Biltmore House: Mysteries Abound for Children
It seems whenever I have company from out of state, they want to see the Biltmore House. So, over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to go several times, kids in tow. This last trip was by far the best, because my kids were in fourth and second grades. The fourth-grader was studying state history and had to write a report on a state landmark. The second-grader was not as enthusiastic, but this time I wouldn’t be carrying him through the 175,000-square foot house, so his opinion didn’t enter into the final decision. Besides, we had company in town.
Luckily, several days before the trip, we made a stop at a bookstore for reading material during the drive. My kids love mysteries, and I was desperate for anything that would keep the kids happy on this trip. As I cruised the young-reader section, I stumbled on just the thing: “The Mystery of Biltmore House” by Carole Marsh. Marsh, I quickly learned, specializes in mysteries that take place in real places. The cover mentioned secret passages; my kids were hooked.
I handed the book over with the suggestion they read it before the trip so they could see the rooms they’d read about. They read it several times, including in the car on the way to Asheville. By the time we got there, they knew more about the house than I did. I asked about the secret passages, and the kids were more than happy to tell me all about them. It also gave them something to look forward to. After all, who doesn’t want to visit an American castle with secret passages and gargoyles?
The book contains a scavenger hunt at the end, which kept my kids busy until we got to the basement, where the indoor pool and Halloween rooms are. The estate also has the Commodore’s Treasure Hunt for kids that will keep them searching for items floor by floor as you make your way through the 250-room mansion.
When we go to Biltmore, we get there early. The kids are still fresh, which is important since you visit several floors of the house and the basement. The Web site suggests two hours for a self-guided tour, which is pretty accurate. Kids will enjoy the children’s bedrooms, bathrooms (“But why’s the back of the toilet up in the air?”) and the indoor pool. Although it’s been drained, it’s still fascinating to see and imagine it holding 70,000 gallons of water.
Before going, we helped the kids come up with a list of questions to try to get answered. How many books are in the library? Does anyone still live in the house? Does the Vanderbilt family still own it? Do they have parties there? And where do those pesky secret passages go? Because of the school report, my daughter interviewed the staff for her research. To even things out, we had my son come up with questions, too. Staff members were extremely helpful and eager to share their knowledge.
Beyond the House
Before leaving the house and stable area, plan to have lunch in the horse stables. Yes, the stables. Stopping for lunch gives weary visitors a chance to recharge before they move on to shopping areas or outdoor activities. Located next to the house, the Stable Café offers sandwiches, burgers, soup and salads, and that ever-important children’s menu. If you have a choice, ask for seating in one of the box stall booths of the renovated 19th-century stable.
After lunch, wander through the shops that are also in the stable area. A toy shop featuring old-fashioned games and toys is there, as well as a confectionery, where everyone can find a tasty treat to keep them going before tackling the formal gardens or walking paths through the estate.
The gardens were designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park. The formal gardens are a great place for kids to work out any pent-up energy they might have after having to walk through the house.
Once you’ve finished the gardens and house, head down to the winery for a tasting (kids can have juice) or to buy a culinary gift. Don’t discount the winery because you’re there with children. The day we went, my daughter got to take off her shoes and stomp grapes outside the entrance.
Then, continue on to the River Bend Farm area, where you can learn what it was like to live in the 1890s when Biltmore was built. You can see craft demonstrations, antique farm equipment, farm animals and shop in an old-fashioned mercantile shop.
Add-on options such as carriage rides, horseback riding, river float trips and segue tours (must be 13 or older) are also available. Bring your bikes if your kids won’t be worn out from walking through the 4-acre house. Cost to ride the trails is $5 additional when you buy your estate ticket.
Each summer, the estate holds a concert series in August. This year, the series includes a family-friendly show by The Stepcrew on Wednesday, Aug. 6. The Stepcrew will play and dance to Celtic, French and Scandinavian music on the South Terrace of the House. Concert tickets include Estate admission, so you can plan a day of fun at Biltmore and Asheville.
If You Go
1 Approach Road
Asheville, NC 28803
800-411-3812 or 828-225-1333
Sunday-Friday $45 online and $47 at gate
Saturday $49 online and $51 at gate
Ages 10-16 are admitted free through Sept. 5. After Sept. 5, tickets will be $22.50 online Sunday-Friday, $23.50 at the gate. On Saturdays, $24.50 online and $25.50 at the gate. Children 9 and younger are admitted free year-round with paying adult. Tickets provide daytime admission to the house, gardens, winery and River Bend Farm and also access to shopping and dining. Parking is free.