I have lived in Newport RI where the other smaller Vanderbilt mansion is along with many wealthy summer homes from the turn of the century. They are all open for tours at a much reduced fee. Needless to say I was not biting at the bit to tour yet another mansion from the gilded era.
Some friends visited from out of state and offered to take us on the Christmas Candlelight Tour of the Biltmore. How could I refuse something for free? So off I went.
It was the weekend after Thanksgiving and a cold rainy night. Thankfully another friend had warned that lines waiting outside can be long and cold. We dressed for the night but still the rain was a damper along with the crowds. I would suggest not going on this weekend but earlier in the month or later.
We finally got inside and it was a bit warmer. It is self guided with a pamphlet describing the rooms you are visiting. I was disappointed in not having more staff on hand to talk about the rooms and answer questions. I guess it would take much longer to get everyone through that way. The only live tree in the house was in the Banquet Hall on the main floor. It was immense and decorated with huge ornaments.
No photos are allowed to be taken except for ones taken by staff of visitors in front of the holiday decor in one of the smaller rooms on the main floor. You can pick the photos up on your way out.
Ballerinas performed excerpts from the Nutcracker Suite in the Winter Garden room but the din of voices was so loud we could not hear the music. Carolers were situated on the front steps to entertain you while you wait to go inside and others were alternating with the ballet troupe in the garden room.
The house was lit with electric candles and fires in the fireplaces. The bedrooms on the second floor were decorated with smaller trees and sprigs of greenery. The ornaments and decorations were not of the time period but rather looked like from Wal-Mart.
The servants quarters are open to tour which is different from many mansions of this time period. I found that most interesting along with the basement which houses the pool, kitchen and other servants quarters. The holiday decor in these rooms was more like what it would have been in the early 1900's with popcorn garland and simple tree ornaments.
We took the last Candlelight Tour so the gift shops and cafes were closed when we finished. I would suggest taking an earlier one to take advantage of these places.
You can visit during the day for the Christmas Tour minus the candle - it may well be worth the entrance fee at that time of day to be able to visit the Winery and River Bend Farm. The estate covers 8,000 acres with hiking trails, horseback riding trails and lots to see and do.
The holiday tours run through January 4, 2009. For more info call 1-877-BILTMORE or check their web site www.biltmore.com.