Over the last few years, the concept of 'brand building' has driven itself to the top of the list as arguably the key to automotive marketing and advertising. As such, driving schools have come to the fore among premium brands as favored tools in automakers' effort to build brand loyalty, exclusivity, and that crazy little thing called 'buzz.'
One such example is Land Rover, the Blue Oval's luxury-lined UK off-road division, which has taken its Land Rover Experience global, establishing off-road driving centers around the world, from Dunkeld, Scotland to Johannesburg, South Africa. One of Land Rover's newest Experiences is located in Asheville, North Carolina, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains on George Vanderbuilt's Biltmore Estate. Naturally, when the opportunity knocked go get muddy for a few days on the grounds of America's largest private home earlier this Spring, we convinced the powers that be at Weblogs Inc. to loosen the company purse strings for airfare, a room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, etc.*
Click on the jump for more of this Travelogue entry and original photographs!
*(It is Weblogs Inc.'s official policy to pay its own way to all press junkets. Gifted trips are not accepted)
Upon touching down at Asheville's diminutive airport, we were greeted by a Land Rover rep in a supercharged Range Rover Sport, at which point we were driven to the Biltmore in burgeoning (and surprisingly hip) Ashville, and given a tour of the 8,000 acre property, thereafter checking in at the Inn. While we were keen to get a look at the Biltmore house itself, we came to get dirty, and to learn a little bit off-roading and marketing the Land Rover lifestyle.
Sadly, as the evening was already drawing close upon us, mucking about in Britain's finest off-road togs wasn't on the menu for the day, so we repaired to the adjacent winery for a brief tasting before heading to dinner. Given its majestic surroundings, it's understandable that Estate's winery has the reputation of being the most visited vintner in the States. And though only the most generous (or foolhardy) of drinkers would classify us as knowledgeable oenophiles, a good glass of the Estate's Château Reserve Claret was hardly lost on us.
Over a fine meal at the Inn's dining room and a few post-dinner cocktails out on the veranda with a smattering of Land Rover and Estate p.r. folks and instructors (along with a couple of other journos), it became clear that the Biltmore and Land Rover are an exceptional match, as perfectly and gloriously incongruous as LR's vehicles themselves. After all, who would figure on a four-star dining and lodging experience in a region suspected by outsiders for a high 'Dueling Banjos' contingent? Similarly, what person in their right mind could rationally expect peerless off-road ability from something with the interior ambiance of some of the world's best luxury sedans? If improbably, both find a good measure of success in their own way as outposts of upper-crust civility when dropped in the middle of beautiful (if occasionally inhospitable) terrain.
Keep your eyes peeled for more Autoblog Travelogue installments, as with we learn how to lash Land Rovers to trees, get up on two wheels, and in general, flex the Cool Britannia boxes for all their off-road worth, and in the mean time, be sure to click on the photos for high-res images!
[Sources: Land Rover Experience; The Biltmore Estate]