by Joan Larsen
To me, there is nothing like the feeling of a much loved family gathering filled with love – with so many hugs and so much joy – each and every Christmas. My spirits have lifted for the celebration. But I don’t want to spend the remaining days of the season stretched out on the sofa, “recovering”. We are only young once. I want to make use of every moment.
And so . . . for too many years ago to mention, the two of us planned early each year, planning a “gift to ourselves” after Christmas – an adventure to a hand-chosen place or places we have always wondered about. We call it “our time” together. A gift to ourselves. A memory of the forever kind.
For months before, it is that “carrot” dangling above our heads, the object of fun conversation. . . and the excitement of deciding if we are going near or far.
And so – this year – let me introduce you to the winter splendors of Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate, our exciting first stop in a short getaway before the New Year. We’ll fly, leaving no weather problems to chance. (Yes, we found a great deal for the complete getaway this year as you can as well!!)
You may know about this largest home in America already. But even I became tantalized with some fine details of this country estate, one that would rival the great manors of Europe when it was completed in 1895.
Built by the Vanderbilts – and somehow I want to add – “of course” – the 250-room mansion has every conceivable amenity you could dream of. The surrounding estate grounds are equally impressive, encompassing 125,000 acres of forests, five pleasure gardens, and a mind-blowing 30 miles of roadways. Can you even try to imagine the numbers of staff this would take to keep up?
Each year’s holiday celebration has planning that began a year before. A design team – that I wish I had been a part of – has woven this year’s theme – “A Gilded Age Christmas” – incorporating every element created for this season – and has it spreading all across the estate for our delights. Music for the season fills the evenings.
I’m pretending I had a private invitation!
You can pretend to live like a Vanderbilt as you step into the stunning front entrance, capped by this dome of windows. Fittingly called The Winter Garden, the faint smell of evergreens fills the room. As you can see, the room is lined with bright exotic botanical poinsettias that seem to point to the Christmas pleasures awaiting within.
The 35 foot Fraser Fir tree – decorated with 500 lights and 500 ornaments, one of sixty (!) that adorn the mansion’s interior, sets off the banquet hall.
Below, the Biltmore Library is embellished with festive finery. Yes, in this room is a collection of ten thousand volumes in eight languages!
You must see this out-of-this-world sight of a collection of ornaments so large that some are said to be as tall as a toddler. . . if you can believe such beauty and extravagance!
What is a glorious holiday season without the remembrance of festive meals? Afternoon tea, of course. But when night falls behind the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains, hospitality flows in a cornucopia of restaurants where pleasure of another sort awaits.
We are heading to North Carolina and Biltmore in the days following the holidays . . . hoping that you too will now be considering it to perhaps be your own “grand finale” of the year!!
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”