Backroad biking: Hotel Domestique in Travelers Rest, South Carolina

The inn’s main attraction is a fleet of road and mountain bikes, many retired from pro tours
George Hincapie owns a pro racing team based in nearby Greenville that trains along his recommended routes.
George Hincapie owns a pro racing team based in nearby Greenville that trains along his recommended routes.

Photograph courtesy of Hotel Domestique

Hotel Domestique—plunked into a quiet, lonely patch of the Blue Ridge foothills—feels very French. There’s its rustic, chateau-like architecture and, of course, the name. It comes from the role that cofounder and three-time U.S. National Road Race champion George Hincapie typically played on the pro cycling tour: the domestique, or support rider, who pushes through the wind and creates a slipstream for his team leader to ride in. For Hincapie, that was Lance Armstrong for seven Tour de France races.

There’s also a slightly laissez-faire attitude about this small inn in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. Guests help themselves to an assortment of snacks and drinks, including Pellegrino and wine, in a communal pantry. And although the website touts yoga classes, you have to request private sessions in advance.
The main attraction is Domestique’s fleet of road and mountain bicycles. Many are retired from the pro tour, giving guests access to bikes they might otherwise be unable to afford or find. I rode a BMC Sparkle SPO1, an aluminum-framed road bike, and my friend rented a carbon-framed BMC Teammachine SLR01,—which sells for about $8,000 and was the bike of choice for pro cyclist Tejay van Garderen in this year’s Tour de France.

Photograph courtesy of Hotel Domestique
Photograph courtesy of Hotel Domestique

The bikes, for a rental fee of $60 per day, come with Garmin GPS units that are preloaded with routes, long and short. We chose a twenty-something-mile rural trek past wooded areas and modest homes that was almost entirely uphill to Saluda, North Carolina—a town that is pretty sleepy except for an annual Coon Dog Day celebration in July that attracts more than 10,000 visitors. “George’s routes” follow the backcountry two-lane roads, where traffic is light except during church hours on Sunday. Hard-core cyclists can sign up for small-group climbs led by Hincapie himself on occasion. And mountain bikers can explore a hundred miles of trails through the surrounding Dupont State Recreational Forest.

The two-story inn’s decor is high-end rustic—with exposed wood beams and modern furniture in a color palette of beige, chocolate, and rust—that’s more sophisticated than the typical B&B kitsch. The thirteen guest rooms are inviting and spacious, with faux-fur comforters, dark wood armories, and Hermès bath products; some have fireplaces. On the main floor there is a cozy library with a fireplace, and outside, a patio overlooks a rectangular saltwater pool with fountains that frame a stunning view of the surrounding mountains.

Though set among open fields, the inn offers mountain views.
Though set among open fields, the inn offers mountain views.

Photograph courtesy of Hotel Domestique

The sleek and swank Restaurant 17 offers contemporary cuisine “with a European twist,” like quail with blackberries, corn, farro piccolo, peanut romesco sauce, and grilled Lacinato kale. The cafe sells turkey wraps, pastries, coffee, and other takeaway treats.

One of Domestique’s best assets is Jeremiah, the pro BMC Racing Team’s former soigneur, who served as a cruise director of sorts for the riders: responsible for booking their hotel rooms, finding them snacks, massaging their muscles, and handling their luggage. He serves a similarly versatile role at Domestique, functioning as an equally talented bike mechanic and massage therapist while offering helpful pointers on running routes (“look out for the little dogs that will yap at you at this turn”) and fitting guests to just the right bike. He, and those bikes, help make Domestique the crème de la crème for well-heeled cyclists.

Tip: The inn is about 30 minutes from Greenville and 40 from Asheville.

This article originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

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