To read part 1 of this trip report, click here.
Today will cover the day after Thanksgiving, which we spent at the Biltmore Estate. We were blessed with gorgeous weather – sunny with a high of about 60, which was the opposite of our visit 2 years ago, which had highs in the 20’s with high winds. This day could not have been prettier!
Before I get started, here is a little bit of background about the Biltmore. It was built from 1889-1895 by George Vanderbilt. He was single at the time, but shortly later married and thus the mansion became home to him, his wife, and one daughter (and lots of servants!). It is the largest privately owned residence in America at roughly 179,000 SF of floor space, with 135,000 SF of it being living areas. Today, it is still owned by descendants of George Vanderbilt and has been open to the public for tours since 1930. I find the history of this house fascinating, which you can read about in more detail here on the Biltmore website and here on Wikipedia.
Because this day was considered a high traffic day, we had to choose a time to enter the house when I bought our tickets in advance online. FYI, this day ended up selling out so if you plan to visit at a busy time, buy your tickets online ASAP! I chose 11:30, so we had a leisurely morning at the hotel getting ready and eating breakfast. We pulled into the front gate of the estate at about 10:15, and were directed to one of the parking lots. We then rode a shuttle bus from the lot to the front of the house. First order of business – pictures!
There is a huge Christmas tree on the front lawn that is lit at night. During the day, it has giant snowflakes on it.
Here is a picture from our evening visit two years ago:
We still had about an hour before our tour time, so we walked to the shopping area just beside the main house. This area used to be the carriage house and some of the male servants lived here as well. Now, it is home to stores and restaurants. My only 2 visits have been at Christmas time, so I’m not sure what types of things are in the stores other times of the year, but right now it’s all decked out for Christmas! There’s also a pretty outdoor patio area.
Here are photos from some of the shops. In the backgrounds of some of them, you can see original details from the carriage house days like tile walls, wall racks and ornate windows.
I loved this display of nutcrackers!
After letting the girls each pick out a souvenir, it was time for us to tour the house. I didn’t take very many photos inside because it was very crowded, but I did take a few at the very beginning of the tour, mostly of the banquet hall. This website has some good photos if you want to see more of the house.
This is the banquet hall, whose ceiling is 70 feet high and has a massive triple fireplace at one end and a pipe organ at the other. Right now it is also home to a 35 foot tall Frasier fir Christmas tree which smelled amazing!
Every year there is a big production on November 1 when the tree arrives at the house by a horse-drawn trailer and is lifted into place, an operation which involves ropes and scaffolding. Here is a photo from the website:
You can see more photos and read more details about the Christmas tree raising here.
The only other interior photos I took are of the grand staircase, but I recommend going to this website to see more of the interior of the home as it is truly stunning.
The tour took us about 1.5 hours and the first thing we did after leaving the house was check out our family photo from the photo op inside the house:
We were all pretty hungry by this time, so before we explored the grounds and gardens we went over to the cafe where we sat on the patio and to ate some warm pretzels. Tummies full, we then headed to the other side of the house where there is a large terrace with great views of both the house and surrounding land.
Next it was time to walk down to the gardens and conservatory. There was not much blooming in the gardens this time of year, but we plan to come back in April to see the tulips. Apparently it is quite a sight! As we walked, I looked back and saw this pretty view of the house.
We passed some stunning fall foliage on the walk. It was well past the peak of the fall foliage, so I felt lucky that we got to see some!
We toured the conservatory, which was crowded with tiny paths so I didn’t take any pictures but it was pretty. By this time we were all ready to head over to the Antler Hill Village (which is a shopping/outdoor area on the grounds) to eat lunch so we walked back to the house to catch the shuttle back to our car.
One last look at the house while waiting for the shuttle:
The drive to Antler Hill Village just takes a few minutes and provides some beautiful views of the estate grounds. The first order of business was to eat lunch as we were all pretty hungry. We ate at a cute restaurant called Cedric’s Tavern. Cedric was one of the Vanderbilt’s St. Bernard dogs and there were pictures of him throughout the restaurant. The food was great! Next we walked around and visited all of the shops and the creamery, where we got ice cream. This took a couple of hours and the girls played for quite a while in the grassy area pictured below. Remember this grassy area – it will play a major role in a story at the end of our night!
Our goal was to stay until dark so that we could see all of the lights. They had a bonfire set up for roasting scores with these gorgeous lights hanging from the trees.
By the time it got dark we were all ready to go as we had been at the estate since 10:15 that morning. The walk back to the car was so pretty:
Remember the drama I promised you yesterday? Well, this is when it all went down. As we approached the car, my husband went to get the car key (my car/house keys are on a keychain hooked to a clip that was hooked to his belt loop) and while the remote was there, the car key was GONE!!! It had fallen off at some point since arriving at the village and of course we had wanted to wait for the sun to go down to see the lights, so now we would have to search for it in the dark! Ugh! I do have a spare car key, which of course was 2.5 hours away at our house (and I now keep in my purse). The only thing we could do was retrace our steps all over the village, using our phones as flashlights to search the grounds. So, off we went. We divided and conquered, searching every store, restaurant and pathway we had been on. I felt almost certain that it had fallen off in the grassy area where the girls were playing because my husband spent quite a bit if time there running around with them, so we all spent a lot of time searching the grass. I asked guest services if anyone had turned in a car key – nope. This went on for at least 45 minutes and we were starting to lose hope. I had just started to try to come up with a plan B in my mind about how to get to the hotel, get either a new car key or the spare from our house, etc. when my husband decided that he was going to go check in/around the car. I thought it was unlikely that it would have fallen off the keychain as we were getting out of the car, but we were desperate so off he went. The girls and I decided to go check the bonfire area one more time and look all around the bench where my husband had sat earlier. We arrived at the bench and of course there were people all over it, so I apologetically asked them if I could look around their feet. They were all very nice and helpful and even helped me search through all of the leaves that were on the ground. As we were rifling through the leaves, my husband called me to tell me that HE HAD FOUND THE KEY!!! It had somehow fallen into the crack between the driver’s seat and the console – you know, that crack where things disappear, never to be seen again? Yep, that crack. For some crazy reason, he decided to push the edge of the seat back and shine his flashlight down into the crack and there it was! I’m so glad he was the one to go check the car because I never would have thought to check there. I can’t even begin to describe the wave of relief that washed over us. Crisis averted! After that we drove back to the hotel talking about how we would never take car keys for granted again, ha ha!
Except for the last hour, it had been a perfect day. We went back the hotel and then headed home the following morning.
Note: Nothing on this trip was sponsored in any way, I just love sharing fun family travel destinations with my readers!