Are we there yet?
The gently winding road through landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted's artfully designed forest was clearly designed to build excitement for visitors to Biltmore, with each tantalizing bend promising, but never quite delivering, a view of the house.
I wasn't too bothered, though, as it was early morning and we were treated to scenes like this, with the late winter sunshine beaming through the trees.
This was to be our first view of Biltmore, from the top of a kind of stone belvedere. It
was reached by climbing up the deep but shallow steps of the 'rampe douce', built this way to accommodate horses and buggies.
Below is the view looking behind us, and up the hill.
Biltmore is BIG, though apparently Vanderbilt called it his 'little mountain escape'. It's designed to resemble a French chateau, and everything about it showcases its owner's wealth.
Unusual architectural features intrigued us, like the gargoyles, and the upward sloping windows in this picture with their similarly inclined shallow balconies.
Once inside, we found that they not only followed the incline of the staircase, but each window had a door giving access to its mini-balcony.
You could get lost in the shrubbery in the ground floor Winter Garden..
Becoming the owner of a 250 room house at the tender age of 33 years must have made young George Washington Vanderbilt II quite the eligible bachelor, and just three years later he married 25 year old Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. They had one daughter, Cornelia.
The house was designed for lavish entertaining, with a grand dining room with a vaulted ceiling 7 stories high!
We were told this room is decorated at Christmas with a 35 foot tall illuminated tree.
The two-storey library was exactly the kind any houseguest would appreciate, especially the likes of writers Edith Wharton and Henry James who are known to have stayed there.
The bedrooms upstairs were grand. This one, the Louis XV room, is where Cornelia Vanderbilt and her sons were born, and had a fabulous view across the front lawn and beyond. When we were there the morning sun was streaming in, making it warm and cheery and it was easy to see why it was chosen as the birthing and recuperation room.
Biltmore has had plumbed bathrooms and flushing toilets since the beginning, as well as both AC and DC electricity installed. Every mod con, in fact.
Below stairs was just as fascinating as above, just like Downton Abbey. Look at all those gleaming copper saucepans! There was one of the earliest walk-in refrigerators, cavernous storerooms for preserves and other staples, a rotisserie kitchen and a rather grim looking laundry. We also saw where some of the servants slept and dined.
Biltmore was one of only a few homes to have its own indoor bowling alley, complete with protective walls jutting out so the hapless servant whose job it was to retrieve the balls and re-set the pins could pop behind and not get accidentally collected by a wayward bowling ball.
There was even an indoor swimming pool, complete with underwater lighting and heated with steam. The ropes hanging down in the left of my photo were for less confident swimmers to hold onto.
You'll notice the pool is empty in this picture. This is because it has a leak and doesn't hold water any more. We were told that a few years ago it was filled for a special occasion, only to find that the next morning it had completely drained away!
It must have really been something in its day.
Sadly, Biltmore's heyday of hosting house parties and lavishly entertaining lasted only a short time. George Washington Vanderbilt II died unexpectedly in 1914 from complications of appendicitis.
But the Biltmore Estate is still in the Vanderbilt family, even though none of them lives here any more It's the largest privately-owned house in the United States, and well worth a visit to see how a wealthy American family lived at the beginning of the 20th century, when no expense was spared!