48 hours in Asheville, North Carolina, The Gilded Age of America and the Art of Glassblowing

Journey through the Gilded Age in America, the Biltmore House

Biltmore House shines

Turning off of busy U.S. Highway 25 and into the Biltmore Estate grounds, my friend and I began our journey up a tree-lined lane and back to the time of the Gilded Age in America. “Oh my…”, I said as we turned into the sprawling drive and the Biltmore House revealed itself.  The stone edifice shone in bright sunshine. The house is a feat of engineering for the 19th Century architecture. The house was envisioned by architect Richard Morris Hunt during a time when money was no object for its owner George Washington Vanderbilt.

Today, there is continuous activity around the estate to maintain the late 19th-century residence. Gardeners, cleaners, docents, and servers all encourage visitors to enjoy their time at the Biltmore. The employees are genuine, friendly, helpful, and well versed in the history of the estate. Some of their attentiveness may be due to the slightly higher average age for some of the employees. Excellent customer service is not lacking here.

The grounds and gardens that surround the House were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York’s, Central Park. Olmstead himself selected over two million plants and trees for the estate which included some 250 varieties of roses. While the selection of plants was a daunting feat in 1895, it remains so today, even with the search tools that we take for granted.

The Gardens

The Gardens

A bevy of gardeners meticulously maintain the gardens. The colors of the blooms explode as you stroll through the gardens and tour both the hot and cold houses.  

While the house may have been the brainchild of architect Hunt, it began with George Vanderbilt’s vision of a simple house on top of a mountain in the middle of a forest. Vanderbilt’s vision became Hunt’s stately home that was a statement on the wealth on his benefactor. Today, that forest is surrounded by the sprawling City of Asheville.  

Over 120 years have passed since George Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, began construction on the house in 1889 and opened the house to the family on Christmas Eve of 1895. With thirty-five bedrooms, forty-three bathrooms and sixty-five fireplaces, the house introduced several features that were ahead of their time, which included well-appointed 3 piece tiled bathrooms and a dumb waiter in the kitchen that was used to assist in the serving of food in the dining rooms.

Included in our tour of the Biltmore House was the Vanderbilt House Party audio tour. This tour incorporates period dress costumes of the era into the exhibit. The audio tour follows a house party weekend throughout the house. Downton Abbey costume designers worked with the Biltmore curators to put together this one of a kind exhibit and tour. The Vanderbilt House Party audio tour runs through May 27, 2019.

The Dining Room

The main dining room which towers at two stories features a fireplace that a man can stand in and Flemish tapestries adorn the walls. During the holidays, the dining room contains an enormous thirty-four foot Frazier fur Christmas tree decorated with wrapped packages inside its branches. The wood-paneled library on the opposite end of the home mirrors the size of the dining room at two stories is warm and inviting with its twenty-three thousand volumes of various works including literature, art, and travel. While many of the rooms in the house are massive, many, because of the interior design choices, maintain an intimate and warm feeling.

The house was opened to the public in 1930 by Vanderbilt’s daughter, Cornelia. Today, George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson William Cecil runs the estate and employs some twenty-three hundred people to run and maintain the eight thousand acre property. Today it is kept much in the tradition as it was in the 1930s.

Biltmore Village

Surrounding the Biltmore

The Biltmore Village houses the three hotels, restaurants and shops and the Antler Hill Winery.  Opened in 1985, the Wineries first grape vines were planted on the estate in the 1970s. Oenophiles will appreciate the Estates outstanding vintages and delight in the tours offered including which include a vine to the wine tour.

From fine dining at The Inn at Biltmore Estate to the Conservatory Café, food is aplenty at the Biltmore. In the Village, Cedric’s Tavern, named for one of the Vanderbilt’s St. Bernard’s, is an old world pub-style restaurant in Antler Hill Village where you can enjoy large portions of classic fare. 

After a tour of the residence, we opted for lunch in the aptly named, Stable Café which offers lunch and on special occasions, dinner. The former horse stalls serve as booths for the guests. The café can feel a bit cramped, but the service is quick, the serves attentive and the food hearty.

The Biltmore offers several packages with accommodations at the Village Hotel at Biltmore Estate, the Inn at Biltmore Estate, and the Cottages at Biltmore Estate. The city of Asheville offers a wide range of mid-priced hotels within a fifteen-minute drive of the estate. On this trip, the Springhill Suites offered a comfortable room, good amenities, and a short drive to the estate.

The self-guided tour or audio tour of the main house takes about two hours. It is an intensive look at the house and its holdings. Additional tours of the house and grounds are available year-round. Peak time visits do require timed entry reservations. Both the downstairs and rooftop tours offer a different perspective of the house and estate, and each is worth exploring.

Included in your tour ticket is parking on the estate property. Parking lots B and C provide a shuttle with easy access to the House. Parking lot A provides an easy eight-minute walk to the house as well as easy access to the Diana statute that overlooks the estate.    

Reminiscent of Downton Abbey, Biltmore House is a piece of American history and architecture that should not be missed. It will be a treasured memory for each visitor who makes the journey back into the Gilded Age of America.

Lexington Glassworks

Lexington Glassworks

Glassblowing intrigues me, so I seek out glassblowers wherever I visit. Asheville has a large artist community, so finding top-notch glassblowers was not hard.  After finishing the tour of the Biltmore, we headed to Lexington Glassworks. 

At Lexington, the resident glassblowers create one of a kind glass blown pieces and custom lighting pieces.  There are no glass blowing classes at Lexington, just five dedicated, skilled glass blowers and two shop assistants creating beautifully inspired glass.

Asher makes a glass pen holder

In their fifth year in business, co-owners Geoff Koslow and Billy Guilford are seeing growth and progress for Lexington Glassworks. The business partners met when they attended Alfred University located between Rochester and Corning, New York.  They both wanted to work and share their inspiration in the art of glass.

Working in tandem

We watched as the Geoff Koslow and his shop assistant Asher began working the glass to prepare glass for use in more pieces. Geoff explained that glass blowing was a ‘team sport”. 

On Thursday through Sunday afternoons at Lexington, you will find a bar to serve its visitors. It’s a relaxing way to view all the creations in the gallery. On the first Friday of each month, Lexington stays open a little later, and hosts live music in the gallery.

Lexington’s limited edition ornament sale on small business Saturday each year has customers lined up to purchase one of the its offered handcrafted ornaments.

If you have some time extra time while visiting Asheville seek out this glass studio, you might find that perfect glass souvenir for your trip.

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