When people explore their faith through travel, they often seek out destinations with natural beauty and meaningful experiences. NTA’s newest Faith Travel Association member, Biltmore Estate, has that kind of draw, offering the splendor of an estate, tranquil spaces, and unique history and events.
Constructed in the late 1880s in the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Biltmore was the brainchild of George Washington Vanderbilt, who visited the Asheville, North Carolina, area often with his mother. He quickly fell in love with the mountainous landscape and pleasant climate, and he opted to build there his summer home, a French Renaissance-inspired chateau that he dubbed Biltmore—a combination of De Bilt, his ancestral home in the Netherlands, and more, the Anglo-Saxon word for “rolling land.”
Vanderbilt opened the home to his loved ones on Christmas Eve in 1895, and it quickly became the stomping grounds for the prominent Vanderbilt family. Biltmore also saw many famous faces—from novelists Edith Wharton and Henry James to ambassadors Joseph Hodges Choate and Larz Anderson—who came to visit over the years. George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898. Their only daughter, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, was born in 1900 in the home, and she was raised there. After George’s sudden death in 1914, Edith sold 87,000 acres of the estate to the United States Forest Service.
“She carried out her late husband's wish that the land remain pristine, and that property became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest,” says Biltmore Estate’s Jeff Ralls.
When times grew tough during the Great Depression, Cornelia and her husband, John Francis Amherst Cecil, heard the request of the city of Asheville to help revive tourism in the area and opened Biltmore to the public as an attraction. It later closed during World War II to house precious pieces from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in the event of an attack on the United States, according to Ralls.
The estate became a National Historic Landmark in 1963, and it now thrives in the hands of the Cecil family, seeing 1.5 million visitors each year. Ralls says the attraction’s goal as an FTA member is to introduce more groups on spiritual journeys to the beauty and grandeur of Biltmore in Asheville.
“The astonishing architecture of Biltmore House set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, combined with the estate’s gardens and forests, offer our guests moments of contemplation and serenity,” Ralls says. “When George Vanderbilt created Biltmore, his vision was to provide an oasis where his family and friends could retreat from the world. We strive to provide the same experiences for our guests today.”
When touring the house and grounds, guests can see the way American royalty lived and explore room after room of soaring ceilings, opulent décor, massive fireplaces, an indoor pool, bowling alley, and garden, as well as incredible architecture and extensive outdoor gardens.
Here is a list of annual events held at Biltmore that Ralls suggests for faith-based itineraries. Each is included with daily admission unless otherwise noted:
Biltmore Blooms (Now through May 26) Be immersed in waves of color as the 8,000 acres of gardens and grounds transform for the season. Savor complimentary wine tastings at Biltmore Estate Winery and enjoy an array of outdoor activities, shops, and restaurants, and of course, the timeless beauty of Biltmore House & Gardens.
Summer at Biltmore (May 27–Sept. 30) In summertime, rediscover your joie de vive at Biltmore. This French phrase expresses a cheerful enjoyment of life, and that’s just what Biltmore invites you to share at the magnificent mountain oasis with all the charms of a European setting.
Fall at Biltmore (Oct. 1–Nov. 3) To witness autumn’s colorful transformation in the Blue Ridge Mountains is truly breathtaking. Experience the exquisite changing of the season at Biltmore across its expansive gardens and grounds.
Christmas at Biltmore (Nov. 4–Jan. 8) A daytime visit to Biltmore is a feast for the senses, featuring fragrant wreaths, glittering garland, and the sparkle of thousands of ornaments from Biltmore House to Antler Hill Village.
Candlelight Christmas Evenings (Nov. 4–Jan. 8) A majestic Norway spruce and pathway luminaries welcome visitors to America’s Largest Home. Inside, they’ll discover Biltmore by the soft glow of candles, fireplaces, and twinkle lights, and enjoy elaborate decorations and thousands of ornaments. The magic continues in Antler Hill Village, which is festooned with a glittering cascade of lights, ornaments, and displays. Separate ticket and reservation required.
For more information, email Biltmore’s Shawn Boone, or call Shawn at 1.828.225.1412.