The National Howl-iday Scene, Part V: The Biltmore

Biltmore_grounds

Being there: Intrepid Pup Tavish heads to North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate to see how America’s largest home–and also among the most dog-friendly–prepares for the holidays.

Tavish and the Biltmore lion

Tavish cozies up to one of the lions flanking the entrance to the Biltmore.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, so it’s high time for Tavish the Intrepid Pup to resume his series on the national “howl-iday” scene, scoping out what are arguably among the country’s most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots. (Visit the index to find the four other venues that have made Tavish’s list to date!)

The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, defines elegance and hospitality on the grandest of scales. George Vanderbilt II—grandson of renowned American industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt—was a prominent art collector who carved out his own considerable legacy in taking six years to build his magnificent country retreat on 125,000 acres with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With Richard Morris Hunt designing the house and preeminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted masterfully curating the grounds, Biltmore’s châteauesque appearance is reminiscent of fine European estates and stands as a testament to the sumptuousness of the Gilded Age. Vanderbilt debuted his home on Christmas Eve of 1895, so it’s especially fitting to make a visit during the holiday season. The annual “Christmas at Biltmore” festivities run from early November to mid January, and although most of the outdoor formal gardens have gone dormant for the winter, the home itself is arguably at its most splendid.

Antler Hill Village

Tavish extended his Biltmore experience at Antler Hill Village, five miles from the main house but still on the grounds of the estate! There you’ll find the winery, an exhibition gallery, a farmstead, trailheads, and (weather-permitting) ample dog-friendly patio dining.

The transformation of Biltmore to its opulent yuletide finest is a highly orchestrated affair involving legions of designers, florists and staff. There’s different themed décor each Christmas, and preparations are well underway by September. According to one of the guides we met, the final two weeks of October are when things really hit a fever pitch. A giant live tree (always at least 35 feet tall!) is carefully installed in the Banquet Hall and adorned with hundreds of ornaments. Garlands are hung, and pastry chefs put the finishing touches on the signature gingerbread house. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted inside Biltmore, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that everything is as magnificent as you’d hope!

The tickets required for entry to the grounds  include parking, shuttle service, a brochure-guided tour of the house, and access to the estate’s Antler Hill Village. Don’t miss the winery, where you’ll receive a complimentary tasting. Special Candlelight Christmas Evening tours are also available. Plan on spending a minimum of 90 minutes on the house tour—longer if you partake of the recorded audio guide (an extra fee applies). You’ll traverse three floors of living space—plus the basement kitchens, servants’ quarters and recreation areas. With 250 rooms, you can readily see why Biltmore is the largest private residence in America!

Leashed dogs are welcome at Biltmore, and while they can’t go in the house, there’s plenty of room to roam outside. You’re expected to clean up after your pet, and receptacles are conveniently located throughout the grounds. Biltmore offers a few outdoor self-service kennels, but we recommend savoring the Biltmore wonderland by exploring with your pup!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what a 3 on the Wag-A-Meter means35°32′26.02″N,  82°33′8.35″W
Biltmore, Asheville, NC

Biltmore earns an enthusiastic “3” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for its unique offerings, canine heritage, and dog-friendly experiences.

Asheville is a refreshingly dog-friendly destination with—at last count—more than 30 accommodations for those traveling with pets. Team Tavish stayed at the Days Inn Biltmore East on Tunnel Road, just a 15-minute drive along I-40 to the Biltmore. Like many area hotels, ours offered the convenience of purchasing Biltmore passes directly from them at no markup. We visited Biltmore on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (one of the estate’s busiest days of the year) and even though we arrived shortly after the grounds opened for the day, parking spaces were already filling rapidly. Shuttles chauffeur guests from the various lots right to the front door. Dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle, but when we let the parking attendant know we were traveling with a dog, he radioed ahead and kindly directed us to a parking area within easy walking distance instead.

Deer Park Trail

Tavish ran the Deer Park Trail, which offers varied terrain, panoramic mountain vistas, and great views of the house. The trailhead for this 2.6-mile round trip hike is adjacent to Biltmore’s South Terrace. It feels like the backdrop for a movie set, and indeed portions of the films Being There, Last of the Mohicans and Forrest Gump featured these very grounds!

Tavish was eager to burn off some energy, so we checked out our hiking options. After George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, his wife Edith “downsized,” selling off 87,000 acres to the U.S. Forest Service. Not to worry:  8,000 glorious acres remain with some 22 miles of trails from which to choose. A series of short loop routes (each under a 1/2 mile) total 2.5  miles in just the gardens alone. Longer trails of up to 4 miles round trip originate from the main house and also from the Antler Hill Barn near the winery, a 15-minute drive from the main parking lots. Since we were taking turns going on the house tour and walking Tavish, we selected the Deer Park Trail which begins at the house’s South Terrace and meanders through a hilly landscape down to the Lagoon. Racing through the tall grass, catching fleeting scents of various wildlife that consider Biltmore’s grounds their home, Tavish was following in the paw prints of the many dogs who’ve gone before.

Dogs have historically been numerous and well-loved at Biltmore. George and Edith Vanderbilt had a kennel of Collies and owned Borzois/Russian Wolfhounds and St. Bernards. The dogs purportedly had run of Biltmore’s first floor. Imagine that! The Vanderbilts’ only child Cornelia shared their affection for canines. As an adult, Cornelia maintained a kennel of Llewellin Setters and later, with her husband John Amherst Francis Cecil, had Salukis. And it seems the tradition continues; upstairs in the main house, we spotted a circa 1990 Cecil family portrait complete with a regal looking standard poodle named Blackberry.

The Biltmore's dog-friendly legacy

This circa 1910 photograph (inset) depicting Cornelia Vanderbilt and beloved St. Bernard, Cedric, was replicated on Biltmore’s grounds in a 2010 sculpture by Vadim Bora (1954-2011). It was the artist’s final commission.

But of all Biltmore’s dogs, it’s Cedric that represents the pack. Cedric was the pet St. Bernard who appears in several vintage photographs held in Biltmore’s Archives. The Vanderbilts even gave Cedric’s progeny to family and friends. He lives on as the “voice” of the home’s audio tour for children. And if you head over to the estate’s Antler Hill Village, you can’t miss Cedric’s visage on the sign of his namesake tavern.  If the weather is nice, sit out on the dog-friendly patio and raise a glass of Cedric’s Pale Ale or Brown Ale in his honor. A charming statue of Cedric playing with young Cornelia is out front (see photo above). While you’re there, you’ll also want to pop into the neighboring Outdoor Adventure Center and the Mercantile—Tavish discovered that the shopkeepers offered a complimentary treat to visiting pups! Biltmore’s staff members seem to genuinely embrace the pet-friendly ethic, making this historic home a great place to visit at Christmas or in any season.

Journey to the Edge of Shangri-La

Catoctin Trail

That got your attention, didn’t it? OK, so while Tavish the Intrepid Pup technically didn’t stumble upon the mystical paradise described in Lost Horizon, he came pretty close to a Shangri-La. In Thurmont, Maryland, that is.

Catoctin Mountain Park, administered by the National Park Service, is some 10,000 acres of hardwood forest interspersed with recreational areas and a lot of history. Its past is interwoven with that of sawmills, whiskey stills, tanneries, charcoal production, and pig iron. In the 1930s it was shaped into the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area by the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Of this expanse, the Hi-Catoctin Camp for families of federal workers caught the eye of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a viable spot for a presidential retreat. Roosevelt hadn’t been too keen on adopting his predecessor President Herbert Hoover’s retreat (Camp Rapidan) in Shenandoah, in part because its remoteness presented challenges for Roosevelt’s physical condition. But Hi-Catoctin was just an hour northwest of Washington, DC, and refreshingly cooler in the summer to boot. Roosevelt first visited Catoctin in April 1942, and the existing camp was quickly converted to a presidential retreat he dubbed “Shangri-La” after the utopia in James Hilton’s popular 1933 novel. It became a true haven for the president during World War II, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill even came there for the Third Washington Conference in 1943. After Roosevelt’s death, President Harry Truman recognized the importance and significance of Shangri-La and preserved it through an arrangement with the National Park Service. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower came into office, he readily embraced Shangri-La but with one significant modification: he renamed it Camp David after his grandson! It’s kept that name ever since and has seen several historic moments, from visits by Leonid Brezhnev, Nikita Khrushchev, and Margaret Thatcher to the 1978 summit with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin culminating in the Camp David Accords. As you might suspect, Shangri-La (a.k.a. Camp David) is neither visible from any of the park roads nor open for visitation by the general public even if you do find it.

However, you have the whole rest of the park at your disposal, and with 25 miles of available hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous, you can readily assemble an itinerary that strikes your fancy. We ended up covering about 5 miles during our visit by hiking the out-and-back Cunningham Falls Nature Trail (2.8 miles round-trip, with a nice view of the falls), the Hog Rock Nature Trail loop (1.5 miles, featuring 14 kinds of trees and nice vista of the Monocacy Valley), and the Blue Ridge Summit Trail (0.6 mile round-trip, with a rocky overlook at an elevation of 1520 ft). Just to manage expectations: at no time did Bo, President’s Obama’s Portuguese Water Dog, come bounding up to us. In fact, we were kind of surprised by how uncrowded the park was, but we chalked it up to the fact that rain in the forecast was keeping folks away. We’ll definitely be back to tackle some of the other routes!

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansDogging the Details

39°39′1.54″N,  77°27′50.65″W
Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Maryland

39°37′5.79″N,  77°24′56.46″W
The Cozy’s Camp David Museum, Thurmont, Maryland

This excursion is a solid “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter. Catoctin is a great natural setting that welcomes leashed dogs, and the hiking trails are very well marked and maintained.

Catoctin Mountain Park

Tavish on the lush and shady Cunningham Falls trail. We passed a total of six other dogs on this popular route.

Make the Park Service’s Visitor Center at Catoctin Mountain Park your first stop. There is no entrance fee for the park, although rates do apply if you’ll be availing yourself of any of the four cabin camp rental sites. The ranger can outfit you with a trail map and recommend what hikes will best suit your group and the time you have available. Particularly neat is the park’s current initiative, the “Healthy Park | Healthy People Challenge.” You’re given a pamphlet listing a combination of 13 interpretive trails and scenic overlooks in the park. With each destination attained, you have a ranger record it on your sheet. Make it to all 13 spots and you’ll earn a special Catoctin Mountain Park carabiner!

The Visitor Center contains restroom facilities, outdoor trash receptacles, a small museum covering the cultural heritage and natural history of the region, and a park bookstore/gift shop that even carries collapsible water bowls and pet bandanas stamped “National Bark Ranger” (um, yeah, we bought one).

After truly enjoying hiking in the park, our next stop was the historic Cozy in downtown Thurmont. Established in 1929, Cozy is Maryland’s oldest restaurant still run by its founding family. That in and of itself makes the Cozy noteworthy in this day and age, but it’s the Cozy’s other claim to fame that had Team Tavish intrigued. In addition to the Cozy Country Inn and Cozy Village Shops, the Cozy complex is home to the nation’s “only museum of Camp David history.” You come upon the outdoor painted plaque that says that Mamie Eisenhower and Babe Ruth are among the notables who’ve dined here, open the door to the family-style restaurant,  and boom:  there’s the Camp David Museum.

Camp David MuseumA modest-sized room off the main dining area serves as the gallery chock full of photographs and memorabilia highlighting the Cozy’s Camp David connections to 13 presidential administrations and counting. There’s a perfect photo opp beneath a rustic “Camp David” sign, but sorry, no dogs allowed inside.

For security reasons Camp David doesn’t show up on the Park Service trail maps, but area residents are accustomed to Camp David hubbub and seem happy enough to demystify things for you. One nice lady we met (alas, didn’t catch a name) recalled how broadcast journalist “Barbara Wawa” would hike up her skirt and vault a fence so she’d be the first out to the helicopters that used the parking lot of a local car dealership as a  landing pad. Time was that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secret Service agents stayed at the Cozy. JFK’s cabinet members often dined there, and the Cozy was the lodging of choice for guests attending President George H. W. Bush’s daughter Doro’s wedding at Camp David in 1992. And then there were tales of television reporters who had their favorite yards or trees downtown that they’d always use as backdrops for reporting “live from Camp David”…even though all the locals watching the evening news knew better.

Yet, despite the G8 Summit being held at Camp David just two months ago (May 2012), Team Tavish detected a hint of wistfulness in our new-found Thurmont-er friend. “It’s not quite like it used to be,” she said. “Now all those world leaders just Skype and email each other, you know. And President Obama really seems to be more of a beach kind of guy, so I don’t think he gets up here as much as some of the other presidents did.”

Everything in the Cozy’s various displays has been donated over the years by visiting White House staffers, dignitaries, and members of a generous press corps. It seems that the bus tours that stop for repast at the Cozy are a pretty discerning bunch, and it apparently hasn’t gone unnoticed that the Obama section of the Camp David Museum is a little sparse. Don’t blame the Cozy, however, as they know their audience and aim to please. They’ve submitted requests for items through “official channels” and have even improvised by adding a few generic images of the First Family. But at the end of the day, Team Tavish had to concur with the assessment of our casual acquaintance: “Photos downloaded from the internet somehow just don’t cut it.”

So, if someone at the White House happens to be reading this (and we know hope you are!), the Intrepid Pup encourages you to  “throw a bone” to the Cozy’s Camp David Museum in the way of some Obama swag and a few recent photos of the president at Camp David. Who knows? It might just translate to some key votes from Thurmont-ers and Cozy-philes in the November elections.

Monticello, Dogs, and the 4th of July

Monticello Thomas Jefferson’s name gets bandied about quite frequently on the fourth of July. Famously linked to this date first for his role in writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson also made history by dying on July 4th fifty years later…the exact same day as his Declaration co-author and former political adversary John Adams.

So, on this our country’s 236th birthday, Intrepid Pup shares a recent visit to Thomas Jefferson’s hilltop home of Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a young nation’s first Secretary of State, second Vice President, and third President…a veritable trifecta that meant he was indeed a busy man whose home—despite being started in 1768—took forty years to complete. Today, the distinctive plantation with its Palladian architectural influences is the only U.S. residence that’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Moniticello

Tavish overlooks Jefferson’s gardens from the airy pavilion, much as Bergère and her progeny might have done more than 200 years ago.

Historians are always quick to cite Jefferson’s intellect and endless fascinations:  natural history, architecture, gardening, cooking, viticulture, farming, literature, politics. But dogs? This founding father seemed to take a purely utilitarian view—not uncommon in late 18th-century America—of the canine species. Jefferson opined that, in general, the dog population should be highly controlled (and even regulated and taxed) as dogs often proved to be carriers of disease and a scourge upon livestock. A comprehensive article on this topic appears in the “Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia” section of Monticello’s website.

That all being said, Jefferson also felt that certain birds and animals from the Old World should be introduced to America. Among these was a “shepherd’s dog,” and Jefferson took it upon himself to import three such dogs from France (a female named Bergère and two puppies she whelped during the trans-Atlantic passage) in 1789. There’s been much speculation as to just what kind of herding dogs these were, since Jefferson’s archival records lack this particular detail. The experts’ best guess? Large Briards. Jefferson’s farm animals included sheep, cows, and various poultry, and it seems that Bergère et al were kept as true working dogs. More of the “chien de berger” came to Monticello in 1790 and 1809, with the latter dogs personally selected by the Marquis de Lafayette! As Albemarle County landowners increasingly acquired sheep, Jefferson’s dogs came into high demand, and correspondence indicates that he carefully bred his dogs and supplied the puppies to relatives, friends and neighbors.

Bergère’s happy—but, presumably, purely coincidental—legacy is that Monticello remains a dog-friendly destination. So long as you keep your dog leashed and outdoors, dogs are welcome to explore Monticello’s historic grounds.

 

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter means 38°0′35.34″N,  78°27′9.85″W
Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

For Monticello’s pet-friendly culture and sheer number of things to see and do, this excursion ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter.

Your visit will begin in the parking lot. Don’t miss seeing the African-American graveyard. It’s near the picnic area and entrance to the 2-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail (important note: dogs are permitted only on the section that runs through Kemper Park at the opposite end of the trail). From the parking lot you’ll approach the Visitor Center for your tickets. There’s a theater showing a 20-minute introductory film, an educational center, a cafe, and a well-stocked museum shop (sorry, no dogs in any of the buildings). Though your dog also can’t accompany you into the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Gallery, you’ll want to check this out, too. This compact museum space addresses diverse themes—from slavery to Monticello’s design—and tackles abstract concepts like Jefferson’s words and ideas in a creative way: see for yourself!

Monticello

Dogs can’t take the shuttle (left), but the walking trail (right) begins just across the road from the Visitor Center shuttle stop.

To cover the distance between the Visitor Center and the house with your dog, you won’t be able to ride the courtesy shuttle. Not to worry: there’s a gently sloping, shady 0.6-mile gravel path through the woods that only takes ~20 minutes. Allow more time if you stop to linger en route at Jefferson’s gravesite.

We were pleased to find trash receptacles placed throughout the grounds (though not on the woodland trail), and we were conveniently able to refill water bottles for Tavish from restroom facilities and from the drinking fountain at the Museum Shop adjacent to Jefferson’s extensive vegetable garden.

Monticello beer cellar

Tavish cools off in Monticello’s beer cellar. Jefferson’s wife Martha (1748-1782) oversaw the brewing of 15-gallon batches every two weeks. A British brewer visited Monticello in 1813–due to being detained in the War of 1812!–and, based on his input, the estate switched to producing biannual 100-gallon runs of ale.

Since dogs aren’t allowed inside the main house, Team Tavish took the timed-entry guided tour in consecutive one-hour shifts. This meant that Tavish had a full two hours to explore Jefferson’s estate, and there really was plenty to hold his (and our) interest. We’d been informed that Tavish could accompany us on any of the seasonally-offered “gardens and grounds” tours included in the general admission fee. While we saw many of these in progress, we opted to explore on our own and even encountered a few other visiting dogs. The beautiful flower beds on the west lawn were in full bloom, and from the north terrace we could just make out in the distance the Jefferson-designed rotunda at the University of Virginia. We surveyed the orchards from the vantage point of the garden pavilion. And when we needed some shade, we took a self-guided tour through the cool cellar passage that runs the full width of the main house and terraces and gives you a peek at Monticello’s dependencies .

Plan on spending a minimum of 3 hours at Monticello to savor the history and the views!

 

 

Save