Can you guess where I am? London? Paris maye? Well, If you guessed North Carolina...you are correct! Thats right, I'm in the good ol' U S of A at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It's the largest privately owned estate in America and it's also what kicked off this whole journey for me!
A little backstory: Kelsi always told me she had notes on her computer of requests for when she passed away: what she wanted to wear at her funeral, what songs she wanted played, and who she wanted all of her incredibly fashionable wardrobe to go to (I got first dibs, of course). Long story short, her computer had gotten wiped out with a virus about 2 months before she died and we basically hacked into her iCloud in hopes she had backed the notes up there. Thankfully, she she did.
In the days after her funeral, I spent time thoroughly going through the rest of the other notes she had saved. That's when I came across her Un-Bucket List. When I saw The Biltmore listed, I knew right way, I WAS GOING. I was already headed on a trip to the Tennessee Smokey Mountains a few weeks later and The Biltmore is located just about 2 1/2 hours from there. I had an overwhelming feeling that after the Smokies I needed to go and honor Kelsi. So I rented a car, and that's what I did.
I'll be honest. Before this, I really had zero desire to visit The Biltmore. I barely knew anything about it, other than maybe seeing it featured on a Travel Channel show and I had heard Kelsi mention it before. To me, it just seemed like a boring museum-type place (secrets out...I'm not really a "museum person") but I'm happy to report I was wrong!
A very, very brief history: In the late 1800's, George W. Vanderbilt II (of the famous Vanderbilt family) hired renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design and build this 175,000 square foot home. This was his "country home" and its style was influenced by the architecture he had seen on his world travels. In a nutshell, this guy was really RICH. I mean, he was a Vanderbilt after all.
Today the estate sits on 8,000 acres of land and has 250 rooms, including 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley! There's even a little fashion of the era on display, which Kelsi obviously would have appreciated. (Oh...I can't forget to mention the servants quarters, because these 250 rooms ain't cleaning themselves.)
When touring the home, I highly recommend doing the audio tour. It's only $12.99 and you learn so many interesting tidbits about each room you visit. You'll want to allot about 90 minutes for touring the home, and another 90 minutes for my favorite part of the Biltmore...the gardens!
What can I say about the Biltmore gardens other than WOW. This was truly the most magical part of the day and photos don't do them justice. It felt straight out of a fairy tale. From the incredible greenhouse full of exotic plants and flowers (the purple orchid would have been Kelsi's favorite), to the dozens of tree-lined paths, rose gardens and and babbling brooks (yes, I said babbling brooks, it was a fairy tale ok?), I could have spent the entire day there.
You're able to be much more separated from the other tourists when roaming the gardens, so this was the time when I was able to reflect the most on Kelsi. It felt like I was getting to spend the day with her. I liked imagining her walking around with me because had she actually been there, I'd probably be pushing her around in a wheelchair like a little granny. There was a LOT to see and it would have worn her out.
Doesn't it look like David the Gnome (you're welcome children of the 80's) or is going to pop out any minute? Believe it or not, since this was Fall in North Carolina (and the leaves hadn't quite turned pretty colors yet) the gardens weren't even at their most beautiful. I've seen photos online of what they look like in summer and spring months and they are mind-blowing. I hope to make another trip again sometime just to see what it looks like that time of year.
Today the Biltmore is still family-owned and operated by George Vanderbilt's great grandchildren. There's so much more that I didn't have the time to experience. You can spend a few days and stay in one of their hotels, and also enjoy fun activities like horseback riding, hiking, shopping and more. Oh, and I did I mention THERE IS A WINERY ON SITE. I can't believe I passed on the winery, but not only did I drive, I wasn't about to be that girl at the Biltmore wine tasting all alone (could have ended up real messy). Don't worry, next time the winery will be my first stop (could be every more messy).
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed my day at the Biltmore and I'm so grateful Kelsi brought me to a place I probably never would have gone without her guidance. She really would have loved it. Although I had heard her mention it before, my parents and I wish she had expressed to us how badly she wanted to go there, or that it was bucket list material. It's only about 5 1/2 hours away from their home in Kentucky and we totally could have made it happen.
As I finished up my tour it started to rain (my fav) and I spent some more time reflecting on losing Kelsi and talking to her. During my drive on the long road to exit the property a rainbow came shining through the clouds—the perfect end to my perfect day. Thank you Kelsi for bringing me to this magical place!