Great Drives: Christmas at Biltmore Page 3

December 25, 2009
TCC's editor learns the finer points of muck.

TCC's editor learns the finer points of muck.

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Home on the Range Rover


“Christmas is the busiest time of year,” says Nikolas, our guide through the mud that will end in a nice bistro dinner and, we pray, much more than the 20-degree cold we’re trudging through. A veteran of Land Rover Experience Driving Schools far and wide, Nikolas runs the third and newest Land Rover school (the others are at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, Calif . , and the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello, near Montreal ).


The Land Rover school takes a winding path around the estate you’ll never see from the holiday tours. It crosses muddy trails and gravel paths, previous ruts and new ones cut by every class, and the occasional downed trees, the consequences of recent ice storms before we arrived.


Land Rover drivers greet school attendees at the Inn at Biltmore, the 213-room hotel built recently on the estate’s grounds. While it’s no 250-room, billion-dollar insurance claim, it is a four-diamond AAA property and a regular on Conde Nast Traveler’s best-of lists.


When Nikolas greets me, I’m the only student for the day. Each group of three or fewer guests gets their own instructor, who teaches the finer points of cruising the estate’s vineyards, fording its smallish streams and tilting forward safely to watch downhill descents that would make your mother clutch her handbag.


And despite the technological advances that have come to the Range Rovers we know and love, Nikolas and his instructors still teach the basics of off-roading: “As slow as possible, as fast as necessary,” he reminds me as I forget for a moment that slow is your friend. (And even then, Nikolas politely says it’s ‘nicely done.’”)


We spend most of the day treading lightly over the Biltmore grounds, refreshing old off-road knowledge and hoping that gentle karma will visit a house like this one on us someday. Shorter programs are available, though — Land Rover will outfit a person with a driver for an hour for $195, while a Full Day Adventure runs $750. Those prices include snacks, by the way — the Queen’s Land Rover Defender may have steps for her Corgi, but our Range Rover seems to have come standard with a thousand granola bars and fruit.

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