Princess Anne. That was the nickname my dad gave me when I was a little girl. I’m not sure where the nickname came from, but I imagine that it was because the real Princess Anne was about the same age as my dad. There’s a bit of irony in the name, as I was frequently treated as a boy, while dressed in ruffles of course. I played with MatchBox cars and Barbies. I fished and played in the dirt, climbed trees and mowed the yard. But I was always a Princess. It was a much better nickname than Harold, which is what my mom called me most of the time.
Imagine my dismay when I learned that I wasn’t really a princess. What?! No glitzy parties, no jewels, no castle…the cruelty of reality. No matter how much I thought I was a princess, life had a different lesson for me. I was more Cinderella than Princess Anne. Don’t get me wrong, I was never treated like Cinderella and my dad was the most loving, smart, funny, and awesome dad. It was more the finances and staff. The real Princess Anne had both, while we were just your average American family.
To this day I still joke that I’m a princess, albeit an old, overweight, tired and broke one. And while The Queen isn’t going to entertain me for tea because I feel royal, I’d sure accept the invite if she did. (Although if you happen to see this Your Majesty, I’m available and would love to chat over a cup of tea!) Reality is just so real sometimes, that’s why imagining is so much better.
But then, something magical happened. I rolled though the towering gate of the Biltmore Estate and it was like my Fairy Godmother waved her wand around and *poof* I was a princess again. Instead of a carriage, I was carried along the winding drive in a Subaru, but the magic was still there.
The Biltmore has all the things a princess requires: a sweeping drive, gardens upon gardens, a conservatory, roses, stables, rooms upon rooms (250 rooms to be exact), lots of staff and a large spiral staircase to make your grand entrance. My entrance would be unforgettable I’m sure, probably from tripping and tumbling down five stores of stairs. Isn’t making an entrance that people would remember for ages the goal of which to aspire?
Last year I purchased an annual pass through Our State Magazine, a favorite magazine that highlights all the fantastic things NC has to offer. Right after I purchased the annual pass I changed jobs and as a result I wasn’t able to visit Biltmore in the spring as I planned. It was a bummer, but I was so busy working at the new job I didn’t have time to get there.
That all changed in September when I yanked the Visa out of my wallet an booked a suite at the Doubletree Hotel/Asheville-Biltmore, packed a bag, packed up the dog and zipped on down the highway.
No matter the time of year, the Biltmore is awe-inspiring. The French Chateau-esque architecture is mind-blowing. It’s so intricate and, well, massive. Mighty lions guard the entrance to the house. Gargoyles, animals and other grotesque figures peek down from nooks and crannies. The large swirling stair tower is guarded by Joan of Arc and King Louis IX, commonly known as Saint Louis. Every time you look around the house you’ll find something new that you didn’t notice before.
The gardens in the growing season are a verdant oasis filled with vivid flowers at every turn. In the winter, the Conservatory is filled to the brim with poinsettias of every color, bromeliads, and orchids like you’ve never seen before.
The views of and from the house are extraordinary. You can see the rolling hills of the estate roll right into the miles and miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A lake here, a horse carriage on a hill there…what’s not to love?
The interior is no less stunning. A large, winding staircase spirals to the heavens, encased in beautiful glass with a massive, tapered chandelier affixed in the center. The main floor contains the Banquet Hall which would rival any English estate, the sunken Winter Garden, the Breakfast Room, the Music Room, the Tapestry Room, and the library which is framed in walnut and capped with the imported painting The Chariot of Aurora on the ceiling. An expansive veranda looks out over rolling hills and the mountains, a perfect place to curl up with a good book or to paint. The house is filled will numerous other rooms for reading, relaxing, or having tea with friends.
This is America’s House. One designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt, built over several years by hundreds of craftsmen, landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) for a well established American family. Vanderbilt and Olmsted can be credited with laying the foundation of forestry with the hiring of Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot was hired to recreate the forests we enjoy now as part of the Pisgah National Forest and the remaining acres of the Biltmore Estate. This area of the country is known as the “cradle of American forestry.” Indeed, the Biltmore Forest School was created in 1898, the first of its kind in the US. The Vanderbilt’s have left an imprint in many ways on the southern Blue Ridge Mountains that will felt for decades to come.
The estate is so much more than the house and the gardens. There’s the winery, numerous restaurants serving sustainably grown food, hotels and that doesn’t cover everything. You can easily spend a couple days there going around the grounds and touring house.
The restaurants are outstanding, but be sure to make a reservation. My recommendation? Deerpark. It’s quiet, spacious and they serve the best buffet style meal there. I’ve been twice and each time I’ve lost a shoe on my way to the carriage when the bells chimed and I realized it was time for me to leave. A princess could get used to this kind of eating so long as she has a personal trainer, if you know what I mean.
I’ve renewed my pass for the estate and hope to visit again in the spring for the upcoming Chihuly Exhibit in 2018. My admiration for Dale Chihuly goes back a long way and I am excited that he will have an exhibit here. His vivid and complex blown glass sculptures are mesmerizing and I am completely in love with them. Fortunately, I’ve seen Chihuly’s work at the United States Botanic Garden in DC and the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.
The exhibit at Biltmore will be a fun reminder of my trip to Seattle with my Mom last summer. With the current freezing temperatures and unprecedented snowfall, the thought of sunny days in the mountains warms my soul. Now if only I could get my toes to warm up….only three more months until spring. I have got this.
Until then, this princess is prepping for what looks to be an eventful 2018. Now where are those animals that can clean and sing? Or sew. A princess can’t be too picky, y’all. And if the house isn’t going to be clean, the least I can do is look good in a new dress the next time I roll up on the Biltmore.
1 Lodge Street