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AAA World Article

Three Things: To The (American) Manor Born

Three estates fit for visiting royalty

By Margaret Dornaus

AAA World Article

Biltmore Estate
Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company


1. Hearst Castle

San Simeon, California
hearstcastle.org

Perched high above California’s State Route 1 coastal highway, this castle—now a museum—is as imposing as the media mogul who built it. After inheriting ranchland he dubbed “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill) in 1919, William Randolph Hearst employed San Francisco architect Julia Morgan “to build a little something” on his family’s former campground.

Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle
Photo courtesy
of Hearst Castle® California State Parks

By 1947, Morgan had transformed Hearst’s hilltop retreat into a compound of European-inspired structures surrounded by 123 acres of terraced gardens, pools and walkways. At its heart, Casa Grande—the castle’s largest building and a reference point for first-time touring—includes elaborately ornamented rooms where Hearst entertained industrial titans, politicos and his long-time mistress, Ziegfeld Follies’ star Marion Davies. Upstairs, spacious guestrooms, Hearst’s Gothic-inspired private suite and a tome-lined library decorated with 150 ancient Greek vases offer modern-day visitors insight into Hearst’s lavish lifestyle.

Hearst Castle
The Gothic Study  at Hearst Castle
Photo courtesy of Hearst Castle® California State Parks

 

2. Biltmore Estate
Asheville, North Carolina

biltmore.com

A château-inspired 250-room mansion that served as the country residence of George Washington Vanderbilt II (grandson of 19th-century shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt) is the centerpiece of this sprawling estate. The young Vanderbilt heir, who first visited the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1888, staked his claim to more than 90,000 forested acres to build a retreat befitting an American royal.

Biltmore Estate
The library at Biltmore Estate
Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company

Completed in 1895, Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House and its remaining 8,000-acre grounds are still the jewels in the crown of this 124-year-old mountaintop fancy. Here, visitors can stroll through famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead’s fragrant rose and Italianate gardens before touring the mansion’s collection of antiques and fine art, including original art by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent. With more than four acres of floor space, the home has room for 35 bedrooms, 45 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces.

Biltmore Estate
Mrs.
Vanderbilt’s room
Photos courtesy of The Biltmore Company


3. The Breakers
Newport, Rhode Island

newportmansions.org

This tony city by the sea was a favored summer destination for the well-to-do during the Gilded Age and, today, offers a treasure trove of architectural riches from which curious tourists can choose. That’s thanks in large part to the efforts of The Preservation Society of Newport County, which operates 10 historic properties. Of these, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s 1893 residence—The Breakers—is perhaps the grandest and most iconic of this seaside playground’s summer “cottages.” Here, 19th-century architect Richard Morris Hunt and an international team of artisans and craftsmen translated Vanderbilt’s opulent vision into an affirmation of American aristocracy.  

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
The Breakers
Photo courtesy of the Preservation Society of Newport County

Today, the 70-room National Historic Landmark typifies the kind of over-the-top style that the New York Central Railroad’s chairman and family enjoyed during the height of Newport’s turn-of-the-century heyday. One of two former Vanderbilt mansions that the preservation society operates in Newport (Vanderbilt grandson William’s Marble House is the other), The Breakers’ gilt- and fresco-embellished décor channels all the grandeur of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. The property’s nearby stable and carriage house provides further insight into Vanderbilt’s empire.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
Great Hall, The Breakers

Photo courtesy of the Preservation Society of Newport County

 

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of AAA World.


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