advertisement

The French Renaissance château, built by George W. Vanderbilt, has 250 rooms. This is one of the largest and most impressive privately owned historic estates in the world, still under the control of the rich Vanderbilt clan.

Visitors should allow a minimum of 5 hours to see the place -- it's huge. The fourth floor is now open, expanding your tour to view the servant's quarters. Many sightseers make a day of it. If you get your pass stamped when you leave the estate at the end of your first day, you can return anytime the following day for a flat fee of $10.

The estate is divided into four different attractions, including the mansion itself, part of a 2- to 2 1/2-hour self-directed tour. Visitors are supplied with a map that covers three floors of the building and the basement. Immediately adjacent to the mansion lie the greenhouses and conservatories. Three miles from the main house is the Winery and Biltmore Farm Village, the most visited winery in the U.S., featuring tours and wine tastings. It sells wine that's produced on the grounds. Finally, there's the Explore Biltmore Center, devoted to outdoor sports and family activities, including horseback riding, cycling, trips on the French Broad River, and other events. There isn't an ordinary spot in the place -- not even the kitchen. Vanderbilt gathered furnishings and art treasures from all over the world for this palace (Napoleon's chess set and table from St. Helena are here, for example) and then went further, creating one of the most lavish formal gardens you'll ever see.

Two tours are offered. The Behind the Scenes Tour provides further access to the house, and the Rooftop Tour provides panoramic views.