Thursday, December 25, 2008

Biltmore Glory

My wife insists this was my fourth visit to this wonder of the the North American world, and if she says it is so it must be. I can only remember coming once before, but what do I know? That's
why I started keeping a web log.
I love the Biltmore House outside Asheville. It is conspicuous and the epitome of the wealth amassed by robber barons of eras past, and of all things socially frowned upon in an egalitarian world; but is beautiful and is become a wondrous place to visit:Except perhaps not so much around Christmas time as the crowds are monstrous, and we got a taste of the crowding on the long drive in, past the carriage house photographed above:Inside the massive mansion we got lost and separated all eight of us (including two infants) so we paused to regroup, and as we paused we realised the house was packed, people were streaming through in an endless crocodile of gawping visitors, bundled up against the frigid air outside:And barely warmer inside the cool, somewhat heated interior of the Vanderbilt mansion. Which as they were celebrating Christmas like everybody else in Asheville, was decorated for the season:And in the sun room just inside the entrance three hardy women sat at the piano and tinkled bravely away at Tchaikovsky as the Arctic blasts blew through the entranceway crowded with visitors filing slowly inside. I tell you, Charles Dickens wasn't in it, it was all pure nostalgia and quite wonderful :The Vanderbilt mansion outside Asheville is a national landmark, like the Vizcaya Mansion I wrote up earlier on a visit to Miami. It has all the miles of corridors and rooms and crazy luxuries of the golden ages of decades past. It also has a website of it's own for those interested in hunting down facts and figures; goggle it and rejoice in what you find. Ours was a family visit, and pretty soon we found we had come at the wrong time of year, it was just too crowded:The Biltmore House was supposed to exist as a working farm and it is still surrounded by acres of land. It is a major employer in Asheville, and it produces all manner of food products, not least wine:The Mansion is the centerpiece of course with its heavy dark furniture, it's medieval tapestries, paintings and carvings.It brings a piece of Old Europe, to the wild rugged mountains of western North Carolina. Call it a civilizing influence, which wouldn't be exactly true, but the wealthy of years past wanted to take the fresh mountain air in the summer as much as the masses did. It is our good fortune the spires and towers are now open to all:This immense block of granite is plunked down in the middle of the mountains with incredible views in all directions:Inside, where photography is forbidden apparently there are miles of rooms worth viewing. We, the experienced visitors, decided to skip the formal tour and made a beeline for the basement where we figured only the hardiest visitors would penetrate after circling the drawing rooms and bedrooms in the floors above.The basement is a world apart, long corridors lined with laundry rooms and sewing rooms, a bakery, a machine room with an electrical generator and a steam room with a heating plant. there's a two lane bowling alley and a magnificent tile lined swimming pool (empty) complete with diving platforms and submerged lights. And there are larders with meat, vegetables and fruit and cheese, bottling rooms and you name it, the farm provided it. And then there is my favorite room, the kitchen, a vast spacious room with a separate grill room and magnificent views out across the valley:And there are the grounds which don't look at their best in my opinion on a twelve degree winter day be it ever so sunny:What the flock of geese did on these wild cold nights I can't imagine. What we did was to leave the cafe area after a quick wine and chocolate tasting and a couple of purchases in the huge gift shop area (two bottles of Biltmore red actually). The crowds made it impossible to enjoy the Bistro which I had been looking forward to, farm produce in the Biltmore restaurant, but there we were. We went into Asheville instead to get cold and see the city, another essay entirely of course.If you are in Asheville or riding this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway don't miss the Biltmore Mansion. I was frozen but still glad I went:My joy is hard to discern I know. To those lighting candles, like my in-laws, Shalom...
...Happy Christmas to the rest. And may you be warmer than I am right now. Next year in the Keys, I say.