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Asheville, NC: A Royal Mountain Retreat

Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, Asheville is a vibrant, beautiful city today, attracting visitors from across the region. The city is best known for the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the United States. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1888 and 1895, the Biltmore Estate is a French Renaissance-inspired chateau boasting 175,000 square feet of exquisitely appointed rooms and even servants' quarters that can make one swoon. It is one of the most prominent examples of the lavish homes built during the Gilded Age.

Vanderbilt was the youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt. He was single and became the caretaker of his aging mother. Upon his travels to the area, he fell in love with the natural scenery and believed the climate to be beneficial to his mother's health. So he decided to build a summer estate in Asheville, and modeled it after self-supporting working estates of Europe. A true visionary, he commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds around the home, as he wanted the estate to be a tribute of the natural beauty of the land for future generations. Shortly after his mother's death, Vanderbilt ventured to Europe and came back with a wife, Edith Dresser Vanderbilt. They had one daughter, named Cornelia. After George's death, Edith finished selling much of the original 125,000 acres of the estate to the federal government. Those acres became what is known today as the Pisgah National Forest.

Today the estate is still owned by the descendants of George Washington Vanderbilt and welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Tourists can enter the house museum and view examples of 19th century furniture, fine works of art, and such novelties as a 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, and elevators in the house. Famous guests to the estate include Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Presidents William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush.

The city of Asheville also offers an array of fine restaurants, upscale boutiques and historical buildings to visit. Pack Square, the public square has been a feature of the city since 1797, and it boasts several early 20th-century buildings such as the Neo-Classical Commerce Building (1904), the Legal Building (1909) designed by Smith and Carrier in the Renaissance Revival style, the Neo-Gothic Jackson Building. The nearby Basilica of St. Lawrence is also a fine architectural landmark in the Spanish Renaissance style.

Historic Biltmore Village and the Grove Arcade are popular venues for shopping and dining, offering gourmet markets, art galleries, antique stores and more. The Grove Park Inn is also a world-class hotel and spa that attracts visitors from across the nation. It is a historic, Arts and Crafts period lodge that opened in 1913, and was modeled after the grand old railway hotels of the West. The Inn's famous guests include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, George Gershwin, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry Ford, not to mention eight presidents from Woodrow Wilson to George H.W. Bush. Finally, for those who love the great outdoors, Asheville is also central to hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smokey Mountains, Chimney Rock, and the North Carolina Arboretum.

Biltmore Estate (anterior)

Biltmore Estate (posterior)

North Carolina Arboretum

The Grove Park Inn