Burke's Garden, Virginia

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Kathy Myers

Years ago, Kathy and I met a fellow rider while touring the Virginia mountains. As residents of Asheville, North Carolina, at the time, we thought one of his tales was unusually curious. It seems that the beautiful location of our city's crown jewel, the Biltmore Estate, was really tycoon George Vanderbilt's Plan B.

We found it hard to believe that George Washington Vanderbilt's idyllic site for his grand, "summer" chateau (175,000 square feet) and estate was a fallback location. That's not a fact readily bandied about in Asheville. As the years passed, we remembered our colleague's story, though the name of this fabled locale slipped our minds. What setting, we long wondered, could possibly top the gentle, rolling hills along the French Broad River in Western North Carolina?

Recently, while scouring maps for a two-up, overnight tour on Kymco's Xciting 500cc scooter, I recalled this intriguing tale and did a little digging. It seems, the Biltmore story is indeed true. In the late 1800s, agents for Mr. Vanderbilt visited a reportedly paradisiacal mountain community near the southwestern Virginia town of Tazewell. They were intent upon purchasing property worthy of a palace that, once constructed, would become the largest privately owned home in America. There was only one hang-up. The residents, to a man, wouldn't sell a single acre. In those days, to acquire this land, you had to marry in to it or inherit it. Legend even has it that George made a personal appearance to plead his case but to no avail. Despite his millions, he just didn't meet the qualifications. In most places, money talks, but in Burke's Garden, it was completely muzzled. For those folks to have stuck to their guns and turned down instant wealth meant to me that this area must have been and likely still is a pretty special place - and certainly worth exploring. Well, it's not too far from home, I thought, the weekend's here, and the scooter has a full tank of gas…

Located just 160 miles from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Burke's Garden presents the perfect excuse for a nice day ride or a great pretext to finish work early on Friday and call it a weekender. And so, after a spirited ride to Tazewell, Kathy and I motor east on Route 61 and pick up the small and very winding Route 623. Climbing the steep mountain, we do our best to lean the scooter into the serpentine curves, testing the friction quotient of the Kymco's center stand the entire way. Soon the tarmac noses downward, hurtling us on a dizzying ride down the other side. As we glide past the sign welcoming us to our destination, we notice that the eerie clouds so omnipresent all morning seem to have magically parted in the distance, bathing the pastoral land before us in brilliant shafts of light.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2008 back issue.