When you travel to Western North Carolina you like many, if not most, of the guests who stay at our Bed and Breakfast in Asheville will probably spend at least one day at the Biltmore Estate viewing the majestic house surrounded by the breathtaking gardens and park-lands designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. And if you have purchased a Biltmore Package through us you will benefit from a free upgrade to a two-day pass. Up to now, James and I have seen the value of the two-day pass mainly in its ability to let you breakup your visit to the Biltmore, quitting before you are exhausted and giving you the option to return to see the remainder on the second day.
And we have always felt that if you are only in our town for a day or two, spending a second full day at the Estate would mean missing a lot that Asheville and the surrounding area has to offer. So up to now, we never really made a big deal out of the two-day pass. But recently the experience of some of our guests made us reconsider.
When Vanderbilt started buying land in 1888 on which to build his country estate, the land in North Carolina had been settled for more than 100 years. Early farmers and later the logging industry cleared the hilly land of trees and the soil was eroded and poor. Vanderbilt was a man with a lot of money who envisioned an estate to rival the grand Chateaus of the Loire Valley so he hired Frederick Law Olmsted to transform the more than 120,000 acres into a suitable frame for his home. Olmsted persuaded Vanderbilt to use some of the land for farming and to reforest much of the rest. The formal gardens are directly adjacent to the house and for many people this is as much as they have time to see outside of the mansion. And while the gardens are beautiful, they are not strictly speaking unusual. It was not until I had occasion to explore father that I understood what people mean when they talk about the “genius of Olmsted”.
Olmsted’s work seems like a contradiction: on the one hand, he believed passionately that one should “respect the genius of a place“, maintaining the unique characteristics of a location and subordinating his designs to them. On the other hand he had no qualms about moving hills or creating new ones if they were needed to provide the vistas he was looking for. The Bass Pond and the lagoon along with all of the other lakes on the property are all man-made. So effectively what he created is a “rich man’s forest”–one which feels natural but which has been (and still is) cleaned of the messy debris which nature creates as a part of its system of renewal.
Where is all this taking me? The Biltmore offers a variety of outdoor activities which will allow you to fully immerse yourself in these beautiful surroundings and for a brief time experience this park as Vanderbilt’s guests might have.
Rent a bicycle and ride past sunflower fields and head-high corn stalks. Unlike so much of this area, there are pleasant, relatively flat, bike trails. Although if you are looking for a real workout, there are some pretty challenging hills as well. You can even ride your bike right up the house and leave it outside while you go in. It’s not necessary to rent bicycles from the Biltmore, for a nominal fee you can use the trails on your own bike.
Not a biker? How about fly fishing? You can take a lesson or fish on your own in a pond with views reminiscent of Monet’s garden at Giverny. Children play at its edges and delight in feeding the flocks of geese. Horses are available at the stables for riders of all levels. You can ride for a short time or have a special tour with a picnic lunch provided by the Biltmore (I wonder if it comes with a butler to serve it on fine china and crystal?) Carriages are also available. And there is Sporting Clay shooting if you really want to play Lord of the Manor!
This is where the two-day pass comes into play. Under normal circumstances the prices of these activities is in addition to the entry fee to the Biltmore but with a two-day pass your entry fee is already taken care of so what is ridiculously expensive becomes possible. James and I recently spent the day biking on the grounds of the Biltmore and one of our daughters, training for a half marathon, went for a ten mile run there which she said was one of the prettiest runs of her life. I still stand by the statement that Asheville has a lot to offer and one needs to see more than the Biltmore to truly experience it but if you have time and plan to spend three or four days here, you may want to consider trying some of the wonderful outdoor activities at the Biltmore.