Thursday, May 08, 2008


I write this post from the bowels of America’s Largest Home™, AKA the Biltmore Estate, the country house carved by George Vanderbilt out of a blasted heath in western North Carolina.

Biltmore is the living legacy of Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the great 19th century American robber barons. Centered in Asheville, it occupies roughly one-third of the 52,586 square miles of North Carolina. The showpiece of the estate, Biltmore House, is a 7,246 room mansion set upon a promontory surrounded by over 12,500 square miles of carefully tended gardens and manicured azalea-laden forests, all of which were specially imported by Vanderbilt and planted by hand. Each of the 7,246 rooms - from the richest, most opulent salons to the lowliest of servants’ quarters - is decorated with rare artworks, the walls encrusted with precious stones.

Biltmore’s basement houses not only the working heart of the mansion - kitchens, laundries, even a small oil refinery - but numerous amusements, including five Olympic-size swimming pools, a bowling alley, shopping mall, and a prototypical late-19th century video game parlor that utilized lantern slides and electric lamps to entertain the Vanderbilt children.

Casual visitors such as my Corporate Colleagues and I do not get to stay at the Big House, of course. We are lodged at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a handsome 1,875-room facility that was originally housed in the sub-basement of the main house before being relocated to its own dedicated location several miles away.

I shit you not when I tell you that it takes almost 30 minutes to make the trip from the Inn to the main house, using the estate’s own private fleet of Bullet Trains. This place is huuuuuuuge. It’s big enough to have its own weather. Hell, it’s big enough to have its own gravity.

After suffering through a day and a half of meetings, we all ran over to the Grove Park Inn on the other side of town, where we took advantage of the perfect weather and enjoyed a round of golf. One of the girls in the pro shop bore an uncanny resemblance to the Mistress of Sarcasm...freaky.

Dinner this evening was at the estate’s horse barn (really), where horses are (thankfully) no longer in evidence. A country-style buffet (all-you-can-eat bone-in ribeye steaks!), an excellent bluegrass group (the Whitewater Bluegrass Company), some half-assed Square Dancing, and it was time to head back to the Inn for some late-evening imbibing. MacAllan 12-year-old, Balvenie 21-year-old Port Wood, and (courtesy of the friendly barkeep), a few precious drops of $175-a-shot Louis XIII Cognac, and I’m more than ready for a few hours in the kip.

In a few hours, my limo will pick me up and navigate the multi-mile journey from the Inn to the exit gate. The great airlock doors will swing open, and I will leave the gigantic weatherproof dome that encloses most of the Estate. But my memories of precious memories...will be with me always.

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