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Summertime Fun: Just Like in the Vanderbilts’ Day

Written By Leeann Donnelly

Posted 06/06/17

Updated 04/16/24

Estate History

Whether it’s your first time visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, or you’re planning a return, summer is the season for outdoor fun at Biltmore, and the choices are as plentiful today as they were back in the Vanderbilt days over a century ago.

Cornelia with one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House, ca. 1903. Cedric was the first of at least four generations born on the estate. The St. Bernard pictured is likely one of his grown pups.
Cornelia with one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House, ca. 1903.

Creating a Grand Getaway

Cornelia Vanderbilt, the only child, born to George and Edith Vanderbilt, is the picture of relaxed elegance, enjoying the company of one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House. This is what her father, George Vanderbilt, intended when he chose the mountains of western North Carolina as the setting for his country estate in the late 1800s. He sought an antidote to the social pressures and hectic pace of New York City, and created a retreat where he, his family, and friends could relax and immerse themselves in the area’s natural beauty during the summer.

Guests in 1905 play croquet in the Italian Garden.

The family welcomed hundreds of guests to Biltmore House through the years. It’s no wonder they stayed for weeks at a time. The combination of the elegant French château, gently rolling hills, and mild weather captured the imagination. Spring and summer lured the hosts and their friends outdoors to play. A dazzling array of activities appealed to nearly every taste and whim.

Reel Summer Fun

The Vanderbilts offered tennis, croquet, archery, fishing, horseback riding, golf, swimming, “automobiling,” and lawn bowling in the formal gardens and landscaped grounds surrounding Biltmore House.

Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt in Biltmore's stables, c. 1917
Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt in Biltmore’s stables, c. 1917

George Vanderbilt was descended from a family famous for its love of racing and raising horses. Coaching and riding were always favorite recreational activities. Cornelia grew up riding horses, and for a time, she even had a donkey to ride. It’s tough to find a more exciting and beautiful way to see the estate than from the back of a horse.

Edith and Cornelia fishing at the Lagoon.

Edith was known to be an avid fisherwoman. She often gave fishing parties at Biltmore, and daughter Cornelia fished right alongside her. Today we honor that memory by offering fly fishing lessons on the Lagoon.

Our archives note that the family enjoyed hikes into the forest and across estate ridges during the summertime. George Vanderbilt himself loved to get out in the woods and see the estate on foot. We make estate grounds easily accessible for guests interested in leisurely strolls or challenging hikes.

Cornelia Vanderbilt swimming in Front Lawn fountain.

As a little girl, Cornelia splashed around in the front lawn fountain, and later as a young woman, entertained guests at the pool on the South Terrace. The pool is no longer on the South Terrace, but both The Inn and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate have swimming pools surrounded by beautiful scenery that open for the summer.

The French Broad River runs through the estate and guests can book river rafting and kayaking as away to explore the scenic views of this gentle river.

George Vanderbilt poses in a carriage in front of Biltmore House.

Cruising Through Summer in Style

As automobiles came into fashion, George Vanderbilt was enamored with this mode of transportation. His interest in cars must have rubbed off on Cornelia, for she tooled around the estate in a sporty convertible. One of the most unique offerings at Biltmore is the Land Rover Driving Experience. Guests are challenged to learn navigating a Land Rover through a rugged driving course. 

There’s also something to be said about simply taking time to relax and enjoy the scenery from a horse-drawn carriage or during a hike on our estate trails. Guests today are encouraged to hike the Vista to observe the very same scenery George Vanderbilt and his family saw back in their day.

You can also find a good spot on the Village Green to picnic, listen to live music, and hang out with friends and family. 

Guided fishing is one of the many Vanderbilt-inspired activities available for guests to book at Biltmore.

Vacation like a Vanderbilt

Summertime fun is just a hop, skip, and jump away. Plan your visit to join us this summer on George Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre Blue Ridge Mountain getaway, just as it was intended. For even more Vanderbilt-inspired fun, linger longer with summer days and overnight stays on our historic estate, or by joining our Passholder family.

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