A democracy from its birth, our country has never had any real royalty. One obvious drawback is that we don’t have any real castles either. But if ever an American home was to vie for that title, Biltmore House on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, would win, hands down, and there’s no time like the holidays to visit this grand home.
The Biltmore House is the closest America has ever come to a palace. It was formally opened to family and friends on Christmas Eve in 1895. George Washington Vanderbilt – a renowned businessman and a member of one of the most famous and one of the oldest families in America – built the magnificent 250-room mansion at age thirty-three. What started out as a country retreat grew into what was once the largest private residence in the country.
Now it is a tangible piece of history, open for tours and offering a glimpse back in time to a world of opulence, beauty, and prestige. More than ninety rooms have been preserved with the original furnishings, and as you walk through the house, it looks as though the Vanderbilts may still be at home.
The entire mansion is filled with priceless paintings, tapestries, statuary, rugs, books, and antiques. The banquet hall alone measures seventy-two feet long by forty-two feet wide and boasts a seventy-foot-high vaulted ceiling. Impressive barely begins to describe it.
Today, more than 100 years later, anyone can celebrate the holidays Vanderbilt-style. Christmas at the Biltmore Estate is a special annual event showcasing the Christmas traditions of the family whose story played out in the many rooms. The house comes to life with extravagant décor, and the air is filled with cheer thanks to familiar and favorite holiday tunes filtering down from above. Dozens of Christmas trees hung with glittering ornaments, miles of fresh, fragrant, and rich green garland, and countless twinkling lights transform the house into a Christmas dream.
It’s all spectacular to behold during the day, but at night it becomes awe-inspiring. During the Candlelight Christmas Evenings, hundreds of luminaries and candles glow with golden radiance as they light up the already stunning decorations. Firelight bounces off shiny tinsel and hundreds of hand-blown glass ornaments, reflecting the warmth of the illumination and the mood.
So take the scenic drive into the Smoky Mountains this year and find yourself immersed in a Christmas experience you’ll never forget. The house stays decked out in its seasonal finery until January 7.
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