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Seasons of the Biltmore

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Historic estate beautiful place to visit in fall

By Neil Sawyer

Many Floridians, as well as those from other states, flock like migrating birds to North Carolina to see the leaves of deciduous trees decked out in their fall colors.

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The timing of this event is uncertain because of the changes in weather from year to year, and no matter how well planned, visitors and colors do not always coincide. Oh, the whims of nature. 

Every October we plan a week in North Carolina with my daughter and her husband — exploring seasonal opportunities. Last year, our theme was seeking out wineries that seem to blanket the state, along with the accompanying vineyards which add to the beauty of the season. 

Our plans were easy this past October. We booked some time at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, one of our favorite areas in North Carolina.

In 1877, Cornelius Vanderbilt, shipping and railroad tycoon, died and passed along huge fortunes to his heirs, but mostly to his eldest son, William, age 56 at that time. The amount of inheritance is reported to have been about $90,000,000, making him one of the richest men in America. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became responsible for the numerous maritime and railroad business entities of the Vanderbilts' empire.

William had 11 children, and at his death left his youngest living son, George, $5,000,000. This inheritance, along with a couple million dollars previously received by gift or inheritance, gave George a war chest to pursue his desires, which were a bit esoteric compared to the entrepreneurial spirit of his other family members. 

He had become enamored with the idea of a country home in North Carolina, sparsely settled at the time, so there was much opportunity and room to live out one’s fantasy. And that he did! 

George, at about age 27, purchased 125,000 acres of beautiful countryside, sometimes for just pennies or a few dollars per acre, involving more than 400 separate land transactions. During this time he met Edith, age 25, in India on a photo shoot, and they were married a short time later.

George set about to build the largest home in America — The Biltmore House.

The house includes 250 rooms, 75 bathrooms and covers 178,000 square feet. Hundreds of workers were employed during the five years of the building process. The home now hosts an estimated 1,000,000 visitors per year.

Having visited the Biltmore House on previous occasions, this time we did an extensive “exploration” of the grounds and gardens of this fabulous estate. Some of the attractions included the estate’s winery situated at Antler Hill Village, down the hill and across the vineyard, from our fifth-floor room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, the “residence” of visitors staying on the property. Of course, the expansive wine-tasting room, accessed through a tunnel where the wines are aged, was an enjoyable event.

Adjacent to the winery is the old carriage house, which houses a couple of casual eateries for those who just want to hang out or rest a while. The area was decorated in an autumn theme at the time of our visit.

In the immediate vicinity is Cedric’s Tavern, a delightful restaurant serving great Reuben sandwiches and burgers for lunch, and a full menu of flavorful American and global treats at dinner time. A creamery is conveniently located next door.

Legacy of the Land is an optional tour of much of the estate, on miles of back roads and trails, not accessible by car. An entertaining guide drives, walks and talks his guests through many “behind-the-scenes” highlights of the challenges of George and his workers in the development of the incredible estate. 

Ninety acres of beautiful gardens and flowers adorn the estate in their full fall mode of God-given beauty.

The highlight of our visit to this phenomenal piece of North Carolina paradise had little in common with the Biltmore House or the surrounding beauty, except the opportunity to view it up close from the platform of a Segway. After a briefing on the operation of the battery-powered vehicle we were on our way, silently, over hill and dale, exhilarated by the cool mountain air, as we glided over both paved and graveled trails.

The Biltmore Estate is a beautiful and impressive getaway, still the largest privately owned home in America, where one can experience the opulence and grandeur of days gone by, and there is not a better time than when the seasons are changing.

Neil and Karyn Sawyer have been residents of Crystal River for 27 years. They travel frequently, having been to 48 states, 64 countries and seven continents. Neil welcomes comments and questions about travel. Contact him via email to gobuddy@tampabay.rr.com.