Christmas at Biltmore in Asheville

Photograph courtesy of the Biltmore

Early November to mid-January
200 miles from Atlanta

What it is: On Christmas Eve in 1895, George Vanderbilt opened his 250-room French Renaissance–style chateau for the first time to friends and extended family. An elaborate holiday party for employees and their families became an annual tradition, and today’s celebration echoes that affair, complete with more than fifty Christmas trees (including the banquet hall’s thirty-five-foot Fraser fir), miles of garland, and a thousand poinsettias. Candlelight tours and visits with Santa guarantee a magical visit.

Why I go: “When you walk into that house, it’s like stepping into a time machine. You don’t feel like you’re a visitor; you feel like you’re a part of the home. You can picture the Vanderbilt family, their friends, their neighbors celebrating. While I was at CNN, we did a story on the tree [in the banquet hall]. Getting the tree inside the house is this incredible endeavor. The teamwork that it takes to bring in this behemoth of a tree—it’s a ballet of construction, a ballet of decoration.” —Reynolds Wolf, meteorologist/correspondent for The Weather Channel

What’s to love: America’s largest home contains paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent, sixteenth-century tapestries, a 10,000-volume library, a banquet hall with a seventy-foot ceiling, sixty-five fireplaces, an indoor pool, and a bowling alley.

Insider tip: Downton Abbey fans should take the hour-long Butler’s Tour.

Where to stay: Book a Candlelight Christmas Evening package at the on-site Inn on Biltmore Estate, the four-diamond property that opened in 2001.

Where to eat: Check out the cozy cafes in nearby Biltmore Village.