Where to stay when you want an adventure close to home
By MARIANNE LEEK
Nestled in that sweet spot of the Blue Ridge Mountains where North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina meet, the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau is a crown jewel of western North Carolina. Whether you’re looking for a romantic Valentine’s Day getaway, a girls’ trip, or a weekend respite to reset and relax, the plateau is a well-spring of premier accommodations with on-site amenities such as 5-star farm-to-table cuisine, first-class spa options, and live music. While Highlands-Cashiers is an easy drive to Asheville, Smoky Mountain National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, this high-altitude haven offers an array of outdoor fun, shopping, and entertainment, all in a wildly picturesque mountain setting, making it an ideal destination for a shoulder season vacation or staycation.
Old Edwards Inn and Spa
In the heart of downtown highlands, the luxurious Old Edwards Inn and Spa is pure perfection. It’s no surprise that it was recently recognized by readers of Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top 25 hotels in the South. This European-style mountain resort is a Relais & Chateaux property, a hospitality group that includes some of the finest luxury hotels in the world, each one prides itself on providing guests with the ultimate stay and fine dining experience. Encompassing several acres in the downtown Highlands area, guests can choose from various accommodation options including the historic inn, spa suites, and cottages.
With three organic farms, guests of the Old Edwards Inn will enjoy some of the finest cuisine that western North Carolina has to offer. Madison’s Restaurant and Wine Garden has a curated menu of Southern classics prepared from locally sourced ingredients. The Wine Garden is a seasonal favorite, picturesque patio dining complete with a scenic waterfall, where mouth-watering burgers, soups, and salads are always on the menu. It’s a lovely place to grab lunch or enjoy an afternoon cocktail, craft beer, or glass of wine. Enjoy your morning coffee at Art’s at the Lodge, share evening libations at the Hummingbird Lounge with friends after a day spent shopping and exploring, waste away a summer afternoon poolside, and be sure to reward yourself with a couple’s massage after hiking the trails of Whiteside Mountain.
Inclusive packages such as “The Winter Slip Away and Save,” “Winter All-Inclusive at Old Edwards Inn,” “Romantic Mountain Escape,” and the “Anniversary Celebration” make planning a weekend getaway a breeze. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, do yourself a favor and reserve your spot now at one of the Old Edwards 2024 Chefs Dinners at The Farm. Executive Chef Chris Huerta invites award-winning chefs from across the South to design multi-course menus for this exquisite dinner series. You will be hard-pressed to find a finer establishment more focused on providing each guest with a unique and luxurious travel experience, and it’s right here in our backyard.
The Highlander Mountain House
Imagine “Western North Carolina meets the English countryside.” The Highlander Mountain House’s main Mountain House includes 18 eclectically decorated rooms, peppered with antiques, vintage art, and botanically inspired wallpaper to add “a touch of whimsy.”
According to owner Jason Reeves, the charming 19th-century Highlander Mountain House aims to “get back to everything elemental - friendship, sustenance, warmth, connection, inspiration.” He explained that “the hotel's approach to hospitality is in the European sense, striking the perfect balance between the old world and the new for a feeling that is completely timeless. Its scale lends itself to a very intimate, cozy experience for its guests.”
Conveniently located in downtown Highlands, “encouraging curious travelers to reconnect with the landscape and each other,” the Highlander Mountain House is “equal parts Appalachian lodge and refined English country estate.” The pet-friendly rustic two-story Bunk House has a summer camp vibe with rooms that are more cabin-like and is located directly behind the Main House.
The Ruffed Grouse Tavern is the on-site restaurant with regional “field, forest, fish, fowl, and farm” and a new chef who “relies on seasonal ingredients from Blue Ridge farmers and growers to build his menu.” Reeves is excited to welcome Chef Rodney Smith, who brings years of experience in some of the country’s best kitchens and is “unveiling incredible new seasonal menus inspired by the bevy of local produce and ingredients.” Highlands’ locals are always offered 20% off menu items.
But one of the many things that makes Highlander Mountain House so unique is its intentional and unwavering commitment to art, music, and culture. On Thursday nights guests and locals can enjoy Burgers and Blues with $20 burgers, draft beer, and live blues music in an intimate setting, and be sure to make a reservation to experience Bluegrass Brunch on Sundays. Inspired by 19th-century European salons where musicians, composers, and others would meet to share and listen to music, Reeves describes it as, “a cross between a candlelight jazz club and the Bluebird Cafe, and there is nothing like it for the performers or the guests.” Now in its fourth season, “the Highlander will continue our incredible monthly Salon Series bringing the best singer-songwriters to Highlands in a fireside performance format that feels completely timeless.”
Most recently the series featured musician Tyler Ramsey, but the series has also hosted writers such as acclaimed Southern storyteller and poet Ron Rash. “The plateau is so inspirational on its own, so bringing art and culture just feels like the right extension,” explained Reeves.
Having been mentioned in Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and Conde Nast Traveler, the Highlander Mountain House makes a convincing case that bigger and fancier is not always better. While it serves as a perfect base camp for visitors planning a mountain retreat, it also offers superb dining and a richly unique and powerful music-listening experience, remaining a local favorite.
The Outpost Inn
The Outpost Inn, formerly known as The Wells Hotel, has been recently re-branded and updated to feel both rustic and refined, with “a decor that references mountain summer camps as well as the history of art and craftsmanship in the Southern Appalachians.”
Located just a block from Main Street in Highlands, it is the sister property to the Highlander Mountain House. Owner Jason Reeves describes The Outpost Inn as “an Appalachian retreat inspired by the beauty of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and the artists, explorers, and craftsmen who came here seeking inspiration.”
The lobby has been reimagined as a rustic mountain mercantile with a wood-burning fireplace and cozy seating. A coffee and wine bar is planned for later in the Spring. The rooms are being reimagined with beautiful layers of deep color, Appalachian textiles, and artwork inspired by the surroundings, with luxury amenities of course. Nine of the rooms have gas fireplaces and there will be three fire pits outside for guests to gather and enjoy the summer and beautiful shoulder seasons. The Outpost Inn will be “elemental and worldly in appeal, but forever cozy and welcoming,” and Reeves hopes “it will be a respite from the modern world where guests can reconnect with the elemental side of nature, art, and community in the coziest setting and leave completely rested, restored, and inspired.”
Reeves believes guests will be inspired when staying at either property, “Highlander is a full-service hotel and restaurant (open Wed-Sun) and Outpost is self-check, although we always have a front desk agent available. Both have incredible lobbies full of art, seating areas, and fireplaces where guests can relax over a book and cup of coffee, plan their next mountain adventure, or relax and connect with other inspired travelers. We feel that we have created two experiences unlike anything else on the plateau, and we are excited by the response and being able to share it with future guests.”
The High Hampton
Over a century old, The High Hampton is situated on over 1,400 acres, steeped in history, and quite simply, stunning. With the gorgeous bark-covered inn as its focal point, this beloved resort is a storied part of Cashiers’ history while being a family-friendly “destination for generations of summer gatherings, weekend getaways, and storybook holidays,” and upon first arriving, you’ll likely feel like you’ve stepped on a movie set.
In recent years, the Inn, cottages, and restaurants within the Inn have undergone significant revitalization and restoration, with an intentional focus on preservation and maintaining the “unusual character and unique appeal of the original buildings.” Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and featured in Southern Living, Design & Decor, and Garden & Gun, The High Hampton is a one-of-a-kind destination, set against the backdrop of a magnificent rock face and situated beside a serene private lake. With sweeping wrap-around porches, each room in this century-old inn is equally inviting and features “unique locally made furniture from decades past” combined with modern amenities - “the very essence of rustic mountain luxury.”
Voted one of the South’s favorite resorts by readers of Travel & Leisure, The High Hampton is a culinary lover's dream. Whether you are looking for an elevated, fine-dining experience or a casual lunch enjoyed with friends by the lake, the Inn offers culinary options for every occasion. Each High Hampton restaurant prides itself on providing guests with “classic, regional cuisine, re-imagined for a new era of travelers…complemented by expertly curated wine and cocktail programs. Guests staying at the Inn will be just steps away from two of these elevated yet unpretentious experiences.” In addition to The Inn Dining Room and The Tavern, three Club restaurants serve both Club members and guests of High Hampton Inn.
While visiting High Hampton, guests can enjoy playing pickleball, tennis, and croquet, or play a round of golf at High Hampton’s new 18-hole course. The resort offers private instruction and lessons for those with varying degrees of skills. The High Hampton is a breathtaking step back in time, to a simpler era rife with tradition and heritage.
With its idyllic charm and bucolic scenery, it’s no wonder Hotel Cahiers made the Traveler magazine list of “The 17 Most Romantic Getaways in the U.S!” With 20 cozy, beautifully designed, and well-appointed rooms, guests can take in the mountain vistas while relaxing by the fire pit. Each room is decorated with the guest in mind: light oak floors, custom furniture, a mini-fridge, and a spacious desk area. If you need more room, Hotel Cashiers offers suites, as well as private luxury vacation rentals and residences - all with a warm and cozy mountain flair.
Featured in Garden & Gun, the hotel’s sophisticated Lobby Bar shakes up premiere cocktails and offers a wide selection of wine and beer, making it the perfect place to enjoy small bites, a wine tasting, or a nightcap,
Hotel Cashiers has an impressive online events calendar, with regular live music, book signings, and more. Whether you are looking to explore Panthertown Valley - the “Yosemite of the East,” Whitewater Falls & Gorges State Park, which boasts some of the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies, or “America’s Favorite Scenic Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hotel Cashiers puts you in proximity to outdoor fun and adventure. You can even book a private hike on some of the most scenic local trails with a professional guide. And if you’re feeling fancy, upgrade to a champagne hike, and your guide will take care of carrying the champagne and charcuterie, while you take in the panoramic views. Hotel Cashiers may just be the sweetest little luxury hotel around.