Completed in 2001, the inn is a 213 room luxury hotel that sits on the Estate’s 8,000 acres. The inn features everything you’d expect in a hotel of its type, such as an onsite masseuse, bar, library, and four star restaurant, which we had the pleasure of dining in for most of our stay. The food and service were absolutely exceptional throughout the inn.
The Biltmore Estate offers so much to do that you can barely squeeze it all in without spending several days there. Of course, the main attraction is the actual house, which was built by George Vanderbilt as a mountain getaway. His little mountain home, begun in the late 1800’s was completed in 1895, and boasts 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms and 45 bathrooms. It is the largest private home in America and is opened for tours daily.
Our visit included a tour of the Biltmore house and it as an absolute must-see. It is so hard to imagine that a single man of 25 could orchestrate the building of such a place. It was such a large undertaking that a railroad spur was built specifically to bring in the rocks used to build the house. Several years after its completion, Vanderbilt was married and had a daughter. The three of them lived there as their primary home.
The house is like nothing you’ve ever seen. The basement alone is an engineering wonder of its day. Back when most Americans did not even have electricity yet, Vanderbilt not only had it, but he had underwater lights in his indoor swimming pool, a fully operation laundry room, a walk-in refrigerator, and even a gym and bowling alley! The rest of the home also featured central heating, a servant paging system, fire alarms, and two elevators!
The Biltmore house is so rich in history that one must pay a visit and take the audio tour to really appreciate it. Inside the home you’ll find beautiful antiques, art collections, and historic pieces such as Napoleon’s chess table.
Outside the house, the wonders continue. Originally comprised of 125,000 acres (you read that right), the Biltmore Estate was landscaped by Fredrick Law Olmsted, who is known as the father of landscape architecture in America. Olmstead was best-known for his work designing New York’s Central Park.
Just a short walk (relatively speaking) from the house you’ll find a beautiful walled Italian-style garden. Another short walk or drive takes you to a four-acre garden where you’ll find 50,000 tulips and iris in bloom each spring.
The grounds of the estate also feature other attractions, such as a working farm, outdoor activities such as biking and horseback riding and a vineyard, which produces 120,000 cases of French varietal wines annually.
All this is great right? But we went to the Biltmore to go four-wheeling – Land Rover style.
Land Rover opened its newest driving school at the Biltmore Estate in June of 2004. Previously, schools were located in West Virginia and Vermont. Schools also exist at the Fairmont Le Ch âteau Montebello, near Montreal, Canada and in Carmel, California at the Quail Lodge.
Vanderbilt had a love for the land during his lifetime. During his life he completely reforested his 125,000 acres, which were bare when he built his home. After his death, his wife sold off the majority of the land to the Government, with the stipulation that it be used as protected public land. That land became the Pisgah National Forest.
Land Rover was one of the earliest members of Tread Lightly! and as such has a similar love for the land. This made the Biltmore Estate a perfect match for the driving school. Working in cooperation with the estate, the driving school has trails throughout the property.
“The Land Rover Driving School is a wonderful fit for us at Biltmore Estate,” said CEO and President William A. V. Cecil, Jr., Vanderbilt’s great-grandson. “In the early 1900s, my great-grandfather offered his guests every opportunity to experience the beauty of the mountains he chose to be his primary home. Whether walking, biking, horseback riding or eventually driving early motor cars, he and his guests spent a great deal of time outdoors. We’re delighted to be able to offer our modern guests and experience that I think Mr. Vanderbilt would have greatly enjoyed himself.”
Unlike some other driving schools, the Land Rover Experience is not only opened to Land Rover owners, but is open to anyone who wants to attend. The school offers everything from a one hour long intro to off-road driving ($195 per vehicle) to full-day adventures ($750 per vehicle up to three drivers). We attended for a full-day.
Unlike other driving schools, there is not really a set curriculum. Courses are tailored to each attendee, so there is something for everyone, be it a driver who has never been off-road before and just wants a thrill for an hour or two to someone who wants a full day to learn to drive their new Land Rover off-road. Each trainer is able to assess the driver and teach them what they would like to learn during their visit.
So what were we doing there? We’ve driven off-road plenty in just about any type of vehicle and terrain. What could Land Rover offer us?
Well, first of all, anyone who thinks they know everything about driving is full of you-know-what. We can all learn something if we just pay attention. Personally, I wanted to get a feel for the new Land Rovers and how their different drivetrain systems work in a trained atmosphere.
My instructor was Greg Nikolas. Greg was integral in getting the driving school setup at Biltmore and knew just about everything you’d want to know about the vehicles and more. Our morning was spent in a 2005 Range Rover and the afternoon in an LR3.
We wanted him to spend the day with us assuming we knew nothing and we also would restrain ourselves from letting our previous experience surface. We would pay attention and do what we were told.
This really paid off for us – especially during the LR3 session. Remember that alphabet soup I mentioned earlier? That stuff works wonders off-road. The LR3 has several different off-road modes that completely change the way the vehicle drives. Mode changes can vary throttle response, brake response, lock or unlock the transfer case and even turn on and off the rear locking differential.
There were several spots where we got to repeat a section of the course using different settings. This was ideal for feeling the differences that each setting offer and how it was tailored to the terrain.
One particular section was also useful for myself to learn a little more about driving off-road with independent front suspension (IFS). IFS handles very differently than a solid axle, like those found in Jeep Wranglers. There was one particularly rutted out section where the wheels were forced up on one side and into a ditch wall while the other side was angled downward with the weight of the vehicle on it. In this situation, in a solid axle vehicle, you would ease off the steering wheel in order to allow the axle to go where it wanted. Turning the wheel and forcing it to turn can cause axle and joint breakage and if you’re not careful, thumb and wrist breakage, as well, if the wheels rebounds on you.
With the LR3, however, Greg told me to stay on the wheel and turn it. Against my inclinations and past experience, I did what he said. Sure enough, the LR3 got back on track and went right through the obstacle.
Situations like this are exactly why I wanted to go to the school for the day. It was a perfect example of learning something new and completely different than what you expected.
The day was truly enlightening. The LR3’s drivetrain systems were amazing and proved that a vehicle does not have to have all solid axles and lockers. Using break force and drive power distribution, the LR3 got through obstacles that the vast majority of SUVs on the market could not get through. Any doubts we had about all the technology were proven wrong. This Land Rover, though vastly different in design and technology from its forerunners, was still true to their nature. It could still ‘wheel. But untrue to their history, these new Rovers are well-built, luxurious and fun to drive on a daily basis, and don’t require kidney surgery or a visit to your dentist after a long trip.
I came away from the day at the Land Rover Experience Driving School a better and more seasoned driver. I learned many things in that one day and had a heck of a good time while learning them. I can only imagine what a totally inexperienced driver would say after a day there.
Whether you just want a quick lesson during a visit to the Biltmore or you want a full day of instruction, the Land Rover Experience Driving School is well worth the trip.
For more information on Land Rover Experience locations and schedules, visit their website.
Michael Cohn is the Editor of Rockcrawler.com and resides near Birmingham, Alabama.
Michael enjoys going on press rides, where he can beat up fleet vehicles and not have to clean them up or fix them at the end of the day. Sure beats monthly payments, too.