Sunday, February 15, 2015

Downton Abbey and Dressing Downton at Biltmore House and Gardens

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads my blog that I am very fond of the history associated with the places that my husband and I travel with each other and with family and extended family. How and why certain places, be it historical towns such as this one or seashore treasures such as Saint Simons Island which I posted about here. Some of the places we enjoy visiting are associated with great American companies. The name Bush's Beans might well be familiar to many of you. My family enjoys the many varieties of Bush's Beans and so we were excited when the company opened up Bush's Family Cafe, Mercantile and Bush's Beans museum. The museum chronicles the history of this famous business. I posted about the cafe, the mercantile shop and factory and family history museum here and here.

It will also not surprise my blogging friends and Pinterest followers that I am especially fond of British drama and sitcoms. I love the old sitcoms such as "Keeping Up Appearances" and "As Time Goes By." I am addicted to the "Downton Abbey" series, which I have followed since it first premiered in the United States. I am hooked on watching the evolving times in the lives of the aristocrats who occupy Downton Abbey and in those who visit the occupants. The drama that goes on in the upstairs area is more than a little compelling to me. The drama does not end in life upstairs. What goes on in the lives of the servants, who either live downstairs within "the big house" or in cottages elsewhere on the estate, is every bit as exciting and interesting as that of the aristocracy. Maybe even more so!

All this has been leading up to my account of a place my husband and I visited last Saturday with my daughter, Stephanie, and her family. Stephanie, like her mother, is an avid fan of the Downton Abbey show too! I first visited Biltmore House in Ashville, North Carolina, close to a decade ago. I thought it was wonderful then, but this visit promised to be even better. Stephanie and I were both about to burst with anticipation waiting for last Saturday's visit. You see, Biltmore House and Gardens is currently hosting a Downton Abbey exhibit.  The exhibit is called "Dressing Downton." and features an awesome collection of original costumes worn by various characters from the series. These costumes are placed in many locations throughout the tour of the house! What could be more fabulous for anyone who loves the series? A visit to Highclere Castle where the series is set? Perhaps. That is something I would also love to do. Still, I have not heard about the costumes being on display at Highclere. The house at Biltmore reminds me so much of the pictures I have so often seen on Downton Abbey, both inside and outside.

It was a beautiful day on which to make our visit to the Biltmore. The weather was perfect. For those touring the inside of the house, taking photographs of the interiors is prohibited. I am posting some photos from one of Biltmore's websites advertising this wonderful display. This photo is one of the sharp-tongued and quick-witted Violet (the Dowager Countess) Grantham. The role of Violet is played by the extraordinarily talented Dame Maggie Smith. She is called Granny by the young ladies (her grand-daughters) at Downton Abbey in the series.
Maid and butler uniforms, such as those in the following photo, are also on display.
Lady-grantham credit
I could have spent all afternoon snooping around in the kitchen of the Biltmore. Some of my favorite scenes from the series are those that take place in the kitchen of Downton Abbey. In the kitchen area of the Biltmore, there is a uniform like the one which cook's assistant, Daisy Mason (played by actress Sophie McShera), wears as she works in the kitchen. I found this picture of Daisy wearing her uniform on Pinterest. 
Pinterest source
Lady Cora and Lord Robert Grantham:

If you watch Downton Abbey, you might recognize the costumes in the following pictures I am posting from the Biltmore House Estate website:




The above photos are of just a few of the costumes from Biltmore's "Dressing Downton" collection. There are a good many more to be seen on the tour of the house.

I was able to take some pictures in the section of the house containing various shops and restaurants. The fact that the outfit is enclosed in glass does not help with the quality of the picture. The next several shots were taken in the main gift shop, as well.
An Ensemble Worn by The Dowager Countess "Granny" Grantham
Another Picture of  the Dowager Countess's Outfit Behind a Photo of Her Wearing the Dress and Hat
This shot is of Downton Abbey themed merchandise, including an apron with the Downton Abbey initials embroidered on its bodice. Some replicas of china, lamps, service bells, candelabra and books related to Downton Abbey. Notice that great hat near the bottom of the apron! There were lots of different style hats for sale as well.
Downton Abbey Merchandise in Biltmore House's Downton Abbey Collection
Tea sets, tea and napkins. I love the picture/sign which states "My Second Home is Downton Abbey."
More of the Downton Abbey Collection of Merchandise at Biltmore House Gift Shop
There are Christmas ornaments, videos, picture frames and other items, as well.
Merchandise from Downton Abbey Collection at Biltmore House
There is even a collection of perfumes, but Stephanie and I were having so much fun seeing what each ladies fragrance was that I forget to take a picture of the perfume collection. There is a fragrance for each of the "ladies" who are in the series. I seldom wear much in the way of perfumes because I am a bit sensitive and tend to get a little stuffed up while wearing it anywhere near my face. Still, it would be fun to own some! We hope to make another trip up there in the near future and I might have to splurge on some. It would be fun to own a bottle!

We had a late lunch in one of the restaurants at the estate. The Stables Cafe' was previously the estate's stables. I took a picture of the area in the cafe' which shows where some of the stalls were located. You can see the iron dividers.
The Stables Cafe' at Biltmore House Estate
The food at the Stables Cafe' was delicious! My husband and I shared an item for two called the Stables Sampler, which included barbecued ribs, rotisserie chicken, pulled pork and vegetables. It was a good choice, but was much more food than either of us could consume at one sitting.

Now for some pictures of the outside of the house and grounds. This first picture is of our daughter, Stephanie's, family in front of the Biltmore house.
Biltmore House and Gardens in Winter
Architecture at Biltmore House and Gardens

Beautifully Elaborate Architectural Details on Window at Biltmore House
Statue on the Grounds of Biltmore House in Winter
Statue at Biltmore House in Winter
Statue at Biltmore House in Winter
Wonderful Old Wisteria Arbor at Biltmore House in Winter
Biltmore House and Gardens in Winter

There is now an area of Biltmore called Antler Hill Village and Winery. It has an ice cream and sandwich shop and a winery. There is a petting zoo and farm animals there, as well. After taking the Biltmore bus back to the main parking lot, we drove over to Antler Hill Village and Winery. We did not actually visit the winery. It was a three hour drive to get home and it was getting pretty late by the time we finished the house tour and had something to eat. Since the children wanted to visit the petting zoo and see the farm animals and horses, we went through the petting zoo and bought a treat from the ice cream shop before heading back home.

I took this picture of the mansion in the distance, through the window of our departing bus.
Biltmore House and Gardens
I took these pictures in the area of the petting zoo. These two goats were basking in the sun on top of a bench.
Goats at Biltmore's Antler Hill Village
Some chickens at Antler Hill Village.
Some of the Chickens at Biltmore's Antler Hill Village
A curious rooster at the Village. I took this shot through the fence as he was not roaming freely about.
Rooster at Antler Hill Village, Biltmore House and Gardens

These big beautiful horses are some of the residents at Antler Hill Village.
One of the Horses at the Biltmore's Antler Hill Village
Horse at Biltmore's Antler Hill Village

The history behind the house and gardens is quite interesting. Construction of the house began in 1889 and took six years to be completed. It is considered to be America's premier and largest residence. The house was built by George Vanderbilt. George Vanderbilt's only child, a daughter named Cornelia, married John Cecil and the house still remains under the ownership of the Cecil family.

You can read about the life and times of George Vanderbilt at this link. He was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Cornelius began his career as a steamboat captain, who eventually owned a fleet of boats. He learned this occupation from his father. He went into the railroad industry after the steam engine began to be used to power railroad trains. I found a short video (less than 4 minutes long) about Cornelius Vanderbilt and the amazing story of how he went from being a steamboat captain to becoming a self-made millionaire in the railroad industry. Cornelius Vanderbilt was also the major force behind the building of the original Grand Central Depot, which eventually evolved into Grand Central Station Terminal. You can watch the short but very interesting video at this link.

Are you enamored with all things Downton Abbey?  If so, a visit to Biltmore House and Gardens while Dressing Downton is still there might be something you would enjoy. The Dressing Downton event will run through May 25, 2015. I am not being compensated in any way for publishing this post about the Biltmore House and Gardens or for providing this link which contains the information about the event. You know how much I enjoy sharing interesting places to go and things to do.

A Couple of Tips:  This is a very popular event! Biltmore advises that you reserve your spot on the tour AHEAD of time. We were glad that we scheduled reservations for the tour a couple of days before we made our trip.  Be prepared to spend a couple of hours on the house tour as the tour lines are pretty long and move at a somewhat leisurely pace. Naturally, every one wants to see as much as possible of each area in the house on the tour. ALSO, be prepared to climb up and down many flights of stairs and/or steps. There are some small elevators, every once in a while. We did see a person or two who had to bow out early.

Friends, I do hope you enjoyed my post about Biltmore House and Gardens! I want to thank you for stopping by for a visit. Have a great week friends!