From the moment we arrived and entered the main gate, Katie and I felt so welcomed, so enchanted and so amazed by the grandeur, the contagious hospitality and the sheer beauty of the landscape.
George Vanderbilt wanted his guests to relax and leave the stress of the big cities behind, and that's exactly what we did. That gracious feeling is one of his legacies today. When I say contagious hospitality, I mean just that. Everyone is so warm and friendly it is catching. Everyone from doormen to bus drivers to housekeeping goes beyond gracious in their efforts to make your visit genuinely perfect.
We started with the wine tasting at Antler Hill Village and Winery, which used to be a dairy barn. We sipped white, rose, red - and even a Festival of Flowers wine and enjoyed every glass.
The next day we spent the morning touring the gardens and strolling the woodland paths. Designing George Vanderbilt's 120,000 acre Biltmore Estate near Asheville, NC was Fredrick Law Olmsted's last project. Olmsted wanted the grounds to feel like a park, to allow guests to be surprised around every corner and to see flowers, trees and shrubs they'd never seen before. He also wanted guests to think they were further South than they actually were so he planted lots of semi-tropical plants, grasses, bamboo and vines. The landscaping often takes a backseat to the castle, but for us, it was the highlight.
Well, almost. The highlight was getting a behind the scenes tour with Parker Andes, director of horticulture, who gave us a look at Olmsted's original plans for the Approach Road and explained to us Olmsted's "design intent" and how they are interpreting it for today's guests.
The original landscape design, as requested by Mr. Vanderbilt, was to draw the guests into the quiet solitude of nature and get them to relax unconsciously as they road in their carriages from the train station to the house. Mr. Vanderbilt requested that the drive take an hour so his guests could unwind from the journey and be in the right frame of mind for seeing the house for the first time.
Site paths were meticulously planned to delight and surprise guests as they traveled 5 MPH in horse drawn carriages up the three mile Approach Road. Switchbacks increased excitement and anticipation for seeing the house. There was even a rest stop for refreshments for both the two and four legged visitors.
Today, guests travel in coaches and cars and have a slightly different perspective on the landscape. Parker's challenge is to restore the Approach Road so guests traveling at 15 MPH can enjoy the same experience as a century ago - but a little faster. This means wider sight paths, ponds sculpted for more frontage and waterfalls angled slightly more toward the road are just a few examples of how Parker and his team are sustaining the Olmsted legacy.
A special thanks to LeeAnn Donnelly, Biltmore public relations, for making our stay extra special. The Biltmore Signature massages she arranged for us was out of this world!
If you've never visited Biltmore, you must put it on your bucket list. Both Olmsted and the celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt, who modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France, considered Biltmore their most outstanding projects.
And Katie and I would agree.
But be careful. You may catch a little Vanderbilt graciousness.
Suzi, Garden Media Group