Now Playing

Antler Hill Village

Driving Range

by Beth Weitzman and Nate Chapnick | Jezebel magazine | October 31, 2011

Nestled in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville’s storied, pastorally set Biltmore House—a sprawling, 250-room French château, debuted in 1895—was the private getaway of one George Vanderbilt II—horticulturist, heir and playboy. Today, guests from all over the world flock to the historic estate. Some come to tour the Biltmore House and stay in the exquisite 213-room Inn on Biltmore Estate; some come to tour the winery and relax at the spa; and others come for the adventure of the Land Rover Experience Driving School, also on the property—a pure playground for off-road enthusiasts (and anyone looking to become one).

Established in June of 2004, the Land Rover Experience Driving School is the only factory-backed off-road driving program open to the public year-round and in all types of weather. The best part? The school supplies the vehicles, including the Land Rover LR4, Range Rover Sport and Range Rover, which means you don’t need to worry about damaging your own SUV. For owners of Land Rover or Range Rover vehicles, there is no better place to really learn how to drive these amazing vehicles than at the driving school.

Relatively heavy snow marked our arrival at the Biltmore-based school, but Land Rover instructors never flinched. To these seasoned off-roaders, the conditions presented a mere diversion—but a fun one. All Land Rover teachers are highly trained, and many boast specialized military backgrounds. Others have off-road racing and mechanical experience that helps them identify an individual’s skill set so that lessons may be tailored around it. Instructors provide veteran thrill-seekers with advanced training, such as winching, side-tilts and vehicle recovery, while bolstering the confidence of first-timers learning to traverse complex obstacles.

More than 4,000 acres of trails introduce steep ascents and descents, side-tilts, and rock crawls. Side-tilts are the most thrilling of all exercises: Picture a Rover, one tire in the air, teetering on the edge of a sharp hill, while the driver—in this case, yours truly—attempts to navigate the correct line to clear the obstacle at hand. In short, this is a heart-stopping moment.

Compared to similar driving schools, Land Rover’s Biltmore outpost is a relative bargain. A full day—gourmet lunch and up to three drivers included—is just $1,200. Schedules requiring a downshift in time are accommodated with a one-hour lesson at $250 or a two-hour tutorial for $400. And, for an additional $25 per person, friends or family members can tag along for the nail-biting excursion. A day of off-roading concludes with a physical manifestation of bragging rights: a coursework-certifying plaque.

Thankfully, the adventure doesn’t end where the pavement begins; it kicks into high gear, especially during the holiday season. This year marks the 37th year of Christmas at the Biltmore. Attractions include the stunningly decorated Biltmore House, viewing the famous Christmas tree, Vanderbilt-inspired decorating classes, special musical guests on the weekends and appearances from Santa Claus himself. But, we all know that Christmas is also about indulging yourself a little.

That’s why your first stop after off-roading might be at The Spa, Biltmore, where indulgence comes in the form of premium therapies, such as the 50-minute Signature Biltmore Massage ($130). The sensory extravagances continue at the Biltmore Winery in Antler Hill Village—among the most visited of all U.S.-based wineries. From the village, tour the estate’s historic cellars, dine at one of three restaurants, or enjoy a complimentary wine tasting at one of many tasting counters.

Pair these diversions with dinner in The Dining Room at the Inn. Here, talented toque Rick Boyer, who trained under the legendary chef Alex Stratta, provides guests with a taste of what it was like to dine with the Vanderbilts—think freshly harvested ingredients and produce, estate-raised cattle and Biltmore-made wine. Between the savoring of dynamic flavors and the intimate atmosphere, expect to kill three hours at a minimum. There are also many dining options and shops in the Biltmore Village to explore.

At Biltmore, you can live like a Vanderbilt for considerably less. Rates typically range between $199 and $500 per night, depending on the room and season. November and December are Biltmore’s most popular months, when rooms and the driving school tend to book up, so here’s a word to the wise: Make your reservations before there aren’t any to be had.