Biltmore Estate: A Chateau Wrapped Within an Excellent Visitor Experience!
The 250-room house brings you to the door. The hospitality makes you a Biltmore fan!
by Susan Marie Ward
I'll admit up front that I'm biased. In a good way! I was curator of Biltmore House, back in the day, and nowadays I have an annual pass and visit regularly. While the house is my passion, sometimes I go and never enter the house, instead sitting on the Library Terrace, meandering in the Azalea Garden, and taking pictures at the Boat House. Biltmore is a place of art, architecture, gardens, and activities, and also a place of quiet repose. This historic site will improve wellness in all who visit!
3-mile Approach Road
6 years to build
70-foot high ceiling in the Banquet Hall
250-room French inspired mansion
8000 acres of land
92,000 objects of art, books, and archives
175,000 square feet of floor space
1,000,000 visitors annually
The Eclectic Collector
George Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, was inspired by his travels and his reading when he began planning Biltmore. The French chateau-inspired mansion is filled with Impressionist art, Richard Morris Hunt designed furniture and decoration, Chinese porcelains, an Italian ceiling, Les Animaliers bronzes, Flemish tapestries, first edition books, and more. Unlike many historic house museums, Biltmore's furnishings are original to the time when George Vanderbilt lived there. Whether you're admiring the Winter Garden, examining the details in Mrs. Vanderbilt's Bedroom, or feeling awed by the Library, you'll be learning about not only George Vanderbilt, but the Gilded Age and life during late 19th/early 20th century.
More than a historic house museum
Biltmore House - the size, the art, the reputation - brings people in. But many are surprised by the plethora of additional experiences that are available. While my focus is always the House and the surrounding gardens, grounds, conservatory, pond, and lagoon, there are opportunities to ride bikes, float down the river, hike numerous trails, taste wine, pet the farm animals, visit the barn, fill your palate, and even stay overnight.
Hospitality is part of the Biltmore DNA
George Vanderbilt created Biltmore as a place to entertain friends and family. Fishing, hiking, croquet, riding, and wandering in the gardens were part of the experience when you visited Biltmore during Mr. Vanderbilt's time.
That focus continues today. The push towards hospitality as a core business value began at Biltmore in the 1990s. Part of the inspiration was the famed theme parks in Florida and California. The hospitality/customer service focus was underpinned by an expanded version of staff training. Three topics were covered during that early training - customer service and hospitality, human resources, and history. As curator at the time, I presented the history segment. The goal for that early training was to get all staff - no matter what department they worked in - to have the same basic information about Biltmore as well as a new emphasis on customer service. I still remember that one of the implementation strategies was that front-line employees were given the authority to help guests without having to ask a supervisor for authorization.
Hospitality is clearly instilled in all Biltmore staff. No matter who you speak to during your day at Biltmore, you get eye contact, a smile, and a helpful demeanor. In front of Biltmore House, one staff person cheerfully explained her job to me as Biltmore Ambassador, someone who roves about at various locations answering questions. When I showed my entrance reservation on my phone to the entry staff person, explaining that I was a bit early, he smiled and said, "I don't see a clock, do you?" and he let me in. When I chatted with one of the interpretive guides inside Biltmore House, mentioning that I had once been curator, she asked my name and called me by name as we parted. The bartender at Cedric's, one of the on-site restaurants, was engaging and friendly, curious to know how my visit to Biltmore was going. All of that hospitality made me smile and feel very welcome! For me, the visitor experience is as important as the art and artifacts that I might see at any museum.
Biltmore hospitality continues through available seating in the House and on the grounds, free lockers, and excellent wayfinding. Attractive, informative, easy-to-read signage moves you easily from one part of the Estate to another, as well as within each area of Biltmore.
Sharing the Biltmore story
Within Biltmore House, the narrative about the Vanderbilts, the art, and the architecture is communicated through a well-done audio tour. The information is presented through a variety of voices on an easy-to-use device. The kid-friendly audio tour is presented from the perspective of the Vanderbilt's dog, Cedric.
While there are no labels within Biltmore House, the Interpretive Guides are well-informed and able to answer questions. Also, they are supported by information books in most of the rooms in the house filled with facts, dates, and photographs that supplement what's on the audio tour.
Throughout the rest of Biltmore Estate, there are outdoor informational signs that explain historical information through written text and archival photographs.
Unlike most museums in the United States, Biltmore Estate is completely self-supporting, not dependant on any government money or grants. They are a for-profit organization focused on the preservation of Biltmore. The mission of this family-owned historic site is “The preservation of Biltmore as a privately-owned, profitable working estate.”
How expensive is Biltmore?
Yep, it's expensive! Around $100, depending on the time of year and day of the week. Keep in mind, you get a 250-room chateau designed by Richard Morris Hunt; original art and furnishings from George Vanderbilt; 8000 acres of gardens and paths and roadways created by Frederick Law Olmsted; and options for food, fun, and lodging. Delightfully, it's all wrapped in well-done hospitality! Yes, it's expensive but you get a lot. Enough to fill a whole day, or more.
Whether it's interactions with staff, seating, or wayfinding, Biltmore does hospitality right!
A sense of awe and wonder boosts our mental wellness and Biltmore provides many opportunities to feel a sense of awe. While Biltmore doesn't have any intentional focus on mental health or wellbeing, there are numerous ways that you can destress and relax via quiet spaces and calming walks.
There are always surprises to be discovered! Frequent visitors to Biltmore often make it a goal to find something new to notice on every visit. It might be the buttons to call the servants, or the elaborate door handles and hinges, or the pattern in a ceiling, or a vase they never noticed before.
How to visit:
Biltmore requires pre-planning; it's not a place where you just turn up and wander in. Tickets with timed reservations are required, often needing to be made weeks or even months ahead, depending on the season. Because you'll be there for most of a day if not a full day, learn about the food and drink options. Pace yourself, there's a lot to see and do!
Do plan to visit Biltmore!
Biltmore is a fun and intriguing historic site for savvy museum visitors, cultural or heritage tourists, and people who love to quench their curiosity about art, architecture, landscape design, and the Gilded Age.
Have you visited Biltmore? What recommendations do you have for first-time visitors?