Today is Saturday – Father’s Day – and we’ve been warned. The one lane road that goes from the ticket booth to the Biltmore (about 5 miles long) – can take up to 45 minutes – it gets that crowded. So show up early – or else.
So early it will be. We manage to get up, get breakfast, take 2 mile ‘fast walk’, shower, do laundry, and still leave the condo by 9:05. Not bad – our target had been 9:00. So congrats sister team!
Naturally – we are there so early – it’s no problem to do the drive (lovely – a different vista with every snake-like turn of the road – a stream here, a pond there, a bamboo forest here, a hardwood forest there. Ormsted (landscaper of Biltmore, Central Park – and Mount Royal in Montreal) was no fool. This is awesome landscaping. We hazard a guess as to the number of gardeners – naturally – we’re off – it’s actually 55. Which honestly – feels low given the size of the gardens and the year-round nature of their care. Guess they have a tight scheduled. Today the Rose Garden, tomorrow the Azalea, then we mow some lawn.
Our specialized tour today is the Architecture tour – but first we check out the indoor pool, the pictures of the construction (George V knew this was going to be amazing – so he has before and after pictures – hard to believe it was that barren before. Such vision), the kitchen (again), and the laundry rooms. So cool.
For the architecture tour – our lovely hostess starts with a down and dirty history – this is where we learn that Cornelia actually deserted her family when times got tough, leaving her husband and kids (and grand kids) to maintain the house. Then we walk up 250 stairs to the roof – and visit the attic, pat some of the gargoyles, and take pictures of what our hostess refers to as fantasies (and Wikipedia calls ‘grotesques’). The difference? Gargoyles – gargle. When the water goes thru them, they make a noise – hence the name. Fantasies don’t allow the water thru – they are just for fun. Check out the pictures (bit X rated – sorry)
On this tour – it’s not so much what we see as what we hear that is cool. Our hostess shares tons of tidbits – and that makes it really fun.
Lunch today is shared sandwiches from the bakery. I have to say that the food options are outstanding – they really do a good job. Later I learn from my daughter – a graduate of Culinary Institute of America – that lots of the interns come here – and the ability shines thru. They have their ‘food’ act together!
Finally – we are hitting the gardens. And they are spectacular. It’s hard to explain why acres and acres of grounds should be so special – but it’s the variety and the twists and turns that makes this place so cool. You literally never know what will be around the next corner. Could be a stone wall, a fountain, the Italian gardens with their highly structured layout, the huge glassed in Conservatories, the Bass Pond for boating, or the Spring Garden – a riotously joyful explosion of flower and plant. We spend way too long, and way too much money in the garden shop. In my defense – it was probably the best garden shop I’ve ever been in, and finally drag ourselves back to the car. We still plan to visit Ashville!
But before Ashville – we must stop at Antler Hill Village and Winery. This is the home of the Inn at Biltmore – a monster of a ‘Hotel’ that towers above the ‘village’ with it’s collection of shops, an exhibit on the Vanderbilt’s, a maze, a kid’s Land Rover Course (you know you want to drive a midget Land Rover over rock bridges and obstacles don’t you), the farm, the barn, the kitchen garden, and the miniature winery. We’re not impressed with the winery – they don’t even grow their own grapes – but the rest is cute if way over priced. Maybe we’d feel differently if we’d had kids – but the off-key singing of the musician on stage was extremely off-putting.
So now it’s on to Ashville. Cute town, cute shops, great little ‘art’ market, and my favorite – the Mast General Store. Dinner, drive home (avoiding all deer), and bed time. Tomorrow is check out and leave. So much fun, so quickly done.