Thursday, March 29, 2012

Living Like Downton

Imagine a world where you lived in this house.  Dreamy, right?  Downton Abbey?  No.  Maybe even better.

A real American family lived here and my family got to enjoy touring the home while we were on our spring break trip to North Carolina.  I took a picture from this same vantage point but I'm not sure it has the same "quality" about it.  So I scanned the postcard my daughter bought before she took it with her back to college.

Not only was it a very fun experience, it was so educational and awe inspiring to learn about the family that lived in this little 250 room shack.  Since coming home from our trip we have been mining more details of the family's history and it is fascinating to nerdy history freaks like me.

I've heard about "Biltmore" for a long time and seen snippets about it on HGTV a few times, but honestly, never paid any attention to the stories because I thought it was a fancy house that I wouldn't be interested in seeing.  But I was SO WRONG.

Imagine this is the gate to your home.  Of course, you've already driven THREE MILES to get to it through a beautiful forest.

As you enter the enclosed yard you pass by these fountains.

We walked up this retaining wall to take our first view and some pictures of the great house.

This is the view you get standing on that wall.

The house was completed in 1895 and this walkway on the retaining wall was made for the perfect stride of a horse in the middle and the wheels of a carriage on the sides.  The innovation of this man was incredible for the time period.  We were about to learn how much more George Vanderbilt was ahead of his time when we got inside the great house.

And this is the front of the house.

Here are Craig and Anna standing by one of the lions that flank the front entry door.  I loved how they were not the same.  One is looking straight ahead and this one is kind of  "looking" at the other one.  It seemed less intimidating as if they were pets or something.

We took the audio tour which was wonderful.  As you go through each room of the house you press the number of the room you are in and it tells you all about that room.  No photographs are allowed inside the home.

It was a magical place that was built by a bachelor and ultimately housed his family of one child along with he and his wife.  We got to see grand banquet halls, salon rooms, opulent bedrooms, a library which my daughter said looked like the one in Beauty and the Beast (it did!) and servant quarters that were pretty amazing for the time period.  The house has a bowling alley, an indoor pool with underwater electric lights, a push button calling system for the servants to come to whatever room was needed, a home gym, a huge laundry, multiple kitchens, pantries, and so much more that I cannot write it all down.

What I will say is that if you ever get close to Asheville, North Carolina you MUST visit Biltmore Estate.  It is an indescribable fulfillment of one man's vision for a self-sufficient home with cutting edge technology for his day.  And he was quite a man.  If you go here you can learn more about the man who dreamed this dream and made it a reality.  And don't forget to go back and learn his family's humble beginnings in America.  It is a wonderful story of American initiative and how an indentured servant can beget a family of millionaires that used their money to enrich the lives of so many people.

The home has about 9 gardens that flank the house but spread all around for miles.  We didn't walk through them but drove by them on our 5 mile drive through the property to see the farm, winery, and Cedric's Tavern.

Cedric was one of 5 St. Bernards that the family owned and who shared their home.  Of course, this was so fun for me with my love of Saints.

The food inside smelled delicious but we only went in to look at all the pictures of Cedric were on display in the restaurant.  

This is a statue of Cornelia Vanderbilt with Cedric in front of the tavern.

Here is just one of the 8 gardens we drove through.  Many of the plants that were about to be planted for this season were stored in the basement of the house and were not put out yet.  Even so, it was magnificently beautiful.

I found these "trained" trees fascinating.  This one looks like a menorah.

Just one of the views of the grounds.

My attempt to copy the postcard.  My camera didn't allow me to "telephoto" far enough.

A beautiful bridge and waterfall on the property.

The long view of the back side of the house.

Some of the fun gargoyles that adorn the house.

The servants were treated with kindness and respect.  They had their own private rooms with the women inside the big house and the men lived in the upper level of the stables which were pretty nice.  All of the servants' laundry was sent to an outside laundry to be cleaned which I think indicates that the family didn't wish to burden their treasured servants with more work than necessary.

I'm having trouble downloading pictures that I want for this post so I will just end it here.  Biltmore Estate gets the Polson family seal of approval for a wonderful place to visit!

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