
When the house is decked for the season, it’s transmuted.
You’re no longer a tourist in T-shirt and jeans, schlepping through somebody else’s decadent summer home. You’re in another place, another time. The elegance is enveloping. Even for a schlub like me.
How long does the Biltmore stay decorated for Christmas?
Christmas doesn’t end at Biltmore on December 25. Nah, son. When you’re as rich as the Vanderbilts, you get to choose when Christmas is over.
This season, Christmas at Biltmore begins Nov. 5, 2021 and will end Jan. 9, 2022. Decorations will stay up the entire time.
And plan to stay late. Biltmore and the grounds are beautiful at Christmas time, but at night, with luminaries and lights on 8,000 acres of gardens and grounds, Biltmore is a dream.
Is the Biltmore candlelight tour worth it?
During the holiday season, guests are given two main house tour options, a daytime tour, and a candlelight Christmas evenings tour – each with its own tiered pricing.
At the time of this writing, the Candlelight at Christmas Evenings package comes with three tiers.
For $119 to $139 per person, you get a nighttime tour to the house with an audio guide, access to the grounds either the day before or after your evening visit as well as access to Antler Hill Village and Winery and a wine tasting.
For $144 to $164 per person, you get all that plus entrance to the immersive, multi-sensory exhibition Van Gogh Alive, By Grande Experiences.
I haven’t done this, but would love to do it. Van Gogh Alive promises to “stimulate all the senses and open the mind”. Come to be immersed in the swirling fantasia of “Starry Night” and stay to be captivated by a scratch and sniff version of “The Potato Eaters.”
Finally, the $349 to $369 tier offers an evening visit to Biltmore with an expert-guided, 90-minute small-group tour which will include exclusive Vanderbilt family Christmas stories.
For example, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who later died on the Lusitania, formally asked St. Nicholas for a polo pony in his notarized letter but instead received a common nag after being impudent towards Papa entirely too close to Christmas.
You also receive a daytime audio tour of the house and access to the grounds.
All tiers come with complimentary parking.
But is the candlelight tour worth it? I’d say it depends on you’d budget.
The first two tiers are only about $15 more than the daytime tickets and include everything you’d normally receive during the day plus candles. So yes, if your budget has a bit of wiggle room it might be worth it. But the $350 tier is a bit steep for my taste.
To learn more, visit the Biltmore website.
How long does the Biltmore candlelight tour take?
The self-guided Biltmore candlelight audio tours are a 40-minute experience. The expert-guided tour lasts about 90 minutes.
In either case, you will want to set aside at least two hours for the entire Biltmore experience as there is a lot to see and do outside the tour itself.
What do you wear to Biltmore?
Since Biltmore is so opulent, many people feel compelled to dress up a little.
Remember you’re going to be doing a lot of walking and exploring.
Wear clothes that are comfortable but appropriate. You’re not going to be running into any of the Vanderbilts, so you don’t have to impress anybody.
The only place you need to dress up at Biltmore is for The Dining Room at The Inn on Biltmore Estate, where business casual attire, such as collared shirts and slacks, dresses, or blouses with skirts or dress pants are encouraged.
What can you do for free at Biltmore?
You may be wondering since you have to pay to even hike the grounds if there’s anything you can do at Biltmore for free.
The good news is, you have two options for free entertainment.
If you like to window shop, you can visit the gatehouse shop or the Shops at Biltmore, located across from the entrance to the mansion.
The Shops at Biltmore are a series of shops, restaurants and cafes. The village features tree-lined streets, vintage cottages and brick walkways. It’s charming. It’s picturesque. But it ain’t exactly Biltmore.
Also, admittedly, if you lack self-control and end up buying souvenirs from the gatehouse or the Shops at Biltmore, these experiences may become considerably less free rather quickly.
Finally, if you’ve already purchased an admission ticket, you’ll be able to partake in free wine tasting at the Biltmore Winery.
How can you save money on Biltmore?
Biltmore offers a variety of special offers and discounts, including military and senior citizen discounts, which are updated throughout the year on their website.
You may also be able to save a little extra money by booking a tour on a weekday instead of the weekend when pricing is usually a bit cheaper.
Is Christmas at Biltmore worth the money?
I would say Christmas at Biltmore is worth the splurge, especially at the baseline tiers for the daytime ($106) and evening tours ($119).
It is a unique experience that you and your family will be unlikely to forget.
Have you visited Biltmore at Christmas? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
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