How could I not begin with Asheville's most recognizable landmark? I originally snubbed the idea of visiting the Biltmore estate, considering it just another impressive mansion, but discovered more attractions and activities to enjoy than just the structure. The Biltmore estate, which you might recognize from movies such as Hannibal, Forrest Gump and Patch Adams, just to name a few, was originally built for George Washington Vanderbilt II to serve as a working estate and summer home. It also features a winery, a four star inn, beautiful gardens and numerous biking trails.
The admission isn't cheap ($45 a person), but if you purchase your ticket after 3pm, you get to use your ticket again for the entire next day. We toured the winery, tasted several wines, and returned the next day for a full day of biking and strolling the grounds. We purchased a couple bottles of wine after the excitement of the tasting, but soon after found the same bottles at a gas station a mile away for a couple dollars less.
The house is surrounded by gorgeous gardens and I would allow a couple hours for walking. These water gardens were located right beside the front lawn.
These lily pads were huge!
Take a shaded path past the water gardens to the greenhouse, where you'll find all sorts of plants, including a special room devoted to my favorite - succulents, many of which I've never before seen.
There seems to be a trend for LARGE leaves.
As I said before, we devoted a whole day to biking. One can either rent a bike or pay $5 to ride one's own. We had to check in with the outdoor center to get our biker's day pass and found the guides very helpful in explaining the trail map and suggesting the perfect trails for our level. A helmet is required and the center will loan you one for free, but we picked some up at a nearby Kmart for 15 bucks each. Bobby is not keen on wearing borrowed items.
The first trail leading from the outdoor center is paved and ideal for any experience level. It passed the little barn yard and wound through a field of sunflowers to the reflection pond. When the water is completely still, a perfect mirror image of the house appears.
A woman in the parking lot saw us unloading our bikes and offered us her remaining bag of bread to feed the geese. Upon seeing the bright yellow bag, the geese immediately crossed the pond and became our newfound best friends.
After the reflection pond, the paved trail turns to gravel and is recommended for the more experienced bikers. A bit more comfortable with riding on our flat terrain, I ended up having to walk my bike up some of the steeper trails. It was much more fun coming down, though slightly terrifying at the same time.
The trail we took wove through the hills and ended at the house. Soaked in sweat, we joined the hordes of people filing into the house for a quick tour. It's definitely worth going inside to see the two-story library, John Singer Sargent portraits, indoor pool and bowling alley, and the beautiful array of priceless antiques. Did I mention this house has 43 bathrooms - this was built in a time when outhouses were the norm and one bathroom was considered a luxury.
Unfortunately, I have no interior pictures to share as photography is forbidden once inside.
After the house tour, we hopped back on our bikes and wound our way back to the barnyard area where we parked the car. Riding through the landscape gave me the feeling of the Italian countryside with the golden fields and silhouette of mountains in the distance.
I made another new friend.
To sum up, a steep admission charge and a popular tourist destination (1,000,000 visitors annually), but totally worth the visit. I wouldn't visit Asheville without devoting at least a day to this spectacular estate.
Next up: Downtown Asheville