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Written by:  Vicki Stewart
Date: December 3, 2007

To spend the holidays at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is to step back in time. The sights, the sounds, the smells all are reminiscent of the Gilded Age at the turn of the century.

Each year, the Biltmore House is richly decorated in the holiday traditions set by George W. Vanderbilt, who first welcomed friends and family to his country retreat on Christmas Eve 1895. The bright tapestry of Christmas colors complement the rich oak paneling and European furnishings of the home. Although it looks effortless, it’s not easy to decorate the largest private residence in America.

With four acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms and 8,000 acres of grounds, it takes a lot more than merely a tree with some lights on it — in fact it requires nearly 100 trees. And 750 poinsettias, 450 wreaths, 9,000 feet of fresh garlands and thousands of lights and ornaments.

In the Banquet Hall, where the Vanderbilts hosted the majority of their Christmas parties, stands the home’s centerpiece tree — a mighty 35-foot Fraser Fir, adorned with lights, ornaments and even 500 presents hung within the stately branches. Touring the Biltmore House during the day is captivating, but the magic of Christmas and the extraordinary decor of the home blend during Candlelight Christmas Evenings, an enchanting holiday tradition.

As night falls, the house comes alive. Luminarias light the grand driveway; smoke billows in the cool mountain air from many of the 65 fireplaces. Softly lit candles warmly beckon you inside as Christmas carols sung by a visiting children’s choir greet you from the atrium-like, glass-roofed Winter Garden. Hundreds of red, white and marbled poinsettias line every hallway and staircase, including the 102-step Grand Staircase that stretches to the fourth floor.

As you begin your tour, you’ll be awestruck by the sheer size of the house, but as you wander from room to room listening to the audio CD, you’ll begin to imagine the house as it was occupied by the Vanderbilts and their guests. Perhaps the men are in the library discussing the events of the day, the women gather in the second floor sitting room planning for the next day’s Christmas party and the children, in the third floor wing of connecting bedrooms, are running from room to room — too excited to sleep.

Evening tours are by reservation only from Nov. 3-Dec. 31. Your ticket also includes daytime access to Biltmore’s gardens, winery and River Bend Farm, which features craft demonstrations, farmyard animals, antique farm equipment, a kitchen garden and more. Don’t forget to leave time for shopping!

During the holiday season, the Biltmore Estate will host numerous complimentary seminars and events to help you prepare for the holidays. Decorate a Christmas wreath, learn the recipe for the Gingerbread Biltmore House and discover which wines to pair with chocolate this season. On weekends now through Dec. 16, bring the kids over to the estate’s River Bend Barn to visit with St. Nick.

If you’d like to make it an overnight getaway, the estate offers two choices of accommodation. The beautiful Inn on Biltmore Estate, offering warm and gracious hospitality and the Cottage on Biltmore Estate, your own private 2-bedroom oasis complete with butler and chef. Be sure to ask about special package rates when combined with the Candlelight Christmas Evenings tour.

This year, start a new tradition and make a visit to the Biltmore House a holiday event with your family.

The Biltmore Estate
1 Approach Road Asheville, NC 28803
www.biltmore.com
800-411-3812
Candlelight Evening tours range from $55-$65 per person; children 10-16: $27.50-$32.50; 9 years and under is free.




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