Celebrating the holidays in grand style

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On Christmas Eve in 1895, George Vanderbilt welcomed friends and family to his estate for the first time. More than a century later, visitors are still celebrating the holiday at Biltmore House.

Situated on more than 8,000 acres of land in Asheville, North Carolina, the 250-room French Renaissance chateau is known as America’s largest private home. Its 178,926 square feet include 35 bedrooms, 43 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and 19th-century throwbacks like electric elevators, a call-bell system and a banquet hall featuring a 1916 Skinner pipe organ — as well as the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art and antiques.

A roughly five-hour drive from Hilton Head Island, the Biltmore Estate is a great weekend vacation spot at any time of year, but it is at its most beautiful when decorated for the holiday season: the smell of fresh evergreens, holiday décor like wreaths and garland, and sparkling ornaments hanging from bows of greenery.

biltmore“In Biltmore House alone, guests will enjoy 55 hand-decorated Christmas trees, including a 34-foot-tall Fraser fir tree in the seven-story-tall Banquet Hall,” said LeeAnn Donnelly, the Biltmore’s senior public relations manager.

Christmas is the most popular time of year at the famous estate, Donnelly said, with roughly 300,000 people exploring the house and its grounds over the season. Visitors can travel back in time to experience Christmas the way the Vanderbilts did, based on family archives.

This season, the holiday celebrations at the estate will run through Jan. 7.

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Over the decades, Biltmore has expanded to include Antler Hill Village, which features an award-winning winery and farm; The Inn on Biltmore Estate; Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate; an equestrian center; numerous restaurants; event and meeting venues; and the company’s licensed products division, Biltmore For Your Home. Admission includes access to the entire estate.

biltmore02Throughout the estate during the holidays, guests can see more than 100 hand-decorated Christmas trees; 135,000 LED and mini lights; and more than 1,000 traditional poinsettias and 1,000 amaryllis, Christmas cactus, orchids, peace lilies, cyclamen, begonias, kalanchoe and potted green plants.

Guests can also tour the Conservatory, adorned with festive poinsettias and orchids, participate in a holiday decorating seminar at A Gardener’s Place, and enjoy free tastings of estate-made wines at Antler Hill Village and Winery.

Donnelly said the winery features a ceiling display of 7,000 large-scale ornaments that create the sense of being inside a bottle of sparkling wine.

New this year is an enchanting village scene with a constellation of holiday lights at Antler Hill, Donnelly said.

“ ‘Waterfall’ lights cascading from treetops, stars and ornaments draping tree branches, miniature lights outlining the archways and buildings — it is a magical scene,” Donnelly said.

On the weekends this season, carolers will be performing throughout the village, and Santa will be available to visit with good little boys and girls. Then gather round the bonfire near the “waterfall” lights and toast marshmallows for s’mores.

“Christmas at Biltmore is a sight to behold,” Donnelly said.

CHRISTMAS AT THE BILTMORE

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, will be decorated for the holidays through Jan. 7. Biltmore House will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the holidays, with Candlelight Christmas Evenings beginning at 5:30 p.m. The candlelight events are by reservation only and are not included in daytime admission.

biltmore05Reservations are required for self-guided tours of Biltmore House during the holidays.

There are plenty of other spots to explore on the estate that don’t require a reservation. Raise a glass at the Biltmore Winery, America’s most-visited winery. Explore the family’s impact on the region and culture at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village, or step back in time and into the everyday lives of the families who lived and worked on the estate At the Antler Hill Farm & Barn.

For more information on visiting the estate, call 800-411-3812 or go to www.biltmore.com.