Honors Program students travel back in time on daytrip to Asheville’s Biltmore Estate

Each year students in the college’s Honors Program embark on an off-campus trip with the goal of gaining new experiences and supplementing in-class learning. For many students these trips are a major highlight of the program and allow them to experience the larger world around them, bond with their peers, and experience things they otherwise may not have a chance to. This year, the Honors Program, led by Director Ken Craig, set off to Asheville to spend a day at the Biltmore Estate.

The Biltmore House was the private residence of the Vanderbilt and Cecil families and is now a popular tourist destination. A tour of the Biltmore House transports one back to the 19th century with its grand interiors, ornate details, and extensive collection of art, antiques, and historical artifacts.

With 250 rooms across four floors and a basement, the Biltmore House tells the story of a wealthy family, their glamorous lives, and the countless housekeepers, butlers, and other staff that made their lifestyles and the maintenance of the estate possible. The tour touches on all parts of this experiencefrom the family’s grand dining room with triple fireplaces the height of a full-grown human, to the humble “servant quarters” and working kitchen at the heart of the house.

Students relished all of it, snapping photos of the grand interiors and sprawling, mountainous exteriors alike, soaking in this piece of history right down the mountain from their own historical home in Banner Elk.


In addition to touring the house and estate, the honors students also had the chance to experience one of the estate’s temporary exhibits, “Italian Renaissance Alive,” an immersive experience highlighting the art of the Italian Renaissance. Prior to the experience, Provost Alyson Gill held a discussion with the students about some of the pieces they would get close to inside the gallery.

Upon entering the gallery, the group was transported in time to an era of ornate Italian frescos, sculptures, and paintings. Projections of some of the most important and influential pieces of art, including the works of Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, filled the room and were larger than life on the walls and floor of the exhibit.

This art has been enjoyed by viewers for centuries, and the honors students joined the ranks of Italian Renaissance-lovers like Biltmore House founder George Vanderbilt himself. According to the estate’s website, Vanderbilt was a fan of Italian Renaissance art and even collected some pieces and displayed them in his Asheville home.

“Although he was born 200 years after the Italian Renaissance ended, George Vanderbilt was part of what is known as the American Renaissancea cultural period from 1876 to 1917 in which the United States experienced a renewal of national self-confidence, embracing both modernism and new technologies along with classic art and architecture,” the website states. “Vanderbilt traveled to Italy several times, even choosing to spend his honeymoon there, and collected a number of Renaissance-era and Renaissance-inspired treasures for his magnificent home.”

Throughout the action-packed day students in the Honors Program got an up-close look at centuries of history, spanning from the creation of famous Italian Renaissance pieces like the Mona Lisa, David of Michelangelo, and The Last Supper in the 1500s, to the stunning 19th century architecture of the Biltmore House, an experience they will carry with them for years to come.

“I really enjoyed this opportunity to go and visit the Biltmore Estate. I had never been before and absolutely loved every bit of this trip,” freshman Anna Crippen said. “One of the coolest parts was learning that there was a 2-lane bowling alley in the basement, along with an entire swimming pool. The gardens were also super amazing to go see, especially the conservatory, which had a lot of exotic plants I haven't seen in person before. The Italian Renaissance exhibit was also a wonderful experience and opened my eyes a little bit more to art appreciation.”

Learn more about the Lees-McRae Honors Program

By Maya JarrellMarch 29, 2023
AcademicsCampus Life