Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains between the Blue Ridge Range and the Great Smokies, Asheville’s unique character is a curious blend of progressive and old-fashioned… lively and laid-back… big city and small town. This small city of about 84,000 has been a popular destination since 19th Century doctors prescribed the area’s fresh air, mild climate, hot springs and mineral waters as a prescription for rehabilitation and relaxation. The city became a popular health resort and drew a great number of rich and famous Americans like George W. Vanderbilt II and E.W. Grove. Asheville is frequently included in national rankings for a diverse variety of qualities. Recently, the city has been included on lists such as “America’s Top Arts Destinations”, “Most Alive Places To Live”, “Best Places to Reinvent Your Life”, “10 Most Beautiful Places in America”. CBS once described Asheville as a “new-age mecca”. Frommer’s proclaimed Asheville as one of the top seven places to live in the U.S. Rolling Stone once dubbed Asheville as the “New Freak Capital of the U.S.” While it is debatable whether Ashevillians are flattered by that title… 10 minutes of people-watching in downtown Asheville reveal its eclectic mix of people and lifestyles.
The 8000-acre Biltmore Estate is Asheville’s primary tourist attraction. The estate’s centerpiece is the four-story 250-room Biltmore House, the realized vision of George Washington Vanderbilt II, the son of William H. Vanderbilt and the grandson of railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Completed in 1895, the French Renaissance mansion was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and is billed as America’s largest private home. The exterior walls are made of Indiana limestone. The exterior features many highly detailed adornments including traditional “grotesques” or “gargoyles”. Its interior floor space covers about four acres. At a time when interior plumbing was a luxury and bathrooms were virtually unknown, the Biltmore mansion had 43 bathrooms and three kitchens. The building has 65 fireplaces, an enormous banquet hall and a huge library containing over 10,000 books. The common areas are adorned with intricate rugs, luxurious furniture and exquisite woodwork from floor to ceiling. Although modest by comparison to the rest of the mansion, the servants’ quarters and common areas appear quite comfortable and comparable in size to rooms in today’s typical American home.
An introverted and highly intelligent man, George Vanderbilt was the youngest of William Vanderbilt’s sons. George had little role in the family’s business operations, leaving him free to indulge his intellectual pursuits. During his extensive travels, he amassed an amazing collection of art, antiques and curiosities from around the world… still on display at the mansion. Visitors will see paintings by Renoir and Whistler, a print of Albrecht Durer’s rhinoceros, Napoleon Bonaparte’s chess set, Oriental rugs and tapestries and many other important and beautiful artworks. The basement includes recreational and fitness elements… including a large gymnasium filled with 19th Century fitness equipment, a large indoor swimming pool with underwater lighting, bowling alleys and about a dozen changing rooms for guests to put on their swimming and workout clothes.