One cool surprise was an exhibit of costumes from Downton Abbey, on display in various rooms throughout the house. At each display, they had a brief description of the costumes being shown ("Lady Mary's dress, featuring... umm... red fabric of some kind..." obviously I'm not a fashion person, per se), some history behind that costume, and what it conveyed about the attitudes of the time. Since the Biltmore was built to imitate the world in which Downton Abbey is set, the costumes fit in very naturally, and it was a somewhat surreal blend of history and fiction.
Although I couldn't take any pictures while inside the house, here are some photos from just outside.
Welcome to the Biltmore.
One of the many figures adorning the windows.
The view from the loggia (a.k.a. back porch), looking out to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After wandering inside for a while, it was time to head off to see the gardens. They were also very extensive, and I enjoyed this part of the afternoon much more than the tour of the house. The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead — who also designed Central Park in New York — and there was a real variety of styles, from a walled English garden, to quiet streams, to huge vine-covered trees.
Starting out in the shrub garden...
Looking through the lattice to the walled garden
Heading into the Spring garden...
Did I mention the huge trees?
The bass pond, a few miles from the house.
A hothouse flower in the Conservatory.
One last view of the house, from the walled garden.
On the whole, I was very glad to have had the chance to visit the Biltmore, as it was definitely a unique experience. It was also interesting to see how a very rich family chose to splurge in the late 1800's, and the ways in which the house drew on European ideas of luxury and culture.