ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A tour of the Biltmore House means a trip back into the Gilded Age.
Visitors walk along velvet-roped hallways through magnificent, ornate and endlessly compelling rooms, marveling at what life was like at the turn of the 20th century in the country’s largest private home. It’s a walk-slow/don’t-touch kind of thing, relaxed but still a relatively formal experience.
Now there’s another side to Biltmore, literally and figuratively — Antler Hill Village.
Located on the other side of the 8,000-acre property about five miles by car from Biltmore House, Antler Hill Village is a clutch of eateries, gift shops, exhibits, music stages, the Biltmore Winery and the old farm, built around a green space. Looking down on it from up the hill is the fabulous Inn on Biltmore Estate, the estate’s four-star hotel.
“Antler Hill Village is a less formal part of Biltmore, intended to be a place where visitors can play or relax,” said LeeAnn Donnelly, with Biltmore public relations. “There’s a village green where kids can run loose, and we have a lot of activities there.”
Most well-known is the winery. It has an extensive gift and wine shop and has hosted tours for many years, but the development of the village allowed the creation of a new portal for tours. People enter through the long, tunnel-like stone cellar and finish in the winery’s spacious tasting room next to the gift shop where — surprise! — you can buy their wines.
Antler Hill includes the old Biltmore farm, with exhibits, interpreters and live blacksmith demos plus a barbecue stand, a gift shop and a stage for talks, film showings and live traditional music.
There’s also a walk-through vegetable garden and a petting zoo nearby that includes goats, sheep and some unusual chickens.
What Donnelly calls “the heart of the village” is the Legacy Building, a small, fairly informal museum. This summer it is hosting a special Tiffany at Biltmore Exibition of stained glass. Then it will revert to its usual display about the Vanderbilts.
“It tells people more about George and Edith Vanderbilt, their love of entertaining, of music, about their place settings, her clothing — she was a flashy dresser,” Donnelly said. “With that exhibit it’s fun to look at how the families of their status entertained.”
Outside in the village, there’s often live music on the bandstand and cooking demos on the patio. People can dine outside (or inside) at the Creamery or at Cedric’s Tavern, the English pub named after young Cornelia Vanderbilt’s favorite St. Bernard. She and Cedric are immortalized in life-sized sculptures just outside Cedric’s Tavern.
Next to the winery is the elegant Arbor Grill and the Traditions gift shop, featuring Tiffany-inspired collectibles. An Outdoor Adventure Center offers various activities (for a fee) like farm wagon rides, guided Segway tours, a river float trip, bicyles, horseback riding or Land Rover Experience Driving School.
The Creamery still uses the original recipe for the Winky Bar Sundae, and the ice cream is renowned for its great taste and good portion size.
Antler Hill Village opened in May 2010, and, as Donnelly said, “This allowed us to connect the two areas we had there already, the winery and the farm, and it enabled us to be able to tell some of the more recent history of the estate.” Donnelly said. “We think it makes a visit to Biltmore an even better experience.”