A Visit to the Biltmore Estate

by Barb, first post of 2022, first post from Key West

Hi All. Bill and I enjoyed a meandering trip to Key West this year. We planned to spend Christmas in southern Virginia with our son’s in-laws in their brand new house. (So new they had only slept there for four days before we arrived. Now that’s brave.)

The timing meant we would need to kill a few days before we could get into our rental in Key West. Plus it was late in the year to be making plans. We couldn’t commit until we knew if the house where we were spending Christmas would actually be done in time. Plus, you know, omicron, holiday traffic, the whole deal.

Bill took the planning in hand and we decided to spend a few days in Asheville, NC. We had a beautiful day at the Biltmore estate and I am sharing Bill’s photos below.

We began our day with a tour of the gardens, fallow now for winter of course. But it was a gorgeous day, perfect for strolling, and the greenhouse was amazing.

A replica of the greenhouse in the greenhouse
A bed of…not roses…but…?
Biltmore House, the largest private home in the United States
The mountains beyond. The estate once encompassed 125,000 acres. Now it is about 8,000. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the grounds, which are full of gardens, water features and winding roads. (More on that later.)

After the gardens we went to see the interactive Van Gogh show which was in an big open auditorium on another part of the estate.

Bill took a lot of photos of these shadows. I am trying to persuade him to publish a whole series.

in Van Gogh’s bedroom as he painted it.

We had a lovely dinner at the restaurant in the stables on the grounds and then a nighttime tour of the house, which was fully decorated for Christmas.

The two-story library. There’s a door on the second story which leads to the third floor rooms where guests like Edith Wharton and Henry James stayed and were encouraged to find books to enjoy during their stays.
Formal dining room
Chandelier in the main stairway with a four story drop
Gingerbread replica of the house in the main kitchen. The tour included the upstairs and downstairs, which was very like Downton Abbey. Or should I say Downton Abbey is very like it?

We had a perfect day. And then, as we drove the miles of dark, meandering roads out of the park, our check engine light came on and the car threw about seven error messages.


And our perfect day turned into a horror movie.

No, not really. But we did spend the next two days at a creative and friendly Volkswagon dealership in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And, despite it all, we stayed on schedule for the trip and arrived in Key West on January 1.

Readers: Tell us about a trip that didn’t go as you expected.

40 Thoughts

  1. What a wonderful tour, Barb! My sister- and brother-in-law live in Asheville and are members there, so we went with them five or six years ago, in March. And Bill’s pictures are fabulous, as always. So glad you got down to Key West safely.

    I was on a bus going into Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in 1999. It was just a day trip within the country. Somehow I had brought every one else’s passports but not mine. Armed police came on board outside the city and wanted to see everyone’s papers. I made the mistake of trying to argue that we weren’t leaving the country so why did I need my passport? The guy ordered me off the bus. My husband and the kids got off with me. I was pretty terrified I was going to be thrown in prison or worse. Luckily John, who can schmooze in French and in most West African languages, talked the soldier down. We ended up taking a taxi the rest of the way into town and back to our beach resort at the end of the day. But it was scary.

  2. We love Asheville and visited the Biltmore House years ago when all three kids were still in school. Our youngest was 9 and thrilled to see Napoleon’s chess set in the house – he talked about it for a long time. I have had my share of bungled trips, but probably the worst was when my daughter and I drove home from Fort Bragg after visiting my son. My husband had flown out of Fayetteville to a meeting in FL so it was the two of us driving his car. All was ok even though they were calling for snow in Pittsburgh, but we thought we would be home in plenty of time. Somewhere in the wilds of WV the car stated showing lights and making noises. We got off the interstate at the next exit, and looked for someone to fix the car, which was a Saab 9000, not the easiest thing to get a mechanic for. We tried one gas station and they couldn’t do anything, and sent us to another station. Luckily, they had a part that would work but it took about 2 1/2 hours to fix, and then it was with the instructions to get it to the dealer when we got home. We took off again and started driving. We ran into snow shortly after dark, and it snowed all the way to Pittsburgh. When we got home we couldn’t pull into the driveway since it had snowed there the week we were gone and there was about 20″ on the drive. So at 9:30 at night we started shoveling and finally cleared enough snow to get the car off the road and into the garage. We were both exhausted and ready to never take another trip in the winter again!

  3. Gorgeous photos! I’ve only ever seen the Biltmore from the highway. I’ve had a few trips take odd turns, some bad, some good. One of the good ones involved a freak snowstorm in New Mexico. The road was becoming impassable, so we slid into Carrizozo, got the last room at the only operational motel—and discovered that one of my husband’s favorite movies had been filmed there. He had a blast the next morning, taking pictures of places from the film.

  4. Oh my gosh, that looks incredibly dreamy! I was in Asheville once for work, but didn’t get the opportunity to visit the Biltmore. Had a training class in San Diego once and a bunch of us went to Tijuana and the Mexican border officials held only me back, they thought I looked Mexican and I guess trying to get across the border “unofficially” – scary! And once, flying with my kids and cat from California, there was a snowstorm that canceled our flight on a layover in Chicago, so the airline put us up in a hotel overnight – we had to sneak the cat in, was hilarious! We’ve had several misadventures flying, or should I say adventures, depends on what you make of it, right?

  5. We visited Biltmore House in the ’80s and it has changed some since then. Our tour was lovely, but the gardens now are more extensive. They were doing some work on the house when we were there, too. So glad to know that you are now safely in FL enjoying their winter sunshine. Thankfully only once did our car let us down while on vacation. It was on a trip to San Antonio, TX. Fortunately we were staying at the historic downtown St. Anthony Hotel and had a lovely time while the car was repaired. We could walk to all the places we wanted to see!

  6. Wow – how gorgeous. Now want to make the trip. Nothing like my experience driving home from college in North Carolina to Fargo N Dakota for the holiday when I was in college. Blizzard was sure to stop me in Wisconsin, but I was fortunate to see a gas station/diner combo ahead. Everyone (mostly strangers/travelers) in the diner appreciated the cook’s great Wisconsin milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches for the next ten hours – a real holiday treat.

  7. Gorgeous photos! I’ve not been to The Biltmore, but it is on my bucket list. Glad all worked out with the car!

    My travel horror story took place years ago in Haiti. At the time Baby Doc was still in power and the Tonton Macoute had full reign. I was in college and given the low student fares of the time decided to go to Haiti. We landed at the airport and the Tonton boarded the plane. They told us all to get off and get on the bus that was waiting. Our luggage, we were told, would be sent to our hotels. We disembarked with our carryon. Once on the tarmac, our carryon was taken from us. The woman who had sat next to me on the plane burst into tears, She had a heart condition and needed the medication that she had in her carryon. I was bilingual – although Haitian creole is different from French, there are enough similarities. So I argued with the Tonton to give the women her meds. One of the men placed a rifle under my chin. When I didn’t flinch, although my heart was pounding loudly enough to be heard in Miami, he let the woman take her medication. We boarded the bus and were taken to Port au Prince and housed in what appeared to be more of a hostel than hotel and certainly was not the hotels we had booked. I got up very early the next morning and managed to get to the airport before the Tonton returned (if they did) with our luggage. I took the first flight out, which fortunately, went to Miami. Although Haiti is a different country now, I have never returned.

  8. We own a timeshare for spring skiing in March in New Hampshire. It was the late 1980’s and we were on the way there in our Ford station wagon when a piece fell off the bottom while we were driving through a small New Hampshire town. (Don’t ask what fell off, I can’t remember now.) We called Triple A and the truck that towed us brought us to a garage with a UHaul rental, the only rental place in town. So, we rented a UHaul truck and continued up to our condo in it.

    Every day we drove up to Waterville Valley ski area in our big rental truck. Meanwhile, the guy at the garage couldn’t get the parts from the Ford dealerships in his town because they were annoyed that the car hadn’t been towed right to them. (Who knew that we had a choice of dealership or UHaul garage?) Finally, I called our dealership in Hartford, and they had the part sent to our guy within a day. I wrote a letter to the owner of our dealership telling him how helpful his people were, and it began a friendship that lasted for many years. The photos of that trip with the UHaul still bring a smile to my lips.

  9. Sounds like a great day. Thanks for sharing the pictures. Glad the car work wasn’t too much of a damper on the day/trip to Key West.

  10. We actually met in Asheville, NC (at a singles conference…years ago) but one of our favorite travel stores was going to NH for the wedding of our friends’ daughter…we drove in from upstate NY & on our way to the reception, our brake line broke & we managed to coast down a hill & into a gas station (that was just closing) but they recommended another station that would be open longer…As we were trying to make the arrangements, the bride & her Dad drove by & she agreed to lend us her car as long as we needed it…The repair station was right out of a movie…the outside “seating” was the backseat of an old Chevy…lol & the mechanics looked like cousins from the movie “Deliverance”…didn’t know if we’d ever see our car again..After the reception, we drove back there in the bride’s car & our car was all set to go…& all at a fair price! LOL

  11. Beautiful pix, Barb. Thanks for sharing them. We used to live in Boston and my mother-in-law lived on the west side of Cleveland. One Christmas Eve we drove there and hit a blizzard somewhere. We couldn’t even tell where we were. Interstate 90 was closed and we had to get off onto a 2-lane highway (turned out to be Route 20). The WX just kept getting worse and finally we pulled into a motel. It was 11:30 on Christmas Eve, but the owner got up and got us room. Later, we heard more people coming in. We learned later we were in Erie, PA. We were in that motel Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and the day after before we could get out. We had a can of room temperature baked beans for Christmas dinner. In the meantime, our car froze up and we had to get it towed to a garage where it could warm up, and we had to walk to it to pick up our car. It’s been a great war story for about 40 years. We never drove there in winter, again. Hello, Amtrak!

    1. When I was little and we lived in Montclair, NJ we would spend Christmas Eve with my mother’s parents in Maplewood and Christmas Day with my father’s parents in Manhattan. After I white-knuckle trip home in a blizzard one Christmas, my father said, “Never again,” and everyone came to our house after that.

  12. Barb, I’ve always wanted to go to the Biltmore. This added to that. And I LOVE the Van Gogh’s with shadows. Wow.

    I’m so sorry that your car acted up, but am glad it got sorted. And yes, your son’s in-laws are brave. I’d imagine you all helped with the shake down cruise on the new house.

    1. Well, we cartainly gave them an incentive to move in quickly. They had been staying at a house nearby during construction and brought carloads of stuff over every day.

      I think the Van Gogh thing may still be in Boston. It’s indoors, but there’s no assigned seating so you can distance.

  13. So sorry to hear about the car problems. Ugh. Traveling can be such a pain in general. When I used to travel with 4 kids in the car, there was usually some issue! We had to rent a car once since ours was an issue and we couldn’t get it into a shop in time for vacation. And then there was the time the A/C wouldn’t work on the way back from Virginia. Normal, I guess!

  14. Beautiful photos! My trip horror story took place in the 1980s when we had two small children, We rented a cabin in the woods near Canaan Valley, West Virginia. The morning after we arrived, ready for a scenic drive to beautiful mountain vistas, our car wouldn’t start. My husband Mike hiked to something resembling a general store and asked where we could get the car fixed. The nearest garage with a repair shop was 60 miles away, and we’d need a tow there. Mike used the phone in the store to call the repair shop. They sent a tow truck, which arrived two hours later. It takes a while to go sixty miles in West Virginia. Mike hopped in beside the truck driver (we couldn’t afford a tow in both directions). So there I was with two kids in a remote cabin with no phone and no idea when I’d see the car or Mike again. Both finally showed up just before sundown.

  15. Great pictures! We visited before Christmas too, but we toured during the day. I’m so happy we took the time to visit. Happy new year !

  16. I am so sorry that you had car trouble as you were leaving the Bitmore. The pictures are stunning. Thank you so much for sharing. My Mom and I were leaving her childhood home in West Virginia to visit my cousins in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We were going over a steep mountain when the transmission light came on. We were able to get to my cousins with the car, but it ended up needing repairs before we could come home to Ohio.

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