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Finding Balance: How to Visit the Biltmore Estate with Mindful Purpose

Visiting the Biltmore Estate

Asheville is a fascinating destination with plenty of unique attractions to explore, but let’s be honest – the biggest drawcard is the Biltmore Estate. This sprawling mansion is the largest home in the entire US and attracts droves of visitors every year. Of course, we were curious to check it out, but we decided to break the mold and try something different this time.

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While there are many reasons to tour the Biltmore Estate, we couldn’t shake the feeling that it might not be worth the hype. So we took a deep breath and decided to go against the grain. And let me tell you, we don’t regret it one bit.

Now, I know I’m about to dive deep into unpopular opinion territory here, but hear me out. I rarely do this, but I really feel that it should be said: The Biltmore Estate is overrated. Yep, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong, the estate is undeniably grand and impressive. But it’s also crowded, expensive, and, dare I say, a little bit dull. Instead of fighting the crowds and shelling out big bucks for a tour, we opted to explore some of Asheville’s other hidden gems – and boy, were we in for a treat.

We discovered quirky art galleries, tucked-away cafes, and stunning natural beauty that we never would have found if we had stuck to the well-trodden tourist trail. So, while the Biltmore Estate may be the biggest attraction in town, I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of other reasons to visit Asheville – and they just might surprise you.

biltmore estate

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Why Would You Skip the Biltmore Estate Tour?

Now, I know some of you might be thinking, “Why would anyone skip the opportunity to tour the largest home in the US?” Well, let me tell you why we did just that.

We were more interested in soaking up the stunning natural beauty of the estate’s grounds and gardens, taking in the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, and simply enjoying the peaceful ambiance of the outdoor spaces. Plus, we decided to treat ourselves to some delicious food and drinks in the estate’s charming cafes and restaurants, rather than spending our money on a pricey home tour.

And speaking of money, let’s talk about the cost. It’s no secret that a visit to the Biltmore Estate can put a serious dent in your wallet. In fact, I was shocked to find out that it costs more to tour the estate than it did to visit the Palace of Versailles in France – a sprawling, government-owned palace with centuries of history and culture behind it. I mean, sure, the Biltmore Estate is impressive, but is it really worth that much?

And that leads me to my final point – the ethics of it all. Let’s not forget that the Biltmore Estate was built by a wealthy family for their own personal enjoyment and is still owned and operated by that same family to this day. It feels a little uncomfortable to pay top dollar to tour a home that was essentially built with the spoils of capitalism and inherited wealth. I mean, imagine leaving behind so much money that your grandchild could build the largest home in the country, and then profiting off of it for generations to come. Is that really something we should be supporting with our hard-earned money?

Of course, I know these are just my own opinionated thoughts, but I can’t help but wonder if others feel the same way. So, if you’re looking for an alternative to the usual tourist attractions, I highly recommend exploring Asheville’s beautiful outdoor spaces and local hidden gems.

Robber Barons & Biltmore Estate History

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the term “robber baron”? Well, it refers to American capitalists who became filthy rich by exploiting others through unethical practices. We’re talking about the kind of people who make Scrooge McDuck look like a saint. They amassed their wealth through monopolies, cartels, price-fixing, and other dirty tactics. And don’t be fooled by the flowery language you might find on some websites – this wasn’t just innocent business.

These wealthy individuals not only harmed other businesses, but they also exploited their workers. And to top it off, some of these industries began during slavery (but that part is rarely ever mentioned). They used tactics that are now associated with organized crime – intimidation, violence, corruption, conspiracies, and fraud. Yet somehow, their names still adorn our streets, towns, and schools.

Sure, they might have donated up to 50% of their earnings to philanthropy, but that was usually after they had already done all the bad. It’s like they were trying to buy their way into heaven after they had already committed every sin in the book.

But here’s the kicker – most of what they did wasn’t even illegal. And why would it be, when they had their hands in the pockets of the people making the laws? They married into political families, created private trusts, paid kickbacks, and more. It’s all about who you know, right?

So the next time you hear a name like John D. Rockefeller or J.P. Morgan, remember the true cost of their wealth. And maybe consider supporting businesses that prioritize ethics and fairness over greed and exploitation.

I buy 10 acres next to your 5 acres.  We both sell apples from our land.  You sell yours for $1, I have double the number of apples that you have so I sell mine “3 for $1”. (why 3? It’s just business.) No one buys your apples anymore because they get such a good deal at my shop.  You can’t make any money, but being the kind and fair person I am, I offer to buy one of your acres.  Every year, you and my other neighbors have a hard time, but I rescue you and I keep buying your land.  You can even come work for me.  Because I am kind AND fair. Over time, I own the whole town.  Everyone works for me or starves, some work for me and starve, no worries though.  I’ve made so much money that, being the kind and fair person that I am, I will donate 10% of everything I make.  I’ll open a school in my name and a railroad station and a library.  I am kind and fair. 

Imagine you and I are in a game of Monopoly. We start with the same amount of money, and we both have a few properties. But as the game goes on, I start to use dirty tactics to acquire more properties and bankrupt you. I manipulate the game so that I always win, and you can never catch up.

But instead of admitting that I cheated, I tell everyone that I won fair and square because I played the game better. And to make myself look good, I donate some of my winnings to charity and put my name on the boardwalk.

Meanwhile, you’re left with nothing, struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. You watch as I bask in my glory, using my ill-gotten gains to buy up more properties and gain more power.

In the end, it’s not just a game of Monopoly. It’s a reflection of the real world, where those with power and money use unethical tactics to stay on top. And the sad truth is that often, they’re able to get away with it, while the rest of us are left to suffer the consequences.

I see the lightbulb flickering above your head now! It’s like a scene from a movie, right? But seriously, you may have been wondering why people always encourage others to shop at small businesses instead of large corporations. Well, it’s because those big companies, which I won’t name (I don’t want any trouble), have a tendency to get bigger and bigger until they become these unstoppable juggernauts that dominate entire industries. And that’s where the term “robber barons” comes in. These are the folks who prioritize profit over people, keeping wages low and fighting against labor unions. It’s like a modern-day version of David and Goliath, except in this case, Goliath is a heartless corporation and David is the mom-and-pop shop down the street.

What does that have to do with the Biltmore Estate?

Let me tell you about the man who wrote the playbook for the robber barons. He was a survivor, a cunning and shrewd businessman who made his fortune by controlling the steamboat and railroad industries. Cornelius Vanderbilt was his name, and by the end of the Civil War, he was the richest man in America with a net worth of more than $65 million, which today would still exceed that of Jeff Bezos. But his wealth wasn’t only from hard work and competition. His competitors paid him to exit the market because they couldn’t compete with his very cheap fares. He even purchased many of his competitors, including the Erie line that connected Chicago to New York, by force in a hostile takeover where he bought up shares to get majority control.

But Vanderbilt’s success came at a cost. He left most of his $90 million fortune to one son, despite having more than 13 children and a second, much younger wife. His wife and daughters received the least, ranging from $200,000 to $500,000. And when you try to find information on Vanderbilt, it’s like no one wants to talk about it. Instead, he’s praised for being a cunning businessman on news sites, encyclopedias, and investment informational sites. It’s almost as if his true nature and business tactics, which would now be considered illegal, have been erased from history.

It’s easy to admire the impressive architecture of the Biltmore Estate, but it’s important to acknowledge the dark origins of its funding.

The Biltmore Estate was built by the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. He built it about a decade after his grandfather’s death.

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It’s hard to separate the legacy of Cornelius Vanderbilt from the grandeur of the Biltmore Estate. The man who built it was the grandson of the richest man in America, a man who amassed his fortune by crushing competition and manipulating the market. But the Biltmore Estate is also a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship, a monument to excess and luxury that has stood the test of time.

As we walked past the gates, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease. The estate was a symbol of the wealth and power that had shaped America, but it was also a reminder of the vast inequalities that had defined its history. I wondered what my children would make of it all. Would they see the beauty in the intricate carvings and the sprawling gardens, or would they sense the injustice that lay just beneath the surface?

In the end, I decided to skip the tour. I wanted my children to experience the natural world instead, to feel the wind in their hair and the sun on their faces. I didn’t want them to be seduced by the trappings of wealth and privilege, but to understand the hard work and sacrifice that had made this country what it is today.

What to do at the Biltmore Estate Inn.

Sure, the estate’s history may be a bit tainted by the less-than-savory business tactics of Cornelius Vanderbilt, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the beauty and legacy that the family left behind. It’s just that some of us prefer to do it in a way that feels a little more…balanced.

That’s where the Inn comes in. As a more modern and socially conscious alternative, the Inn offers the same luxury experience as the estate, but with a twist. Here, you can indulge in the opulence that comes with staying at a world-renowned property while knowing that your money is going towards supporting the local community and preserving the legacy of the Vanderbilt family.

So, if you’re like me and prefer to enjoy the finer things in life without feeling like you’re contributing to a corrupt system, the Inn is definitely the way to go. After all, why settle for just a slice of cake when you can have the whole thing – guilt-free?

Walk the grounds catching the morning sun breaking over the mountains in the distance.

Order room service for breakfast.

Have an impromptu photo shoot with my family.

mom son morning

This is how I YOLO (You Only Live Once).  I hope you find ways to live your best moments too in ways that suit you.

morning dew

Staying at Biltmore Estate Hotels:

Your ticket options are: (children under 9 are free, 10 – 16yo are 50% off)

  1. From $64 per person – self guided tour of the house and access to gardens, village, and the winery.
  2. From $76 per person – adds the audio guided tour.
  3. From $284 per person – custom 2-hour tour with an expert guide.

There is no ticket option for accessing just the grounds.  However, you can save up to $8 by booking online a week in advance and there are AAA, military, or senior discounts also.

If you want to just enjoy the gardens and grounds, I recommend staying at the Village Hotel or the Inn.

The Village Hotel is casual with 3 types of rooms located close to the winery, restaurants, and shops of Antler Hill Village.  Rates fluctuate but may be as low as $140/nt.  AAA, AARP, and military discounts apply.

The Inn is a 4-star luxury escape with 6 types of rooms, offering exceptional amenities. Rates can be as low as $220/nt, AAA, AARP, and military discounts apply.

The Cottages offer private escapes and can be as low as $640/nt. 

Save more tips:

Weekends are usually more expensive.

If you like to gamble, a last-minute stay during off peak season could score an even better discount.  It pops up within 24 – 48 hrs of the stay if available.

Check the special offers pages for package deals.

Happy Wandering at the Biltmore Estate!

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