The Perfect Getaway

By Susan Short

Travel and mental happiness and the state of well-being go hand in hand. Just the idea of the perfect getaway is delicious and could be daunting. Being based out of beautiful Sarasota, Florida, the summer months are challenging, weather wise. The heat and frequent thunderstorms make it somewhat difficult to find joy every day.

Enter in the Great Smokey Mountains and North Carolina, Asheville specifically. When you mention to people casually that you are going to this area, the response is generally. “Ahh, what a fabulous place” so, the tourism Gods have shone favorably on the the area.

My familiarity with Asheville was limited to a few brief stops – with no true knowledge of the city. We chose to stay at a renovated foundry, called “The Foundry”. It was a true work of art, meticulously restored with attention to detail in every nook and cranny. The room was spectacular with exposed brick walls. 22 ft windows and exposed steel beams.

That was our jumping off point to the main event, which as a glorious 24 hours at the storied, bespoke property called, The Swag. Nestled adjacent to the Smokey Mountains National Park, this historic property is a slice of nirvana along a pristine and insanely picturesque ridge that offers breathtaking views wherever you may happen to be.

The Swag is located about 40 miles west of Asheville, on a 250-acre property. Rooted in 40 years of welcoming guests to an unforgettable mountain summit, The Swag experience is built on meaningful history, connected community, and breathtaking scenery.

A member of the ultra-selective, Relais and Chateaux brand, as you ascend the curving mountain road to the welcome lodge, you know you have arrived at a special place. They take the art of leisure, mountain North Carolina style, quite seriously. Leave your car and worries behind, as you step into the world of The Swag. The most pressing decisions to be made are your 4 course dinner choices and the 3-course picnic style lunch for the following day.

We immediately embarked onto the picnic soiree’ which is held on Wednesdays. It was a lavish, yet casual affair at the Gooseberry Knob with dramatic views of the nearby mountain peaks. The chef is on hand to grill a sumptuous spread that included halibut, scallops, meats, the typical burgers and much more. It was divine.

Exploring the property is really a lot of fun in and of itself. There are all kinds of hidden trails and pathways to magical surprises such as a swimming hole, water wheel, lookouts, swinging bridges and more. Every few steps is an Instagram-able moment plus!

We decided to do a moderate hike that was highly recommended by the lodge staff. Everyone is a joy to encounter, knowledgeable and pleasant without being intrusive. Our hike was in the adjacent Great Smokey Mountain National Park – that encompasses 500,000 acres of pure natural mountain scenery. We made it to the top that rewarded us with a stunning vista that went on for miles, truly breathtaking.

The evenings begin with cocktails and h’or d’eurves at 6 with dinner at 7. The menu was already pre-selected when we arrived by us so all that was required of this experience was to relax, enjoy the mountain air, sip on some great wine and dine in the lap of luxury in the wilderness. Each course was farm to table perfection. I especially enjoyed the “poulet rouge” red, locally farmed chicken that is only found in this area of North Carolina and in France.

There was the option to observe the stars, particularly the Milky Way, unobstructed by city lights and some s’mores by the fire, however, after the hike and the wonderful dining, it was plenty of activity.

The next day, a leisurely breakfast was superb and a bit more fun with hiking, exploring the grounds and a visit to the spa, “The Still”. Many resort massages are often ordinary; however, this was not the case. The masseuse was amazing, obviously with experience of the “weekend warrior” hikers that visit. She really knew where all the sore muscles were!

Lunch was pre-selected as well and served in a picnic basket, paper bag or backpack. That is where the average ends. The menu was fabulous farm to table casual with a Indian style cauliflower on homemade naan bread with locally sourced corn and kale salad.

It was sad to leave such a mountain paradise, with a palette of green that is not often seen other than in images. The art of relaxation without worldly pressure is the perfect antidote to the everyday. It is a place to return.

We ended our visit at with a night at the historic Haywood Park Hotel- formerly a department store that had quite the unique ambience. The original glass displays with period dressed mannequins were on each floor. Almost like staying in a fashion museum. The rooms were super spacious and perfectly renovated with enough room to really relax and spread out.

The Asheville excursion was a perfect blend of art, culture, history and mountain adventure. The perfect blend of beauty, pristine wilderness, and fun.

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