By Kelly Watkins
Biltmore, set amid the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, is a dream location for outdoor sporting events. The estate encompasses 8,000 acres. It’s only in recent years that the Vanderbilt family has allowed sports events to take place on the Estate. Now, the number of events is growing, as the family welcomes more sports events.
For example, the Asheville Marathon has been run on the property for the past few years, providing incredible scenery for both runners and spectators. In 2016, a cyclo-cross race is scheduled to enjoy a course that’s 100% on the estate.
While Biltmore Estate might only be suitable for a limited number of events, the area around Asheville has hosted many other types of sports competitions. According to Ben VanCamp, executive director of the Asheville Sports Commission (www.AshevilleSports.org), one reason for successful sports events is that Asheville is a premier destination in the Southeast. Since participants can have a well-rounded experience, in addition to their sports event, that increases attendance. There’s food, music, crafts, and breweries. Ben says, “A lot of attendees come a day early or stay a day later. By holding the event here, it gives people the excuse they’ve been looking for to visit Asheville.”
Because Asheville has four distinct seasons, the area attracts all types of sports from skiing to soccer. In addition, Ben notes that there is recent growth in gymnastics (due to a new and updated facility) and lacrosse.
Regardless of where your event is held in Asheville, a visit to Biltmore is a must-see for participants and their families. Personally, having marveled at countless castles on numerous visits to Europe, I had always wondered how Biltmore compared. Many people refer to Biltmore (www.Biltmore.com) as America’s castle, since it is the country’s largest privately owned residence, with 250 rooms that occupy four acres of floor space.
I finally had the opportunity to make my comparison during a recent trip to Asheville. Since Biltmore was completed in December 1895, it was quickly apparent that it was more modern. European castles were built hundreds of years ago, so they can’t boast electricity or indoor bathrooms. In addition to 35 bedrooms, Biltmore contains 43 bathrooms, which is an astonishing number even for today’s standards. (I will admit my house contains slightly fewer bathrooms.)
I found it curious that most bathrooms contained a tub and toilet, but no sink. Hot water was still carried to the bedrooms by servants and placed in a bowl on the wash stand – a reminder of the limitations of plumbing at the time.
While Biltmore easily wins in modern amenities, most European castles are fancier than Biltmore – with more gold, more crystal, and more ornate decorations. However, those castles were built for Kings and Queens. Biltmore was built by George Vanderbilt (grandson of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt) as an escape from his busy life in New York. George worked extensively with Frederick Law Olmsted, famed landscape architect. His goal was to preserve the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as create a sustainable working farm. It took six years for 1,000 workers working six days a week to complete the house.
In European castles, the most prominent feature is typically the staircase – which is massive, curved, or even doubled. It is usually adorned with an enormous crystal chandelier twinkling in candlelight. At Biltmore, the most prominent feature as I entered the castle was the Winter Garden, a circular room immediately on the right. With its three-story, glass ceiling and abundant greenery, this elaborate indoor conservatory was impressive.
My husband, the engineer, immediately noticed the small hand cranks along the columns at the edge of the room. He asked our son, Ethan, what he thought their purpose was. After a couple of wrong guesses, Ethan used his eyes to visually follow the path of the metal bars that were attached to the cranks. They led all the way to the small windows near the ceiling. Aha! The cranks were used to open and shut the windows. Very ingenious … especially for a house built 120 years ago.
Unlike continental European castles (but similar to English ones), Biltmore is still family owned – by the fourth and fifth generations. George Vanderbilt passed away in 1914. Sadly, he wasn’t able to enjoy his beautiful home for long. However, his wife, Edith, continued to run the Estate and carry on George’s desire to preserve the surrounding land. This legacy included selling (at a significant discount) 87,000 acres to the US Forest Service to create the Pisgah National Forest – uninterrupted views of which I enjoyed from the house’s windows and terraces.
George and Edith’s daughter, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, eventually opened the home to the public in 1930. Through the years, the property has been expanded to include Deerpark, which hosts events, and the Antler Hill Village and Winery. Tours of the winery (and free samples!) are included in the admission price to the Estate. Today, it takes 2,000 employees to operate and maintain this American castle called Biltmore.
If you go
Biltmore house is open from 9:00am-5:00pm daily. The hours for the winery and gardens vary. After entering the estate through the Lodge Gate, your first stop is the Reception & Ticketing Sales Center, which is open from 8:30 am-6:30 pm daily. This is where you first realize just how enormous the estate is. The house is an additional 3 miles from the Reception building.
Where to stay
The Biltmore Farms Hotels company (www.BiltmoreFarmsHotels.com), which consists of five hotels, is owned by George Vanderbilt’s great grandson. We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville Biltmore (www.doubletreeasheville.com). After a long drive, it was nice to greeted by one of DoubleTree’s famous warm cookies.
This DoubleTree is accustomed to accommodating sports groups. As the host hotel for the Asheville Marathon, the DoubleTree is the staging point for all transportation to the event. The property is located only two blocks from Biltmore. DoubleTree also hosts an Expo before the Marathon, with approximately 80 exhibitors, according to Lauren McDevitt, Marketing Manager for Biltmore Farms Hotels.
To help the participants, DoubleTree offers creative pre-event packages. For example, the hotel provides a pasta dinner the night before the race. Corky Cordell, Sales Manager for Biltmore Farms Hotels, says this is a popular event because it allows the participants to socialize with each other.
DoubleTree is also one of the hosts for the NCAA Southern Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Every year, the DoubleTree creates a different treat designed specifically for the team they’re hosting. Lauren says past treats have included cupcakes iced with team colors, custom colored M&Ms™ with team name, and gourmet popcorn. The front desk staff join in the celebration by wearing referee jerseys.
DoubleTree offers a combined 12,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. While the Garden Terrace is a beautiful outdoor space for events, I enjoyed a quiet stroll through the oasis on my own.
A bonus feature of this DoubleTree is the museum-like corridors and public spaces. They are filled with panoramic pictures and historic descriptions of the construction of Biltmore and the growth of the surrounding community. There’s even a display of an actual horse-drawn dairy wagon (without the horse) and a statue of a dairy cow (without the mooing). These provided fun backdrops for some pictures of my children.
Kelly Watkins helps companies around the globe to develop leaders and improve service. Do you have Executive Professionalism™? Find out at www.ExecutiveProfessionalism.com. Kelly writes about her travel adventures for fun. [email protected]