The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has the distinction of being the largest privately owned home in the United States. The house, built in the 1890's in the French chateau style, has 250 rooms and a portion of these are open to the public. The estate also features a winery, gardens designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead (also the designer for Central Park), and a 4 star inn.
Estate admission starts at $45. This price covers entrance to the house, the winery, and the gardens. A self-guided tour is what is provided with admission. I prefer that as I like to spend more time on some things than others. There are other types of tours available at an extra cost. One I would like to take sometime is the rooftop tour. You get to visit rooms otherwise closed to the public and you get to experience the views from different balconies and other areas of the roof.
One of the places I like to spend more time on is the library. This room is wall to wall, ceiling to floor leatherbound books! There is a balcony that wraps around the room so that books on the upper level can be accessed. The balcony is reached from the main floor via an iron spiral staircase. Or, there are doors that open up behind the chimney! From what I have read, there is a corridor that runs from the guest rooms down to the library. This hallway ends behind the chimney of the library and doors open up to the balcony level of the library. It was designed this way so that guests could access the library without having to travel through the rest of the house.
This house is full of original artwork from artists such as Renoir, Whistler and Sargent. One of my favorite paintings there is The Waltz by Anders Zorn. There are also ancient tapestries and a chess set owned by Napolean. The ceiling in the library is actually painted canvases that make up The Chariot of Aurora by Pelligrini.
The Vanderbilts and their guests had all the modern conveniences available in the 1890's. Private bathrooms, an indoor swimming pool, a gymnasium with private dressing rooms, and a bowling alley are all found on the lower level of the house. The staff had their rooms on this level as well. I don't know what a typical person had in the 1890's, but household staff at the Biltmore had cast iron beds and washstands in private rooms. There are also staff dining and sitting rooms. One item that fascinated me was the "call" system that was in place. If someone in the upstairs rooms needed something, they pressed a button which rang a bell and lit up the number for that room in the downstairs call box.
Those are just a few of the things I remember from my Biltmore House visits. If you are interested in history, art, gardens, wine, horseback riding, rafting, fly-fishing or just plain relaxing, I recommend a visit to the Biltmore Estate. If you do go, wear comfortable shoes and clothes. A visit entails a lot of walking. I don't think young children would be very happy visiting the house as it's all pretty much " Do Not Touch".
There are several restaurants on the estate. I've eaten at a couple of them and while they are a bit expensive, they were very good. Most of the food is grown on the estate so it's very fresh.
I wish I had better photos to provide (the ones I have are views from the Inn and one of the house from the garden) so here is the link to the Biltmore Estate website: http://www.biltmore.com/ so you can get a better look inside.