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A Visit to the Extraordinary Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC

July 28, 2015 by · 4 Comments 

Downtown Asheville, NC scurries with activity like a university campus on graduation day. From fancy dress to cutoffs and tees, folks move about and dine in small eateries serving up gourmet to down-home dishes. Musicians serenade on street corners adding a rhythmic beat to the air and micro-breweries concoct the latest craft beer. Outdoor enthusiasts hustle up mountainous roads: bicycling, jogging, hiking while others practice yoga in the plaza. Asheville is a happening crossroads where visitors and locals thrive on diversity and natural delights.

Yoga in the Plaza

Yoga in the Plaza

I was attracted by the elegant and extraordinary Biltmore Estate, Asheville’s claim to fame. No wonder; it’s America’s largest home, constructed for George Vanderbilt over six years and opened on Christmas 1895. After the NYC tycoon first visited the area, he fell in love with the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and clean air. His decision to build in Asheville brought prosperity to the entire region.

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate

The house sits on something like 8,000 acres and your first stop is at the welcoming center where you pick up tickets. Then, you drive to the parking lot where you pick up a shuttle bus that takes you on to the main house.

Biltmore Entrance

Biltmore Entrance

An audio guide is a must for touring the art-filled home. Vanderbilt hired architect Richard Morris Hunt and worked closely with him as they designed the blueprints. Note: a kid’s audio guide is available with Cedric, the family’s Saint Bernard, as narrator. Allow between one and a half to two hours, but don’t rush. Think of the place as a vast art museum with the personal touches of a multi-millionaire: medieval tapestries, spectacular sculpture, detailed wood prints, exquisite paintings, and fine furniture from world-class craftsmen. Plus, the house includes a library with 10,000 rare volumes, a castle-like banquet hall with a 70-foot ceiling, 65 fireplaces, and 43 bathrooms.

 

The rambling exterior incorporates stone architecture resembling the chateaux in the Loire Valley of France and carved stone figures like those found on Notre Dame. Every detail held meaning such as the intertwined initials GV on embossed copper flashing. The immense property and astonishing wealth make you shake your head in disbelief.

Biltmore stone carvings

Biltmore stone carvings

I also signed-up for the behind the scenes Rooftop Tour that’s led by a knowledgeable guide. The additional tour slips you through areas off limits to regular visitors. You climb the spiral staircase in the Observatory to venture outside. The views from this height and the wrap-around balconies provide spectacular panoramic vistas of the property and mountains. My group inspected stone grotesques and gargoyles (stone figures that act as drain pipes) up close. “Pat the buttocks of the statue without a tail for good karma, “said my guide. So, naturally I just had to give it a gentle tap! You peek into the rafters and learn how the roof was designed to prevent snow from cascading down and damaging the glass solarium. Lastly, you stop at the spot George Vanderbilt liked to take his guests for sunset. This area shows off the skills of the architects, landscapers, stone carvers and other artisans who brought the project to fruition.

Patting the Grotesque

Patting the Grotesque

I had to hurry through the colorful gardens planned by America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. Vanderbilt was studied horticulture so his gardens and forest were important to him. One can explore 2.5 miles of paths in the manicured gardens alone or stroll along the French Broad River, if time permits.

Biltmore Gardens

Biltmore Gardens

The daily admission ticket includes wine tasting, but I just couldn’t fit in the Antler Hill Village and Winery, an activity that would be right up my alley! You need a full day to properly experience the estate, gardens and vineyards (or barn and farmland with kids). Consider advance reservation at an additional cost for outdoor extras such as the Sports Clay School, horseback riding, Segway tours, fly-fishing, biking, and kayaking. Don’t cut yourself short, but then again, like me, you’ll have many reasons to return to breathtaking Asheville.

Find information at ExploreAsheville.com or Biltmore.com.

Rooftop View

Rooftop View

An article similar to this appeared in the August 2015 issue of the Mandarin Newsline.

Panoramic View from the Rooftop of the Biltmore.

Panoramic View from the Rooftop of the Biltmore.

A Sweet Stay at Sourwood Inn

July 21, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

A drive to Asheville, North Carolina takes seven hours from my home, but I had a family wedding to attend. The travel writer in me decided to go two days early and explore the city as I’d never been there before. The local Tourism Board (ExploreAsheville.com) arranged for a two-night stay at the Sourwood Inn. Thank you for that sweet treat.

 

Sourwood Inn from driveway

Sourwood Inn from driveway

Sourwood Inn is a hidden jewel; I passed it by twice before locating the entrance off the Blue Ridge Parkway and Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. That was after owner Susan Curtis warned me about the ten miles of winding roads I’d encounter getting there. Major hairpin turns and slow speeds, but once you find it, your cares drift away.

Main Lobby of the Sourwood Inn.

Main Lobby of the Sourwood Inn.

The twelve-room retreat sits on one hundred acres of mountainous terrain at 3200 feet elevation, however, just 15-20 minutes from downtown Asheville. The bedrooms (most have king-sized beds, mine had two Queens) are spacious and airy, and each comes with a fireplace stacked with logs and kindling. All you have to do is strike a match. The extra large bathrooms include a shower plus separate Jacuzzi tub with a large window that provides no worries secluded views. Each room also has an outdoor balcony overlooking the woods becoming an ideal spot for an afternoon cocktail or glass of wine. Guests can also book the Sassafras Cabin, a small suite nestled in the woods a hundred yards from the main inn.

Corner fireplace in my guest room, Sourwood Inn.

Corner fireplace in my guest room, Sourwood Inn.

I arrived in time for afternoon refreshments; they are placed in the lobby every day. You are welcome to take them back to your room or enjoy with other guests.

The common areas like the lobby, library, and sitting rooms are serenely inviting and homey. I’d call the decor refined rustic, indeed not that overly cutesy country stuff. Downstairs is a game room with a television, the only one at the Inn.

Warning, there is no Internet or television in the guestrooms. My Smartphone got access, but some do not. Sourwood was designed to be a relaxing getaway, so indulge yourself and escape the high-tech world.

Afternoon at Sourwood Inn.

Afternoon at Sourwood Inn.

Full breakfasts are included in a stay and mine were exceptionally tasty. Everything is homemade, and the breads are especially yummy. You may bring wine, beer or liquor for your enjoyment. The chef prepares dinner on selected nights, usually Thursday through Sunday by reservation only. Don’t miss these; they are bargain priced three-course gourmet meals from a fabulous cook.

If you aren’t out participating in Asheville’s array of outdoor activities like biking, hiking, camping, yoga, kayaking, and fishing, you can stay at Sourwood property and play badminton, croquet and use over two miles of mountainous trails.  Asheville also offers an endless list of attractions like fine dining, spas, micro-breweries and the world famous Biltmore Estate.

Jeff , the Falconer and his Hawk

Jeff , the Falconer and his Hawk

Jeff Curtis, husband and co-owner at Sourwood, has a love affair with the falconry and also loves to share his passion. My niece, Sarah, joined me the second night of my stay, and she and I had an entertaining and educational morning meeting Jeff and two of his hawks. We first were introduced to Greenman, a Red-Tail Hawk, who had a hood on its head. (He’s named after a local micro-brew.) Greenman was a newly acquired Raptor and just getting used to working with people. Jeff explained how the hawks are trained and later released if captured as a wild bird. Those raised in captivity can be trained and kept for life. Falconry requires a major time commitment including finding a sponsor and apprenticing with a Master. Keepers must also pass inspections.

Sarah holds a hooded Hawk

Sarah holds a hooded Hawk

Jeff allowed Sarah and I the chance to don a gauntlet and hold the Hawks on our arm. They are magnificent creatures and an encounter like this makes you appreciate the species all the more. Make an appointment to meet Jeff and his hawks or hire him for a hawk walk. He also gives hands-on demonstrations for groups, sometimes at the Biltmore.

Vibrant skyline at sunrise Courtesy of Asheville CVB.

Vibrant skyline at sunrise Courtesy of Asheville CVB.

Don’t leave Sourwood before chatting with Susan Curtis, if you missed her at check-in. She is one of he loveliest Southern ladies ever. Asheville and Sourwood are the kind of place you long to revisit. In fact, Susan said 80% of their business comes from returning guests. Those numbers reinforce my opinion; the Sourwood Inn is a sweet place to stay.

 

Sourwood Inn
810 Elk Mountain Highway
Asheville, NC 28804
828 255 0690

Tale of Two Men: Richard Childress & Bob Timberlake

April 5, 2015 by · Comments Off on Tale of Two Men: Richard Childress & Bob Timberlake 

This is a story about two men from the same town in North Carolina: Lexington.

It appeared  in Luxe Beat Magazine in January, 2015: Tale-of-Two-Men-Richard-Childress-and-Bob-Timberlake

Timberlake & Childress

Timberlake & Childress

Please use this link to read the article: http://luxebeatmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Tale-of-Two-Men-Richard-Childress-and-Bob-Timberlake.pdf

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