If you have time to see only one of the cottages, make it this one. Architect Richard Morris Hunt was commissioned to create this replica of a generic Florentine Renaissance palazzo, replacing a wood structure that burned down in 1892. He was unrestrained by costs: The high iron entrance gates alone weigh over 7 tons, and the 50*50-foot great hall has 50-foot-high ceilings, forming a giant cube, and is sheathed in marble. The Breakers took nearly 3 years to build (1892-95), with platoons of artisans imported from Europe to apply gold leaf, carve wood and marble, and provide mural-size baroque paintings. The bathrooms, far from common at the time, were provided with both fresh and salt running water, hot and cold.

Such mind-numbing extravagance shouldn't really be surprising -- Hunt's patron was, after all, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, grandson of railroad tycoon Commodore Vanderbilt. Had Vanderbilt been European royalty, The Breakers would have provided motive for a peasant revolt. Vanderbilt's small family and their staff of 40 servants had 70 rooms in which to roam.

The furnishings on view are original. Evenings of classical and Broadway music are often presented.