Inn on Biltmore Estate Offers Guests a Taste of Vanderbilt Hospitality
Imagine being an architect given the opportunity to build George W. Vanderbilt's country retreat, a veritable palace designed to house his immense collection of art, artifacts and prized possessions. Imagine being the landscape architect on the project, charged with creating a series of idyllic gardens, pastoral settings, forest walks and farms in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Fast forward a century later and imagine being the design team asked to create an inn worthy of the 8,000-acre Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC, where guests from around the world come to experience the same level of hospitality, comfort and relaxed elegance the Vanderbilts offered to their family and friends in the 1890s. A daunting task, to put it mildly.
"The challenge of creating a modern, 213-room inn on historic Biltmore came in creating something in keeping with the dramatic natural beauty of the property and the original intent of Vanderbilt for his estate as a place of retreat and relaxation," said Bill Cecil Jr., CEO of The Biltmore Company and great-grandson of George Vanderbilt. "We knew we were not going to build another Biltmore House. That would have been impossible. But we did want the inn to reflect all of the elements of hospitality, excellence in design and thoughtful appointments synonymous with Vanderbilt's home."
The Inn on Biltmore Estate, which opened March 16, 2001, is not a replica of America's largest home; the 250-room Biltmore House designed by Richard Morris Hunt. But its intention is to be as inviting and as gracious. Like Biltmore House, which opened with some fanfare in 1895, the Inn on Biltmore Estate offers its guests all the comforts of home—and then some: beautiful furnishings; memorable surroundings; windows opening to mountain views; outings on horseback, on foot or by carriage; exquisite dining; and a quiet spot to relax in the inn's library with a view of Biltmore House.
In addition, the hotel has received Mobil Travel Guide's Four-Star rating, Four Diamonds from AAA, inclusion in National Geographic Traveler's "56 Hotels We Love" and a spot on Conde Nast Traveler's 2005 Gold List: World's Best Places to Stay.
The architectural firm, Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates, Inc., of Atlanta, GA., and the landscape design team, Design Workshop of Aspen, CO, labored over the process of blending a new structure with the existing estate for several years. Attention focused on finding a site for the inn, and a decision to place it on a hill above Biltmore Winery was made long before a search in the archives uncovered an interesting—and surprising—coincidence.
"We knew that Vanderbilt considered construction of a hotel on the property from a letter in the archives from Estate Superintendent Charles McNamee to Mr. Vanderbilt," said Ellen Rickman, Biltmore director of museum services. "In that correspondence, McNamee refers to Vanderbilt's interest in a hotel, presumably as an extension of the estate. But when we found the letter dated August 9, 1900, we were quite surprised at the specific reference to the inn being '. . . located on a hill . . .'"
Vanderbilt was evidently serious enough about investigating a hotel that he secured some initial estimates. One of those estimates, also in the Biltmore House archives, calls for 449 doors and windows, 182,000 bricks, 188,000 shingles, 138,000 feet of framing timbers and other materials at a total cost of $17,509—a far cry from the modern cost of $31 million.
Although Vanderbilt's plans for an inn did not address landscaping, estate staff felt confident that he would have looked for a plan as magnificent as estate landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's design for the rest of the property. Outside the inn, great care has been taken to mimic his genius. Naturalistic landscaping—employing native plants and stone—mirrors Olmsted's precise planning of 100 years ago, with careful attention to views and vistas.
"The greatest challenge in working on the inn project was developing a site plan and landscape design with a complete understanding of and continuity with the original ideals of Frederick Law Olmsted," said Bruce Hazzard with Design Workshop. "The design of the approach road to the inn was inspired by Olmsted's use of existing landforms, plant massings and tree placement in a more natural manner to build anticipation and give guests a sense of arrival once they reach the inn."
And when guests do arrive at the inn, they are met with 165,000 square feet of amenities Vanderbilt would have been proud to offer including: banquet rooms; board and meeting rooms; a variety of guest rooms, including suites; a full-service, 150-seat restaurant; library; lobby bar; exterior swimming pool; and fitness center. Guests can also enjoy activities reminiscent of Vanderbilt's day—walking and hiking trails, carriage rides, horseback riding, fly-fishing, boating and biking.
"Our ultimate goal has always been to open an inn on the property that feels as though it could be George Vanderbilt's guest house," said Cecil. "We want people to enjoy waking up to the quiet of the mountains, to watch deer grazing in the fields at twilight, put on their walking shoes and explore the forested trails of the estate. They can visit Biltmore House, stroll through the gardens, enjoy a leisurely afternoon tasting wine at our winery and then join us for dinner in The Dining Room, our fine dining restaurant at the Inn.
With the exception of all of the social trappings that were necessary—and probably unappreciated—during Vanderbilt's day, we feel our Inn on Biltmore Estate guests will feel right at home, Biltmore style."
Call 1-877-324-5866 to make reservations. Meeting planners and groups interested in reservations may inquire about bookings by calling 828-225-1613.
For more information about Biltmore, contact The Biltmore Company at One Approach Road, Asheville, NC 28803 or at 1-877-324-5866 or visit the company's Web site at www.biltmore.com.