Christmas at the Biltmore

December 5th thru 7th, 2014

In early spring, during the Peach State’s Chili Cook-off, the Allante’ Atlanta Car Club Vice President, Paula Vopelak (also a Peach State member), invited the Peach State group to join the Allante’s for the Christmas at the Biltmore cruise in December. After a few months of planning restaurants, a hotel, reserving tickets for the Candlelight Tour at the Biltmore, other event activities, and pre-cruise trips for mileage, rest stops and route, the Allante’ Atlanta Car Club (AACC) was ready for 40 participants and 19 cars to cruise to Asheville, NC.

December 5th, a chilly winter day, the Allante’ Atlanta Car Club (AACC) distributed the Christmas at the Biltmore Welcome Bags with full itinerary, rules for caravanning, driving route and simple snacks to the AACC members and Peach State guests. Special lanyard ID Packets were issued for group visibility. The Drivers and Navigators meeting was held reviewing the itinerary, caravan rules and our route. Promptly at 8 AM, nine cars left McDonalds in Buford, GA for the AACC Christmas at the Biltmore cruise.

We travelled on I-985 for a spell merging into US 441 N to US 23N / US74E towards Waynesville and Asheville, NC. In Waynesville, we stopped at the Sweet Onion Restaurant for a hearty gourmet lunch where we were met by eight more AACC and Peach State folks. The Sweet Onion set up a private room with one long table for our lunch. All twenty-seven participants enjoyed an excellent lunch and much socializing and laughter. Afterwards, we toured the Village of Waynesville for about an hour and a half, departing at 2:45 for Asheville and our Hampton Inn hotel. At the hotel we were met by 11 more Allante’ participants just in time for an AACC “libation” hour. We distributed the Biltmore Candlelight Tour tickets and reviewed directions to the Biltmore.

Promptly at 5 PM, six beautiful Allante’s, two BIG beautiful Devilles, one very nice Pearl White CTS Coupe, one growling CTS-V, and nine other miscellaneous cars caravanned the eight miles to the Biltmore Estate. Note: the nine miscellaneous cars were driven due to the “possible inclement weather” we might experience. There was definite noise about “garage queens”, wussy drivers, etc.

We arrived at the Biltmore entrance gate, drove a mile to the ticket check station and two more miles to the parking and shuttle area. The driving on the Biltmore Estate in winter evening hours can make one a little nervous due to no street lights, and unfamiliar roads. But we all met up at the Stable Café for a short wait until our tour was called at 6:15 PM. Some of us enjoyed coffee, and snacks; others visited the bar or the gift shops prior to the tour.

Now we were ready to stand in the very brisk cold wind waiting to enter the Biltmore Mansion and the grand lifestyle of the George Vanderbilt family. The Biltmore (originally built as the Vanderbilt’s summer home) is still privately owned and managed by the Vanderbilt descendants and the Biltmore Foundation. It is truly an American Castle built in the French Chateau style and designed by a visionary architect, Richard Morris Hunt. Mr. Hunt also designed the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. It is large, opulent, at times almost overwhelming in size and grandeur. But it was still a “family” home (a very rich family) during the 19th century’s Gilded Age.

Some of the wonderful rooms we toured included the formal dining room with a very large fireplace and three beautifully decorated Christmas trees. One of which was, in my opinion, about 15 feet tall. We toured the family’s private dining room, and bedrooms, again each with its own Christmas tree, fireplace, etc. In all, there were 65 sumptuously decorated Christmas trees in the Mansion. We saw examples of some of the apparel ladies of that century wore, private bathrooms for each bedrooms, billiard rooms, smoking rooms, the servant quarters, butler’s pantry, kitchens, laundry rooms, an indoor heated swimming pool, a bowling alley and so much more. Today the Biltmore Estate employs 2,000 employees during the peak season (Christmas) and is the second largest employer in the area. The largest employer is the Asheville healthcare systems. Decorating the Mansion starts in October; I can’t imagine the logistics for undertaking such an enormous task.

After about two hours we returned to a shuttle bus, returning us to our cars. We headed back to the hotel or nearby restaurant for a light supper.

Saturday, December 6th, we met after breakfast at 9:30 AM for a briefing on the three options we had for the day: 1) drive back to the Biltmore Estate, explore the grounds and shops, winery and wine tastings; 2) drive to downtown Asheville Visitors Center and take a trolley tour of the city (River Arts District, Grove Arcade, Biltmore Village; 3) tour the Craft Beer District as Asheville is known as a Craft Beer City. Approximately half of us returned to the Biltmore Estate, its grounds and shops. Most participated in the winery tour and wine tastings and purchased several bottles of the Estate’s wine. The other half toured the downtown area via the Gray line Trolley and its excellent guide. We learned Asheville was initially home in the 1900s to 26 sanatoriums for patients suffering from tuberculosis because the climate was so mild and healthy. Today, Asheville’s economy is bolstered by the large tourism industry (the Biltmore) and healthcare systems. The sanatoriums no longer exist.

Everyone returned to the hotel around 3:30 pm for rest and tales of the day’s adventures. At 4:45 PM the AACC (President Norman Penfield, resident barkeep) rolled out his portable “libation and lies bar” for liquid refreshments, light snacks, and socializing. The Hampton Inn Hotel graciously allowed the 40 of us to use their lobby for our social time for which we were grateful.

Precisely at 5:50 PM, all cars were lined up for the caravan to the Grove Park Inn and its sumptuous buffet in the Blue Ridge Dining Room. We were fortunate to reserve a section of the Vanderbilt Garage at the Grove Park for our cars. So we did not have to search the large grounds for parking. Evidently two of the biggest tourist draws in Asheville do not believe in well-lit grounds or parking. But our Caddies and the other cars enjoyed a warm and well-lit garage.

Dinner at the Grove Park Inn was spectacular. We had a private room with at least 4 servers at our beck and call. After cocktails and other beverages, our dinner started with appetizers of cheeses, smoked salmon and trout, oysters on the half shell, steamed shrimp, and other delectables. Entrees included prime rib, several chicken dishes, fish and shrimp prepared multiple ways, and desserts. Oh, the desserts. Everyone had to show and tell what they selected and enjoyed. After about two full hours of drinks and dinner, we managed to walk through some of the Gingerbread House displays and see the competition winners. We then walked through the Inn saying we wanted to explore the building. In truth, some of us were trying to find the elevator to take us back down to our cars. Someone finally took pity on us and showed us the one elevator we should use. We made it back to the hotel for short visits with our old and new friends before retiring.

Sunday December 7th, was the big day for The Photo Shoot at the Biltmore. At 6:30 AM, mostly the guys with the Cadillacs met in the lobby for coffee and departure at 7 AM for the Biltmore Estate. There were one or two ladies who endured the cold weather inside their Caddy. The photo shoot was scheduled at 7:30 AM on the grounds in front of the Mansion. We had the place to ourselves and staged our Cadillacs for group pictures, individual Cadillac pictures, fun pictures, and generally great photography. Norman Penfield, photographer extraordinaire, staged and shot the “official pictures”. It’s important to note that the weather was not kind…it was 27 degrees outside and the wind very brisk. At one point Norman said he was so cold, his hands were shaking too much to hold the big camera. The brave Cadillac owners returned to the hotel around 9 AM for warmth, breakfast and lots of show and tell.

We breakfasted in the lobby, shared our stories, laughed a lot and ate some more. After about almost two hours of talking and exchanging business cards and email addresses, we starting packing and loading our cars for home. Some were going to continue exploring the Asheville area; others were heading north and east. The Atlanta folks were eventually headed back to Atlanta and the metro area.

Special shout out to all of our members and guests for providing the photography from the weekend event.

To all members, “Thank you”. It is through your ongoing support and sponsorship that we can continue to grow and expand our club to the enjoyment of yourself and new members alike.

See you next time!


Members Attending

Linda and Norman Penfield

Paula and Russ Vopelak

Brenda and Art Sevelius

Cathy and Bill Winkler

Thomas Boyland

Shaun Boyland and Andrea Gallup

Bill Corn and Brother, Mark Corn

Dennis Calovi

Jim Sebastian and Sandra Harazak

Barbara and John Monzo

Darr and Budd Neidig

Carol and Sal Caravello

Jay Ferrill (Claire)

Rod Moore (Linda)

Larry Johnston (Sari)

Henry Mainwaring (Elizabeth)

David Smith (Nancy McCall)

Mark McDermott (Carol)

Matty Garrett / Steve Cook

Ron Benneche (Annette)

Vince Haaland (Karen)

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