The line to start the tour was short (thankfully) and we started with the Winter Garden area and made our way through the dining hall (love the fireplace!), the sitting areas (also love the fireplace!), library and bedrooms. Ellison's favorite was the sitting area with the giant Christmas trees because it had such a fantastic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can see why George Vanderbilt picked this spot (which was out in the middle of nowhere at the time) to build his architectural masterpiece.
There was also a bowling alley, indoor swimming pool and a gym. I am not sure why I surprised at how modern the house seemed, but I was. It is less than 150 years old and many elements have been added since it was built in 1895, so there is no real reason that it wouldn't have what we now consider necessities, like indoor plumbing and electricity. I think because the house seems so "historic" and "European" that it messes with my sense of antiquity.
Oh, if you happen to be in to the history of landscape architecture, the life of Frederick Law Olmstead or just American History in general, I highly recommend both A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmstead and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczynski and Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmstead by Justin Martin. It will change the way you look at city parks forever.
The petting zoo was kind of a letdown for Ellison because she was really looking forward to seeing some horses, but they were all out to pasture when we got there. She settled for some goats and a braying, bucking donkey with a serious attitude problem. You take what you can get when it comes to petting zoos. We also visited the blacksmith shop and a broom maker. That sounds beyond boring, but it wasn't, I swear! It was so interesting and the workers were very informed and engaging! Ellison and I both loved it and could have stayed there all day learning about how to make horseshoes and brooms.
From lunch we went to the winery and sampled five different selections while Ellison kept track of which ones Trevor and I preferred on a score card (is that bad parenting? She learned a lot about wine so I'm calling it educational). There were some that were outstanding, some that were palatable and one that was horrid (I'm not going say which one, but Cardinal Crest, I'm looking at you). At this point the sun had set and we wanted to see the Christmas lights so we walked around the village, took the shuttle past the main house so we could see it all lit up and then headed home. Ellison and I, as tired as both of us were at this point, were so sad to leave not only the estate, but the magical holiday bubble that we'd been in for the past ten hours. We wanted to stay forever. Or at least until the next day.