Thursday, November 29, 2012

Biltmore at Christmas

Biltmore House was dazzling, filled with light against the inky blackness that actually had settled late on that December afternoon. A light snow had begun falling a few hours earlier.

Our little family was bundled up head to foot against the bitter mountain cold. Is Biltmore at Christmas worth the drive and the (steep) entrance fee? I have to say yes.

Certainly it's a grand family experience, especially if your children are older (ours was in college at the time). There's much to see and talk about during the tour and later in the hotel room or over dessert that evening. And years later.

But anyone within a few hundred miles from Asheville ought to make the trip, and do it during the holidays. Biltmore is a magnificent, unique palace, one that ought to be experienced if possible. Just a few of these mansions -- built by the nation's royalty of the time -- survive and are open to the public.

Biltmore is massive, on par with a medieval European castle. Its great rooms deserve the name. It had the most modern accommodations and gadgets. George Vanderbilt plunked his estate on the top of a mountain, for heavens sakes, with stupendous views of the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains.

Admission is as high as those mountains. During the holidays, adults pay $69 or $79 for the self-guided tour of the mansion. Children 10 to 16 cost half those prices. But save the money one year and take the family. There are tours of the estate's gardens and there's a winery. There are more food places on the estate grounds these days, which is convenient if you have younger children. There are nice coffee shops downtown Asheville for a change of pace. Asheville also has its share of non-Biltmore attractions.

It's a trip that will make a memory. In that way alone it's worth the money.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New kite festival

Circumstances imposed, and we were disappointed not to be able to make this year's Atlantic Beach Kite Festival in late October. But we were free the first week in November, and after just a few minutes of searching the Internet, we discovered that Wrightsville Beach holds its own kite festival.

It was a wonderful jaunt. The temperatures were a bit cool on the Saturday and Sunday that we were there, but a strong sun and crystal blue skies kept it just warm enough for this former Philly guy (and his N.C.-native wife.)

The giant, colorful octopus kites (170 feet long, 75 feet across!) made appearances, as well as a 10-story scuba diver and what had to be a five-story sea horse. And of course any number of people brought their own kites.

There's not the music, activities and stunt fliers that we're used to at Atlantic Beach, but any kite in the sky is a joy for "kite people" like my wife ... and increasingly me. It's worth the trip, and a long weekend next year.

By the way, next year's Atlantic Beach Kite Fest is Oct. 26 and 27. If you're a kite person, or have youngsters, you'll love it.