I barely slept at all our first night in Asheville – I was so excited to be on vacation for the first time in four years!
As soon as we finished breakfast at our hotel, we headed off to visit the Biltmore Mansion, the largest privately owned home in the United States. George and Edith Vanderbilt built the Biltmore Estate in the late 1800’s on a beautiful 8,000-acre piece of land. I can only dream of having that much property! I can’t say I’d want to clean the 135,000 square foot house that comes with it, though. (Although, that two-story library might make it worth it!)
Since we were visiting in the off-season, I was able to get tickets for the three of us for just $60 – that includes a tour of the mansion, the gardens and Conservatory, the farm, the Biltmore Winery, and Antler Hill Village for shopping and restaurants. Pretty good deal, I think.
After driving down an incredibly long, winding driveway, we found a place to park. Coming around the corner, the Biltmore Mansion was even bigger in person than I expected it to be. Featuring a grand total of 255 rooms, I suppose it would have to be fairly decently-sized. (After you park, there is an overlook with a great view of the mansion from above – definitely grab some pictures here before walking down.)
Out of the mansion’s 255 rooms, we probably saw around 25 on the tour. I can’t imagine what purpose you could have for so many rooms, but the ones we did get to see were fascinating. So much opulence and grandeur! Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures inside, so all I have are ones from outside the mansion. The second picture above is the view from one of the house’s many balconies. I would love to wake up to that every morning.
Gardens and Conservatory
After the tour, we were free to wander the grounds as long as we liked. I enjoyed walking through the gardens and exploring the Conservatory as much as the mansion itself. The Vanderbilts wanted the land surrounding their home to have a park-like appearance, and I’d say they succeeded. Walking along the paths winding between trees and beneath vine-covered pergolas, we felt like we were in our own personal paradise.
If we had come a few weeks later, all of the outdoor gardens would have been in bloom, but while we were there, mostly everything was still hibernating. Inside the greenhouse, however, all the plants and flowers were thriving. There were many varieties I’d never seen before, and certainly no flowers I plant ever turn out as pretty as the ones you’ll see in here.
Antler Hill Village
After we toured the mansion and gardens, we had lunch at a little outdoor cafe and then drove over to Antler Hill Village which has quite a lot to offer visitors to the Biltmore Estate.
My personal favorite was the farm with a petting area (I wanted to take that sweet sheep home), but there are also several exhibits to check out including Edith Vanderbilt’s car, pictured above. Besides that, there are a couple places to eat and some crafty souvenir-style shops, but we found the goods inside to be somewhat on the pricey side.
Biltmore Winery Tour
One thing you definitely don’t want to miss at Antler Hill Village is the Biltmore Winery Tour. If it’s not busy, you’ll probably be able to just hop on the next tour available (they run regularly throughout the day), but if it’s peak season, you may need to make a reservation.
We managed to get on a winery tour before we left, but didn’t stay for the tasting as we had other plans for the day and needed to get going. This was my first time taking a tour of a winery and I loved getting to learn about how wine is made and stored. I’ve heard from other sources that the Biltmore wines are excellent, so if we’re ever this way again, we’ll definitely stay for the tasting next time.
After we left the Biltmore, we drove back to downtown Asheville for some shopping. (I wanted some souvenirs from our trip, but not the high-priced ones you’ll find at the tourist spots.) Most of the shops in Asheville close at 5:30, so we didn’t have time our first day to check them out.
One store in particular I’d received recommendations for was the Mast General Store. It’s been around since the 1940’s and carries all sorts of unique gifts and souvenirs. I have an old suitcase that I like to put stickers on from the places we travel to, and I was hoping this place would carry something like that. I didn’t find my sticker, unfortunately, but I did find some cute stuff here for my kitchen.
After doing some more shopping and finally finding my suitcase sticker at one of the boutiques downtown, we had dinner at Ed Boudreaux’s Bayou BBQ. Being a Tennessee girl, I’m pretty particular about my BBQ, but this place was awesome. Before heading back to our hotel, I grabbed a couple pictures of downtown – I love this one of the side of a building. This town is so artistic!
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