While I love the Upstate on its own merits, its proximity to Asheville, NC only adds to my affection. Asheville is one of the prettiest and most quirky cities in all of creation. It’s known for both Biltmore and bohemians – think of it as the oddly peaceful intersection of high-class and hippy.
When Mr. McB had to take a few vacation days in early December, it seemed like a great time to head north to visit Asheville. Biltmore was the big priority for the trip. We wanted to purchase annual passes and see the estate’s gorgeous Christmas decorations. After doing a little research, we added a stop at the Grove Park Inn to view the National Gingerbread House Competition, a large annual event hosted at the hotel.
Fearing that our hunger might cause us to assault a gingerbread man, we started the day with a big breakfast before hitting the road.
Despite the fog, the trip was smooth and easy. I will take this opportunity to remind everyone that you really should turn on your headlights (normal, no high-beams) when driving in the fog. The GPS gave us a little trouble but eventually we made it.
The Grove Park is lovely, but can be a little hard to navigate. Even with the pamphlet and map, it took us a little while to fully understand the layout and location of the many gingerbread creations. It was a minor bother as we both enjoyed tooling around the property and the staff were quite happy to allow you to do so.
The entries were all amazing in their own way. While the children’s category didn’t have fancy and flawless techniques, the creativity and enthusiasm couldn’t be missed. Each creation represented a good deal of effort and thought and we enjoyed admiring them all.
On the day of our visit, the 2011 winner was in New York City as part of a GMA taping. A few visitors were upset by this but the Grove Park’s site clearly explains this possibility and the “substitute” was an amazing box of ornaments.
After we saw all the entries (or so we think, again the setup is a bit confusing), we hit the road for Biltmore. Our visit began at the ticket center where we purchased annual passes for just $29 more than the daily admission. This was cheaper than the price advertised on the web – yippee! As someone who both worked at a membership organization and held memberships to cultural attractions, I was very impressed by the membership materials. Our cards have our photo so we never have to show a membership card and license. If we lose the card, we pay $2 – the hard cost to have it remade. Take note Columbus Zoo, members feel bad about losing their cards, you don’t have to make it worse by charging a big fee to make a new one. The thing that impressed me most was the special toll-free number for pass-holder services. We even got a little magnet with the number. It was an easy way to make your valued customers feel appreciated.
We have been to Biltmore before but never at Christmas. I had some idea of what to expect but as soon as we turned the corner and saw the first magnificent tree in the billiard room, I knew the experience would far exceed my expectations. Each room had gorgeous holiday decorations. Photos are not allowed so alas, I cannot share the beauty of these trees. I can say that having a professional bow maker on staff would be a great benefit.
We spent a good deal of time on the breezeway. This is one of my favorite spots. On this day we relaxed in the large, comfortable chairs while watching a rafter of wild turkeys (yes, rafter – thanks Google!) strut around the edge of the massive lawn.
After another hour of enjoying the house, we remembered just how big it is and just how easy it is to go from mildly hungry to “low blood sugar – I’m going to pass out.” In an effort to avoid an accident and general grouchiness, we zoomed through the servants’ quarters and headed over to the former stables to grab a bite. We staved off hunger with a stop at the ice cream parlor and then hit the road in hopes of beating the rain and making the best use of our remaining daylight. We didn’t beat the rain but we made it home safely with many happy memories of the day. I suspect that Christmas in Asheville will become a regular part of our December routine.
Here’s the breakdown:
Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Ave.
Asheville, NC 28804
Admission to the National Gingerbread House Competition is free. The parking fee starts at $5 for up to three hours in the garage.
– Visit the website as viewing is limited to guests on certain days.
– The Grove Park Inn is a great place to explore even without the gingerbread. Take some time to look around.
1 Lodge Street
Asheville, NC 28803
Daily admission during the holiday season – $64-69 per person http://www.biltmore.com
AAA does offer discounted, advance purchase tickets.
– Eat before you get to Biltmore. I don’t care if you had breakfast an hour before you arrive, take a snack bar and break it out when you first roll into the main gates. By time you have parked you will have downed the sustenance you need to make it through the house tour.
– Buy a book about the house. The soft back copies are less than $20 and you won’t remember everything you saw if you don’t take the time to pick one up.
– Eat before you sample at the winery. The pours are generous and you’ve already walked off the snack bar so just go ahead and grab a bite before you enjoy the many wonderful vintages available at the estate.