Last spring, my husband and I visited the breathtaking tulip display at the Biltmore Estate Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina. While there, we learned of an upcoming installation of large-scale glass sculptures by the renowned artist Dale Chihuly in the gardens between May 17th and October 7th. Having been dazzled by an exhibit of Chihuly’s fanciful blown glass creations at Phipps Conservatory And Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh in 2007, I resolved to return to Asheville for the chance to view Chihuly At Night At The Biltmore.
Despite the imminent arrival of Hurricane Florence on our doorstep, my sister and I met in Asheville on the afternoon of September 13th, determined to get a gander at the glass in the gardens. We started off our much-anticipated mini getaway with a delicious lunch of flavorful fish and shrimp tacos from the famous White Duck Taco Shop in downtown Asheville. And as no trip to Asheville (or really anywhere for that matter) would be complete without a little shopping, we followed this up with a visit to The Screendoor. This store is 25,000 square feet of antique and modern home and garden temptation. Both my sister and I found several items we thought about bringing home with us but, uncharacteristically, for myself at least, we showed restraint and resisted bringing half the contents back with us.
Chihuly At Night At The Biltmore
After getting our shopping fix, we made our way to the Biltmore Estate. Our ticket granted us access to the property during the day and entrance to a first-floor self-guided tour of the mansion at 7:45 in the evening. Since it was raining, we decided to take advantage of the complimentary wine tasting offered at the Winery located in the Antler Village at Biltmore. While standing around the sparkling bar in the expansive tasting room, we were treated to some surprisingly palate-pleasing samples of Biltmore Estate Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, and Syrah wines. The Malbec was so good that we headed over to the Wine Bar, where we shared a bottle and a trio of hummus with pita chips.
You would think after all the wine and the hearty appetizer we consumed that the eating part of our visit would be concluded, but not so. When we left the Wine Bar, we walked next door to the Bistro for a fabulous farm-to-table dinner. I had a lovely creamy summer risotto with tomatoes, corn, and snow peas, and my sister enjoyed the seared scallops with mafalde pasta. And lest you think I’m a piker when it comes to eating, you will be reassured to know that I couldn’t pass up the grilled peach cheesecake for dessert. Yum!
When we finally waddled out of the restaurant, we viewed a couple of Chihuly’s sculptures which were installed at Antler Village. We then drove over to the Mansion parking area (shuttles between Antler Village and the Mansion are only available to guests of the property hotels.) From the parking lot, we were able to take a shuttle right to the front entrance of the house.
We arrived about 4o minutes before our entrance time to the house, so we decided to explore the display in the Italian Garden while we waited for our self-guided tour. The Italian Garden is closest to the house and, during the growing season, contains two large pools filled with Koi fish and water plants. We entered the garden at dusk and observed many uplit glass sculptures “floating” in the pools. I particularly love the boat filled with a kaleidoscope of colorful marbles.
As time grew near for our house tour, we made our way to the queue at the front entrance, where we encountered another striking cobalt installation.
Inside the mansion, there is a central atrium they call the Winter Garden. This interior garden got the Chihuly treatment as well with a large installation of “torches” that sparkled with light and golden-hued glass.
We entered the house at a quarter to eight, and it was quite dark by then. Luckily for me, I have toured the Biltmore many times. Sadly, for my sister, who had never visited before, the house was lit so poorly she didn’t get a great view of all of the stunning architectural details that George Vanderbilt incorporated into his American castle.
Unfortunately, the dimness continued when we exited the house. I imagine that they wanted the lighted sculptures to stand out in the landscape. But it was rainy and so dark that the garden pathways were quite treacherous to navigate. Nevertheless, we gingerly made our way down to the display along the Pergola, where we encountered a collection of sculptures consisting of groupings of glowing reeds “planted” along the stone wall.
Pergola Garden Fiori 2018
From there, we headed down the path toward the Walled Garden and the Conservatory. We viewed these tall ruby Red Reeds, which were situated on the hillside by the Shrub Garden, as we dashed through the rain toward the Walled Garden.
Two similar red and yellow towering sculptures adorned the Walled Garden. They were quite striking and bright in the darkened garden. But I couldn’t help wishing that they had provided some additional lighting so that we could appreciate the sculptures in relation to the landscape. Additional lighting would have also been appreciated for safety’s sake.
Also, in the walled garden, flanking the central path near the entrance of the Conservatory, there were two luminous installations entitled Cattails and Copper Reeds.
Inside the Conservatory, they’d hung three sculptural chandeliers. These gorgeous glass confections still manage to dazzle amidst the hundreds of lush exotic plants, including orchids and bromeliads.
Overall, even though we experienced inclement weather, we had a wonderful day and night at the beautiful Biltmore. If you are planning to take in Chihuly at America’s Castle, note that the exhibit ends on October 7th, 2018. Also, if you wish to see the sculptures lit up at night, I would advise you to visit the garden no later than 6:30 pm when it is dusk, rather than later when it’s pitch dark, as the gardens are not sufficiently lit for optimal viewing or safety.
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