The main building at Waynesville’s Swag Country Inn is built of century-old, hand-hewn tulip poplar logs, formerly upholding the Lonesome Valley Primitive Baptist Church. The ecclesiastical source is appropriate given that the structure was originally built as the home of former Atlantans Dan and Deener Matthews. Dan is the retired rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street, and Deener has run the inn seasonally since the couple opened it in 1982—when they were serving at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. Regardless of your faith, you’re certain to feel closer to God on their secluded, 5,000-foot-high mountaintop, which overlooks four of North Carolina’s highest mountain ranges: the Great Smokies, the Plott Balsams, the Richland Balsams, and the Black Mountains.
Though accommodations are luxurious and creature comforts are many—such as an outdoor hot tub with awe-inspiring mountain views, a sauna, racquetball (and wallyball) courts, and wireless Internet—life is decidedly simpler up here. Recreation might be watching the sun rise, chilling in a hammock, playing board games, or singing around the player piano. Hiking is a Sound of Music kind of experience. Locally sourced cuisine completes the romantic ambience that has won this inn top accolades from many travel magazines. (from $490 per night in October, double occupancy, includes meals, BYOB, 800-789-7672, theswag.com)
You could follow the Obamas to Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, but it’s more exclusive to follow the Clintons to Westglow Resort & Spa—a boutique hotel with only nine rooms and three staffers per guest. The Greek Revival home, built in 1917 as the summer retreat of popular landscape painter Elliott Daingerfield, has been meticulously restored and furnished with period antiques and sumptuous silk fabrics. The western portico—sited with an artist’s eye—offers mesmerizing mountain vistas. An elegant white-tablecloth dining room and top-rated spa make the estate hard to leave.
However, take advantage of Westglow’s proximity to choice locations on the Blue Ridge Parkway, including the dramatic Linn Cove Viaduct and the Parkway Craft Center at Moses Cone Manor. Also nearby are the towns of Blowing Rock and Banner Elk. The former is a charming place to shop and linger at restaurants such as the Village Cafe (thevillagecafe.com). Drive over to the latter for the thirty-third annual Woolly Worm Festival (10/16–17, woollyworm.com). (from $398 per person per weekend night in October, double occupancy, includes meals and spa amenities, less expensive bed-and-breakfast rates available, 800-562-0807, westglowresortandspa.com)
Sure, you can do the bohemian thing and spend less. You’ll rub shoulders with plenty of students and artists enjoying culture on the cheap. But Charleston is also a great place to splurge. Pamper yourself with a stay at the five-diamond Wentworth Mansion, a Gilded Age estate with Tiffany stained-glass windows and hand-carved marble fireplaces. Tour the surrounding historic district from a horse-drawn carriage (sounds cheesy but isn’t), or drive out to restored plantations along the Ashley River. The home of spring’s famous Spoleto Festival is year-round home to dozens of art galleries and performing arts organizations.
But what you really want to do in Charleston is eat. The modest-sized city has won Best Chef Southeast honors from the James Beard Foundation for an impressive three years in a row: Sean Brock of McCrady’s in 2010, Mike Lata of FIG in 2009, and Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill in 2008. Can you say “shrimp and grits”? (rooms at Wentworth Mansion from $370 per night in October, 888-466-1886, wentworthmansion.com)
Photo courtesy of Westglow Resort & Spa