Above: The Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina - gnagel/iStock Photo/Getty Images
In the westernmost part of North Carolina, the High Country is a place to slow down and unwind amid the peace and majestic scenery of the Appalachian Mountains. The views along highways and byways as mist-shrouded peaks appear and disappear are unforgettable.
Westglow Resort & Spa
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
The temperature dropped about 10 degrees as we traveled two hours northwest from the airport in Charlotte to the picturesque mountain town of Blowing Rock. We had booked two nights at Westglow Resort & Spa, a wellness retreat set on a 42-acre estate. Once the summer home of artist and writer Elliott Daingerfield, the 1917 Greek Revival mansion encompasses six accommodations on the second floor and an excellent restaurant. A wooden veranda furnished with Adirondack chairs provides a wonderful location from which to watch the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The "resting room" at the Life Enrichment Center at Westglow Resort & Spa in Blowing Rock, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
A chipper staff member greeted us with a glass of sparkling wine and, since our room was not yet ready, escorted us to the Life Enrichment Center nearby. Fitness classes are offered daily, and a range of customized wellness programs can be scheduled in advance. The most impressive feature of the complex is the “resting room,” a sunlit space with floor-to-ceiling windows, lounge chairs, a leather couch with blankets, a marble fireplace and glorious views. Alas, a Vichy spa treatment did not live up to expectations, owing to a clinical ambiance and an overly chatty therapist in grubby Crocs. We were also disappointed by mildew between the floor tiles and a rusted Vichy water shower bar. In hopes of an improvement, we headed to the six-seat poolside spa café. Poolside is certainly an accurate term for its location, as water splashed onto our feet while we were eating and the smell of chlorine was pungent. (In fine weather, outdoor seating is available, but it was raining during our stay.) The café offers an organic, low-calorie menu, but our dishes were mediocre. The bean salad comprising an assortment of chopped vegetables and canned beans was bland and tasteless, as was the Thai beef noodle salad.
Back at the mansion, we were led to The Mountain View room. This proved comfortable, though a little on the small side. The historic character of the room was charming, but renovations are clearly needed. The wallpaper was peeling in places, and the furnishings were scuffed along the edges. In addition, while housekeeping was friendly and polite, some of the yellow rose petals that were scattered across our bed upon arrival were not removed from the floor the next morning. In the spacious bath, the brass fixtures were an elegant contrast to the all-white floors and walls, but the claw-foot tub doubling as a shower was very narrow. Across the street, Westglow also has three suites in a two-story building and the four-bedroom Fleur de lis Lodge (ideal for larger groups). These feature a more contemporary style, fireplaces and separate living areas. The downside of these accommodations is that you must drive to get to the spa, gym and the main restaurant (no shuttles are available).
Wary of dinner after our unappetizing lunch, we headed down to Rowland’s restaurant on the first floor. The atmosphere was lively, with a busy bar, a pianist playing in the parlor room and couples nursing their drinks on the back patio and watching the sun set behind the dark-blue mountains. We were ushered to a table in a conservatory-like space in the back. My appetizer was an oversize king prawn atop a garlic butter sauce with tomato and edamame. The flawlessly cooked prawn tasted like a juicy piece of lobster, and the sauce was refined, with a perfect tang of lemon. My filet mignon perched on a blue grit cake with a cream sauce of locally foraged chanterelles was delectably tender, and my wife’s miso-marinated sea bass accompanied by forbidden rice and a carrot-ginger foam was a well-balanced mix of flavors and textures. Though already quite full, we could not resist the local-peach-and-berry crisp with a scoop of goat cheese ice cream; it did not disappoint. Rowland’s surpassed all of our expectations.
While we enjoyed some aspects of Westglow, the property’s flaws and obvious need for refurbishments deter me from recommending this property.
- Hotel at a Glance -
Westglow Resort & Spa 89
The relaxation lounge in the spa; the gourmet meal at Rowland’s; our private guided hike up Grandfather Mountain.
The low-quality fare at the spa café; the clinical feel of the spa treatment room.
Good to Know
The spa books up quickly, so be sure to book a treatment well in advance.
Rates: The Mountain View for two, $1,000 (all meals and one spa treatment per person included) Address: 224 Westglow Circle, Blowing Rock Telephone: (828) 295-4463 Westglow Resort & Spa
Banner Elk Winery & Villa
Many people assume that my traveling life is one of unmixed pleasure and indulgence. To illustrate the inaccuracy of this supposition I offer an account of our visit to the Banner Elk Winery & Villa estate, the self-described “jewel of the High Country.” The hilltop seven-room inn is located a 40-minute drive from Westglow. On arrival, we found the door locked, and it was only after knocking and waiting for several minutes that a disheveled man finally appeared and asked us who we were. He then handed us a piece of paper with our room name. Our reservation included breakfast, so we asked him to show us where it would be served. He led us to the large, open kitchen, with a central island table and a lounge area with patterned couches and a fireplace. The manager then appeared and informed us that the first man did not even work at the property. Bewildered, we headed to our lower-level suite.
The Alicante Barrel Grande Suite came with a dark foyer with two black leather couches, a writing table and a large television. Even with all the lights on, it felt a bit like a cave. On the other hand, the main room was expansive, with a seating area around a gas fireplace, an exposed-beam ceiling, wide French doors to a patio and a bath with a jetted tub. We were impressed and started to unpack. Regrettably, not all was as it seemed. The fireplace was not working, the thick velvet curtains had moth holes and I found a large dead cockroach in the closet. Neither an ice bucket nor robes were provided.
The tasting room at Banner Elk Winery & Villa in Banner Elk, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
In the afternoon, we headed to the Tuscan-inspired winery, a three-minute walk away. It is a small commercial operation, where all wine is bottled by hand. The interior of the building has a long tasting bar, large circular wooden tables and a stone fireplace. The wines did not appeal to our palates, and I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of guests were drinking glasses of the house sangria.
At breakfast, the pastries served in the communal kitchen were still in their plastic packaging and the juices were not freshly squeezed. When I asked the manager to help us book a horseback riding excursion, she suggested that we do our own research online. Suffice it to say, we were delighted to leave.
- Hotel at a Glance -
Banner Elk Winery & Villa 84
Our spacious suite; the friendly staff in the tasting room at the winery.
Unprofessional hotel management; lack of on-site restaurant.
Good to Know
Nearby Dutch Creek Trails offers well-run horseback-riding excursions.
Rates: Zinfandel Suite, $240; Alicante Barrel Grande Suite, $300 Address: 60 Deer Run Lane, Banner Elk Telephone: (828) 898-9090 Banner Elk Winery & Villa
Waynesville, North Carolina
The view from The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina
We spent the day in Asheville and visited the Biltmore Estate. (Biltmore House, the main residence, was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the United States.) From there, it was a one-hour drive westward to reach The Swag, in Waynesville. I have long endorsed this property, but a return visit was overdue. A mountaintop refuge at 5,000 feet, the resort sits on 250 secluded acres and shares a boundary line with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After an uphill drive for two and a half miles along winding mountain switchbacks, we reached the top and were greeted by a smiling staff member, who led us into the main wooden lodge to check in. From the second we arrived, we were treated like family and felt right at home.
The property was purchased as a private country getaway in 1969 by Dan and Deener Matthews. When the World’s Fair came to Knoxville, Tennessee (90 miles away), in 1982, the Matthewses were approached to open their home to a few guests who were unable to find lodging for the exposition. It was when these first guests were clearly reluctant to leave that the idea of transforming the family home into an inn occurred to the Matthewses. The property has since been converted into an all-inclusive sanctuary, with 14 lovingly decorated accommodations spread among various log structures.
The exterior of The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Jumping Rocks Photography
Each room features a rustic décor, with handmade quilts, woven rugs, twig headboards, stone bath floors, reclaimed-wood walls, hefty wood beams and original Appalachian folk art. Many hotels these days offer frivolous amenities that you will never use, but The Swag is attentive to comforts and conveniences that matter. Glass jars of rich coffee beans accompanied by an in-room grinder, personalized walking sticks and homemade oil-soaked wood shavings set beside the fireplace were refinements that stood out. The Loft room in the Chestnut Lodge featured a second-floor lounge with a second bath, a private furnished balcony with an outdoor shower, skylights and a comfortable seating area in front of a stone fireplace. The space was so wonderfully homey and snug that it was tempting to spend the whole day there. Public areas in the Chestnut Lodge included a central living room, a cathedral beamed ceiling and a library.
The living room of The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Jumping Rocks Photography
The Two-Story room at The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Jumping Rocks Photography
The communal dining room at The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Our Loft room at The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Entrance to The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The hot tub at The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Library at The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Other shared spaces include the main Swag House, where buffet-style breakfasts and four-course gourmet dinners are served at two long communal tables in the dining room or at private tables in the grand living room. Hors d’oeuvres are served prior to dinner to encourage conviviality. Wine is only available to be purchased by the bottle.
Lunch orders must be confirmed the day before, and you can choose to have it in a brown bag, backpack or picnic basket. We opted for the backpack and enjoyed a delicious Asian chicken salad and specialty Swag energy bar while seated on a fallen old-growth tree on the side of the Hemphill Bald Loop trail in the Great Smoky Mountains park.
The view from The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina - Jumping Rocks Photography
Since The Swag is designed to be a destination hiking retreat, maps are provided for several trails, which range from simple walks to strenuous hikes, all accessed through the property’s private entrance to the park. I recommend heading up to the Gooseberry Knob scenic lookout point, where Adirondack chairs, porch swings and picnic tables augment a perfect spot from which to gaze at the layered ridges of the landscape. The hotel organizes seasonal events, including culinary workshops, art classes and guided hikes led by expert naturalists. We participated in a watercolor session overseen by artist Gay Bryant, which proved a delightful way to pass a few leisurely hours.
Wending our way back to the asphalt byway was a reminder that The Swag is truly an escape from reality. The tranquility, fresh mountain air and gentle exercise did wonders for our spirits.
- Hotel at a Glance -
The Swag 96
The gracious hosts; breathtaking views from Gooseberry Knob; convivial atmosphere at family-style dinners.
Lack of by-the-glass wine options (since only bottles can be purchased).
Good to Know
Haywood, where The Swag is located, is no longer a dry county, so wine is now served at the property.
The exterior of Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Old Edwards Inn and Spa
Our next destination was the sleepy hamlet of Highlands, about 60 miles south of Waynesville, located close to the point where North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia converge. This charming small town is set on a scenic plateau in the southern Appalachian Mountains bordering the Nantahala National Forest. This area is renowned for the impressive waterfalls within the park, plus high-end boutiques and galleries. Old Edwards Inn and Spa is an elegant full-service hotel originally built in the 1870s as a boardinghouse. The resort spans more than three blocks in a series of structures. The main manor, with a brick-and-stone façade, has a small, discreet sign above the door that we would not have noticed if a stoplight had not turned red. The lack of valet service was an inconvenience, as we had to drive in circles before finding a spot nearby. The Victorian-style check-in desk was manned by a personable receptionist, who efficiently made dinner reservations, booked a last-minute spa treatment and gave us a tour of the historic building. The property is quite extensive, and an attendant provided a map detailing how to get to the Falls Cottages complex, which was a two-minute drive away.
Our accommodations were spacious and featured a living room with dark wood accents, a fireplace, a drop-leaf desk and plush sea foam-green couches. The semiprivate patio and marble bath with a freestanding tub, dual vanities and a glass rainfall shower were intelligently designed. The 22 Falls Cottage rooms have a central courtyard with a freestanding fireplace, a mineral swimming pool and a hot tub. Walking back toward the main inn and spa, we passed the Hickory Cottage complex, which has a larger pool beside a croquet lawn and an impressive fitness center offering an extended schedule of wellness classes. This complex was always bustling and did not provide as much privacy as the Falls Cottages, since guests walk on paths that allow clear views into accommodations. Lodgings in the main historic inn are the most charming, and I specifically recommend the more contemporary Spa Suites. These rooms are for guests 18 and older and have fireplaces, balconies and a private elevator that leads directly to the spa.
Our Falls Cottage room at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The seating area of our Falls Cottage room at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The bath of our Falls Cottage room at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The pool at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The communal courtyard at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The Hummingbird Lounge at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Constructed of native wood and stone, the 25,000-square-foot spa offers a café with an adjacent solarium, a cozy lounge with a fireplace and tea service, a sauna, a steam room, a hot tub and 14-head Swiss showers. Be sure to reserve a treatment in advance, as the spa books up quickly. After a day of pampering, it is pleasant to head to The Wine Garden, with its trickling fountain, koi pond and menu of light fare, to spend an hour or two relaxing. The hotel owns a private golf club, with an 18-hole course designed by Tom Jackson.
The Serenity Solarium of the spa at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina - Old Edwards Inn and Spa
For dinner, we went to Old Edwards’ first-rate restaurant Madison’s. This serves regional fare, primarily employing ingredients from the hotel’s own gardens and greenhouses. Service at dinner was excellent, and the nightly specials were impossible to pass up. I especially enjoyed a dish of diver scallops and tilefish served with grilled watermelon, local chanterelles and a micro salad of arugula and radishes. The mix of the sweet watermelon with the buttery scallop was a burst of summer and winter flavors combined in a single bite. After dinner we made our way to the wood-paneled Hummingbird Lounge for live music.
This sophisticated property is a perfect place in which to decompress. However, it is important to specify which complex you would prefer to stay in. The Falls Cottages are far from the spa, restaurant, main downtown street and fitness center. On a future visit I would opt for one of the Spa Suites.
- Hotel at a Glance -
Old Edwards Inn and Spa 93
The lively Hummingbird Lounge for a nightcap; the excellent light-fare menu at the spa café.
The limited number of lounge chairs at the pool; the restricted room service menu.
Good to Know
Much of the same furniture, accessories, linens and stemware used at the hotel can be purchased from Acorns Boutique on Main Street in downtown Highlands.
Rates: Falls Cottage King Room, $450; Spa Suite, $660 Address: 445 Main Street, Highlands Telephone: (828) 526-8008
The drive from Highlands to Charlotte is about three and a half hours, so rather than jump on a plane immediately we tried to find a property in Charlotte for the night. The Duke Mansion is set on an estate in the prestigious Myers Park neighborhood. Twenty individually appointed guest accommodations are located within a two-story Colonial Revival property, built in 1915 on four and a half acres. The house was tripled in size after being purchased a few years later by prominent businessman James Buchanan Duke. The grand hall entry, with its black-and-white-checkered floor and glittering chandelier, is impressive. French doors open up to perfectly manicured grounds that include flower and herb gardens.
The lobby of The Duke Mansion in Charlotte, North Carolina - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
We booked the Dowd Suite, a spacious corner room on the second floor with a screened-in porch furnished with swings, couches and tables. Luckily, the room beside us was unoccupied, as the joint porch might have felt awkward if shared with strangers. We appreciated the Roman tub in the large bath, the soothing color palette of the furniture and the traditional Southern style of our room. However, a musty smell curtailed our enthusiasm. Housekeeping tried to mask the problem with a light perfume, with minimal success. As a result, we spent a good deal of time on our balcony, enjoying the views of the cherry laurels and magnolia trees.
The hotel does not have a restaurant, but a list of nearby options is provided, and we enjoyed a splendid meal at Aix en Provence, a Mediterranean bistro a four-minute walk away.
The timeless architecture and the landscaped gardens of The Duke Mansion are both attractive, but the stale rooms and lack of amenities mean that the property fails to meet the standards expected by Andrew Harper members. I have not yet found a better alternative in Charlotte, but I will continue my search.
- Hotel at a Glance -
The Duke Mansion 89
The manicured gardens with intimate seating areas scattered throughout; the exclusive neighborhood; the coffee and tea station on the second floor.
The musty rooms; the uninteresting breakfast offerings.
Good to Know
Breakfast only, but there are many fine restaurants a short stroll away.
Rates: King Porch Room, $300; Dowd Suite, $410 Address: 400 Hermitage Road, Charlotte Telephone: (704) 714-4400 The Duke Mansion
By Hideaway Report Editor
Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the
unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the
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