His decisions, everything from monogrammed roof tiles to positioning the Biltmore House with the absolute best view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, were all meant to make his Asheville, N.C., escape just that. Although it took him six years to complete his masterpiece, it was worth it.
Known today as "America's Largest Home," the total estate is now around 8,000 acres after Vanderbilt's wife sold a portion to the government, which used it to develop the Pisgah National Forest.
But the acreage is still able to take my breath away. One look at the main eye candy — the Biltmore House and its French Renaissance chateau architecture and design — and I decide I'm never leaving
I'm sure I can live carefree in one its 250 rooms. But that plan is quickly foiled.
Once inside, a self-guided audio tour reveals that all the splendors, such as a pastry kitchen devoted to elaborate desserts and my personal favorite, a library with more than 10,000 books and a secret passageway behind the fireplace, are just for show now. The Inn on Biltmore Estate, nestled back on the property with its restrained grandeur, is what I will be calling home.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to never want to leave. The Vanderbilts have worked years on making this an absolutely luxurious resort where everything you need is right around the corner — a spa, shops galore (including one exclusively dedicated to Christmas ornaments), a bakery, candy store and great food options such as the Stable Café, where I eat Carolina barbecue inside a converted stable.
There's also the property's latest addition: Antler Hill Village, which includes a farm, a barnyard and a village green surrounded by more shops and an Irish pub. It also includes the winery, housed in the former dairy barn. I indulge in the free wine tastings, taking my time to savor each wine's complex flavors before making my selections to take home.
And just like Vanderbilt would have had for his guests, my purchases are escorted back to my room, so I'm free to continue shopping and sightseeing without being weighed down.
That allows me to take a rooftop tour of the Biltmore House, a chance to see sweeping views of the estate and score some extra knowledge. Not all the gargoyles are the same — there's a bear with a honey pot and a monkey lurking over the main peak, fanciful guardians of the house.
The luscious colors from the gardens beckon, and I can see the well-worn dirt trails where I spent the early morning horseback riding. I contemplate sneaking off from the tour and setting up camp in one of the rooms, but I digress.
In the gardens, flowers and plants bursting with intense color intertwine with a sparkle and polish that's fit for royalty. I walk through the 4-acre walled garden, originally created by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, then the Italian garden with three reflecting pools and finally a stunning rose garden. Every inch is still meticulously cared for, down to every last detail, and I think to myself how great it would be to wake up to this every morning — as I am sure George Vanderbilt did. And I would not expect anything less.
Winter | George Vanderbilt unveiled the Biltmore House to friends and family on Christmas Eve. Relive the experience with more than 40 Christmas trees, miles of lights, live music and holiday demonstrations.
Spring | The Legacy of the Land tour aboard a motor coach gives you the history behind the land and all of its former residents.
Summer | Take it easy with a float on raft or kayak down the French Broad River that winds through the estate.