When millionaire George Vanderbilt decided to invite friends for their first look at his new estate, he asked them over for Christmas Eve.
That was in 1895, and today the Biltmore (www.biltmore.com) draws thousands of visitors to its holiday events.
The centerpiece that first Christmas Eve was a huge fir in the Banquet Hall; it still is, though 56 elaborately decorated trees can be seen throughout the mansion, which also is freshened with miles of garlands and wreathes and roughly 1,000 red and white poinsettias. The actual big attraction may well be the 55-foot Norway spruce on the front lawn: It’s lit by more than 45,000 tiny white lights.
Biltmore is open for evening holiday tours Nov. 9-Jan. 4, with choirs and musical ensembles offering seasonal music in the Winter Garden and elsewhere in the house. Reservations are required for these Candlelight Christmas Evenings; the tours fill quickly, so book early.
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Reservations aren’t needed for daytime visits, but contact Biltmore in advance for tour information.
The estate’s Antler Village & Winery – included in Biltmore admission – also sports holiday flourishes. The Village consists of restaurants, shops, the winery and the Outdoor Adventure Center. Santa will be at Antler Village Saturdays through Dec. 22. Also of note: The estate’s floral arranging and gardening experts will be at A Gardener’s Place, the gardening shop in the Walled Garden, on the conservatory’s lower level, Oct. 28-Jan. 1 offering free daily “Decorating with Christmas Wreaths” and “Caring for Christmas Plants” seminars.
After the holidays, a visit to the Biltmore Conservatory may alleviate your winter doldrums. It’s down the hill from Biltmore House. While large – 40 feet tall and with an area of 7,500 square feet – it was placed on lower ground to give it shelter from winter winds and to avoid distracting visitors’ attention from the Vanderbilt’s mansion.
Through the end of March, the thousands of tropical plants in the Conservatory are at peak bloom. There are more than 70 orchids, and they have a room of their own. Other warm-weather treasures blooming in winter range from agave to pineapple.