Innkeeper Deener Matthews and her husband, Dan, an Episcopal church clergyman, have welcomed guests since the early eighties.
Standing on the porch of the Swag House, a mountaintop inn above Waynesville, North Carolina, I’m struck by the grandeur of my surroundings: the towering trees, the handsome rough hewn–log cottages, the ancient mountains giving way to the gathering night. I’m inclined to call it paradise.
My reverie is interrupted by other guests arriving for appetizers. One couple, upon learning this is my first visit, tells me why it’s one of their favorite retreats. “It’s the little touches,” the wife says, citing the warm, wet towels distributed before dinner and the flashlights brought to guests wandering the property after dark. Sounds nice, but I can’t imagine how little things get much notice in such a setting.
The clanging of a bell calls us to dinner. Inside the main lodge, innkeeper Deener Matthews, a small, white-haired woman in a beaded jacket, welcomes her sixteen guests. Once we sit, she turns to me and asks if I noticed the quilt on my bed. She’s just picked it up from a local artisan. “The room needed a happy quilt,” she says before turning our talk to the history of the inn. When they built it as a family retreat in 1971, she and her husband had the property’s century-old cottages brought here to create a compound of rustic elegance. In the eighties, they began welcoming paying guests.
Following dinner and a short fireside sing-along, I walk to the front desk to select a picnic lunch for the next day: a meatloaf sandwich, potato salad, and an apple. I also choose my complimentary walking stick, a russet-colored staff of hickory.
The next morning after breakfast, I linger in the onsite library waiting out the rain. Deener has departed early, taking several guests into nearby Asheville; a group hike is planned for the afternoon. Offerings like these are a big part of the Swag experience and—like all meals—included with lodging. But I want to see the place for myself. With walking stick in hand and my picnic in a backpack slung over my shoulder, I head off on the two-mile Nature Trail, which winds through the 250-acre grounds. Along the way, I find benches overlooking streams and tags identifying a host of trees: buckeye and black cherry, white oak, red spruce, and yellow birch.
When I return, I’m ready to concede that it is indeed the little things—a new quilt, a picnic lunch, a walking stick—that make the Swag so sweet. Then I catch sight of those magnificent trees and the mountains beyond.
No, it’s not heaven. But it’s close.
2300 Swag Road, Waynesville, North Carolina, 800-789-7672, theswag.com
Arts & Crafts
Begin your exploration of the region’s rich arts and crafts heritage at Waynesville’s historical Shelton House, home to the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts. From there, stroll the downtown streets and shop for paintings, sculpture, furniture, pottery, and other works at eleven local art galleries and studios. sheltonhouse.org, waynesvillegalleryassociation.com
Every summer, Waynesville plays host to Folkmoot USA, North Carolina’s Official International Folklore Festival, welcoming folk musicians and costumed traditional dancers from scores of countries, as well as groups representing Appalachian and Cherokee cultures. Catch this year’s performances July 21 through 31. folkmootusa.org
The original Mast General Store opened in Valle Crucis, North Carolina, in 1883, carrying everything from “cradles to caskets.” Stop in at the Waynesville store, situated in a 1930s mercantile, for traditional wares—jams and jellies, cast-iron cookware, and old-fashioned candies—as well as contemporary clothing and outdoor gear. mastgeneralstore.com