Life, Love, Romance and Biltmore!

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By Nazarul Islam, Copy edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: The word charm rouses happy feelings. It’s a way of getting the answer you want, without having to ask any clear question. And that’s exactly what describes my recent, Biltmore experience. I had kept wondering what is synonymous with the Biltmore House, in Asheville, North Carolina. Is this a Castle? a Manor? a Chateau? or a Palace lifted up, straight out the English Moors.

Since 1895, this House in the mountains has commanded attributes for its majestic charm or perhaps, its mystery. I was sold for the charm ….and suddenly I wanted to face this mystery—the edifice, that has blended itself so beautifully in the forests and hills.

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Two years ago I had come across an epic story, and a heartwarming narrative envisioned in the book titled ‘The Last Castle’ that simply went on— to bewilder my imagination, of the largest designed chateau in the continent of America. Inside the superbly crafted architecture, the French chateau lifted itself up from the outer granite shells. As soon as a visitor entered the premises, the backdrop, furnishings, and decor transformed into a magnificent, English Palace of the bygone Victorian era.

This colossal structure was envisioned and built by George Cornelius Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, during the Gilded Age with the history of Biltmore Estate then spanning the Jazz Age, the Depression era, two bloody World Wars that had shaped the last century ….and beyond.

Biltmore-Estate-Lagoon-in-Fall-

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Astonishing as this may seem, a much more, welcome addition to Gilded Age history had taken place outside of the usual haunts of Manhattan. And all this miracle was allowed to shape up, in the time frame of seven short years. Ever since, the mountain terrains of Asheville, North Carolina have proudly radiated the Manor’s majesty and indescribable glory.

Did I enjoy reading the history book, ‘The Last Castle’? Well, I was impressed. It wasn’t complicated, after all! I have always enjoyed reading about people and places. And I revisit them often when I write. This is but one way, I like to pay my tributes. I had longed to learn some insights into the Vanderbilts, but I couldn’t exactly do that. Then, I had resolved to absorb the wondrous Biltmore beauty, one day.

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Last year in December, I had promised to take my loving wife Nuzhat, to Asheville and share with her —the Biltmore experience and excitement, if God would only gift her a second chance of life. She had deserved this, after her bout with, and her narrow escape, from the tight clutches of cancer. She is a cancer survivor.

It was the best gift, Nuzhat could have wished for. I had read that George at 13 was devout, writing “I read my Bible this morning and began Isaiah and I think that was what made me feel so happy through the day … I have trusted too much in my own ability and not enough in Jesus.” Then, though, we make a big jump to where George begins building Biltmore — just because he drew his strength from his faith in Christianity. And this is what I feel, being a person of faith, myself

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Visiting countries, and meeting people have been my favorite pastimes. In the course of my journeys across a jet-set world, I have set foot into 40 countries. I have met Presidents, Prime Ministers, national leaders, and people who were chosen to make a difference in our world.

Cradle-of-Forestry-House-Pisgah-in-Woods-

I shook hands with Justin George Bush, Marshal Tito, Kim Il Sung, Justin Trudeau, Lady Diana, Mobutu, Ayub Khan, Prime Minister Lee, Mahathir, Sheikh Mujib—and had the courage to look deep into the eyes of these celebrities, and many others.

With geography, climate, and growing conditions that mirror those of the Bordeaux region in France, the American state of North Carolina has continued to emerge as a force in World-class winemaking.

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Again, North Carolina has more than 200 wineries and produces 1.20  million cases of wine per year.

This state has won awards and acclaims at the annual Wine Competition, the International Women’s Wine Competition, the New York International Wine Competition, the International Eastern Wine Competition, the World Wine Championships, and the Berlin International Wine Competition, proving the state can craft wines worthy of any table.

North Carolina’s mountainous terrain is ideal for producing wine. The temperate climate, its gently rolling hills, and large bodies of water create warmer soil that nurtures a long growing season. And the soil itself is flecked with limestone and gravel, enhancing the fertility of a range of grapes.

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Local winemakers point to the popularity and flavor of their chardonnays, Chambourcin, pinot noirs, cabernet sauvignon, and sparkling wines.

Many of the area’s wineries grow their own grapes. Others buy them locally, resulting in a spirit of cooperation among vintners. Several vintners have joined together to establish three wine trails in the state countryside.

The Biltmore Wineries are located within 10 miles from Centre City and bridge other wineries establishments in Asheville. The mountain trails are situated in the middle of historic and lush landscapes, near dozens of quaint bed and breakfasts and close to attractions in an English backdrop, making for ideal afternoon and weekend getaways. Cheers!!

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The city of Asheville boasts of the Chateau on the Hill, its inside reminding us of the historic Victorian-era—finding its unique place and acceptance in the United States. Living up to my promise, I visited the American wonder yesterday with my wife Nuzhat, the cancer survivor.

From the history and the vineyard to the gardens and the grounds, Biltmore is much more than a house. Built over a six-year period from 1889-95, George Vanderbilt’s French Renaissance chateau remains the largest private residence in America that offered us a  scintillating experience.

Antler-Hill-Village-at-Biltmore-crop

Depending on one’s convenience, the trip to Biltmore can last anywhere from a single afternoon to several days. Obviously, a visitor is entitled to know each of the estate’s features to best plan a tour.

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My Trolley Bus rides through the winding Estate roads were smooth. The vehicles are immaculately clean and polished. And they have wonderful drivers, devoted to their task of making every guest happy and happier, every day of the year. Our journey started on the white Trolleys from the Parking Lot to the proverbial Castle, the Biltmore House. It carried through the winding turns, bends, curves through the forest—then suddenly the Biltmore House sprang into life. The majestic edifice smiled, at all visitors.

I was surprised to hear that most first-time guests had arrived from other countries, in spite of the chaos and travel restrictions caused since the year of the great pandemic.

I had started touring Vanderbilt’s extraordinary house. Opulent beyond imagination, the Biltmore House covers four acres by itself, totaling 175,000 square feet. A total of 250 rooms contain priceless antiques and art from masters such as Renoir, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, and a bowling alley. I wonder if my fellow guests were able to spot Napoleon’s chess set, inside the huge mansion.

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I must take this opportunity to mention that outside of the Biltmore House is acres of beautiful gardens, each an individually themed display. We explored the Italian Garden with its three symmetrical pools and classic statuary, the glass-roofed conservatory that grows tropical plants and orchids year-round, and the 15-acre Azalea Garden, for just a taste of the estate’s botanical beauty.

Nuzhat was reluctant to visit the winery because of religious and cultural constraints which prohibit her from visiting places where alcohol is served or consumed. With a little bit of persuasion, she agreed to accompany me inside these premises. Next, we had stepped out of America’s biggest home and into America’s most-visited winery, a destination that has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

A guest can take e time to tour the cellars, fermentation room, and corking area, and then taste samples of Biltmore wine. Or ask about the Red Wine and Chocolate Tasting that’s offered daily.

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Biltmore Walled Gardens during Summer-crop

Another interesting location happens to be the Pedestrian-friendly Antler Hill Village – right next to the Winery—which is a bustling center of activity, with live entertainment on the village green, food, shopping, and more. Named after one of the Vanderbilt family dogs, Cedric’s Tavern offers classic fare in a relaxed pub atmosphere. Or enjoy ice cream and gourmet coffee at the old-fashioned Creamery.

As I stepped into the long line for Ice Cream, I found the guests patient and smiling. Finally, I managed to get Nuzhat what she wanted: Biltmore Churn Sundae in the white Cup. The decor was beautiful, and its taste, par excellence. The blue-eyed Cashier smiled and said ‘Have a Nice Day. This sweet treat was a gracious one. Gratis! No charge for Nuzhat!!

A visitor can also experience Biltmore through a variety of outdoor activities: hiking, biking, kayaking, or horseback riding; tours by carriage ride or river raft; lessons in how to fly fish, shoot sporting clays, or drive a Land Rover through off-road obstacles. The Outdoor Adventure Center is the perfect jumping-off point for an exploration of the estate’s 8,000 acres.

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The forest created around  Biltmore had sparked the beginnings of American forestry. Because of its success, President Lyndon Johnson had deemed it the “Cradle of Forestry in America” by an Act of Congress in 1968. Anytime except winter, you can take off on a guided trail and tour life in the late 1800s, complete with an antique sawmill and historic cabins.

Once, the entire facility had originally measured 125,000 acres, Vanderbilt’s widow entered into sale deeds with the Federal Government of USA, much of the land around the estate to the federal government to help create what is now Pisgah National Forest.

To any ‘guest’ visitor looking for a more adventurous Asheville experience, Pisgah affords travelers the chance to explore hundreds of miles of local trails. You can hike, bike, ride horses, and more, and feel free to bring Fido: Dogs are welcome on all trails throughout the forest.

I will end this piece, with an excerpt from the book titled: The Mystery of the Biltmore House:

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“Good grief,” Michael said as he sat down in one of the 64 enormous upholstered chairs. “My feet don’t even think about touching the floor.”

Nuzhat Islam & Nazarul Islam

“This table is longer than the bowling alley,” Trent said. He shielded his eyes with his hand and peered down the long wooden table as though he couldn’t see the other end.

“If you wanted someone to pass you the salt shaker it would take thirty minutes for it to get here,” Wendy agreed.

Carole Marsh, The Mystery of the Biltmore House

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Compiled and Curated By Humra Kidwai

Nazarul Islam

Nazarul Islam

The author is a former Educator, based in Chicago (USA).

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