South Park Magazine

August 21, 2012

Run for the hills

Three tranquil mountain escapes await Charlotteans avoiding the DNC crowds.

An estimated 35,000 politicos will descend on the Queen City for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3-6. More than 1,000 events are scheduled.

Tight security, street closures, demonstrators, traffic snarls, swarms of media – if that’s not your idea of fun, here are three destinations in the serene North Carolina mountains where you can escape in style.

The Swag Country Inn

“Swag” means a dip between two mountain peaks. Literally on the edge of the half-million-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The The Swag is a mountaintop retreat that could easily define “rustic chic.” Deener and Dan Matthews built it as a family home in 1971, constructed from historic log buildings, including a Tennessee church, trucked in and reassembled on site. Dan often tells guests, “You can spot 18 mountain peaks here that are 6,000 feet or higher.” To reach The The Swag, which sits at 5,000 feet, visitors must maneuver a two-mile-long “driveway,” with several switchbacks, rising 1,000 feet in elevation. Part gravel, part asphalt, its sides are graced with wildflowers, trees, small waterfalls and the occasional critter. Linda and Sid Tate from Greenville, SC, are 16-time guests. He says: “Every time we drive up, we can literally feel the stress melt away. It takes about 12 minutes to make the journey up the forested driveway, and with each turn we relax a bit more.” Nine-time guests Jennifer and Bill Kahnweiler from Atlanta love The Swag’s “upscale but down-to-earth feel,” the guided hikes and outings like birdwatching. At check-in, guests choose one of The Swag’s complimentary hiking sticks in five wood varieties, each customized with a wood tag bearing their name and the year. Another way The Swag gets guests out amid nature is by not serving lunch but packing it to-go in a picnic hamper, backpack or “brown bag.” Take it on a hike or up to Gooseberry Knob’s Adirondack chairs for two, or to a hideaway spot on property. Evening starts with drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the lodge porch. Dinner follows in the dining room and at small tables around the two-story Great Room, its massive stone fireplace sporting a bear skin. The main lodge, guest rooms and cabins sit amid flowerbeds, sharing mountain meadow views. A lovely gated garden holds flowers, vegetables and herbs. There’s world-class hiking trails, warm hospitality and five-star comfort in 15 luxurious, custom-designed, distinctive accommodations. Don’t let the rough-hewn exteriors fool you. Inside “The Woodshed,” for instance, there’s a sitting room with wood fireplace, bedroom with handmade quilt on a king-sized bed featuring a distinctive, gnarled-wood headboard. The bathroom is a playground with steam shower, large copper soaking tub and sauna. The back porch has an outdoor shower and view of the woods in the national park. Accommodations have wood-burning fireplaces, fridge, wet bar and Bose CD player with XM satellite radio. On the property there’s racquetball, croquet, horseshoes, badminton, an outdoor hot tub and a 2,000-volume library. The Wednesday picnic atop Gooseberry Knob is a highlight. The view from that spot of mountain peaks as far as the eye can see sets The Swag apart — way apart. For more info: Call 800-789-7672 or visit The Swag’s 31st season continues through Nov. 24. It’s located 50 miles west of Asheville, about 150 miles or three hours from uptown Charlotte.

The Bob Timberlake Inn at Chetola Resort

Blowing Rock was a tourist destination long before 1933 when The Blowing Rock opened as the first travel attraction in North Carolina, and Chetola Resort can trace its roots to 1846. The name Chetola — Cherokee for "Haven of Rest" — was chosen in 1892 when William Stringfellow purchased the property for a summer retreat. Today’s resort is the only Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Lodge in North Carolina. Chetola Lake is popular for paddle boating, canoeing and fishing; plus there’s a spa, tennis courts and an indoor recreation center with pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and fitness area. The estate house from a former era is now home to the Bob Timberlake Inn on the upper two levels and Timberlake’s Restaurant on the main level.

The inn opened in 2004 as an exclusive enclave of eight rooms showcasing the style and creative spirit of one of North Carolina’s leading artists. Often compared to Andrew Wyeth (who actually encouraged him to become a full-time painter), Timberlake is famous for his realistic paintings of simple life in North Carolina, However, he’s also recognized for his furniture designs that are casual and comfortable yet elegant, and his furnishings – rugs, lamps, clocks, wall coverings.

Staying in the inn lends the feeling you could be at Timberlake’s home – as if you might spot him sitting on one of the brown leather sofas in the upstairs library enjoying the nightly wine-and-cheese reception. A photo of him and his grandchildren hangs in every inn room.

Actually, you might run into Timberlake on property, since the new Timberlake’s Restaurant also bears his name and he does visit from time to time. He’s said, “With anything that my name is on, we’ve strived for quality and craftsmanship, for fun and happiness... my role is to be sure that’s what’s happening up here.”

The Timberlake Inn rooms are full of his personally selected artwork, furnishings and mementos in addition to whirlpool tub, gas fireplace, DVD player, flatscreen TV and signature bathrobes.

An innkeeper stationed in the cozy lobby not only oversees guest needs but also delivers fresh-baked cookies with turndown service. A butler’s pantry is open 24/7 with hot and cold beverages plus Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

This inn within Chetola is indeed a “Haven of Rest.”

For more info: Visit or call 828-295-5500. Chetola’s about a two-hour drive from uptown Charlotte, about 90 miles.

The Greystone Inn

Guests can be as active as they choose at Greystone Inn – hiking in this “land of the waterfalls” (250 within Transylvania County), golfing at the award-winning course, playing tennis or croquet on professional lawns, swimming in the lake or pool, relaxing with spa treatments, boating or fishing, shopping in nearby Brevard, reading a book from the inn’s library, or simply forgetting about life back home (and those DNC crowds). One must-do is the complimentary evening champagne cruise aboard Miss Lucy, a 26-passenger mahogany launch named for the original owner. The handmade boat was built by Hacker-Craft, famous for producing beautiful vessels from 20 to 42 feet. As speedboats race by on expansive Lake Toxaway, the quiet, leisurely pace of the Miss Lucy is ultra relaxing and perfect for viewing the lavish lakeside homes. Greystone Inn overlooks Lake Toxaway, the state’s largest private lake, and borders the Pisgah and the Nantahala national forests. Guided hikes are offered weekly; hiking maps are available for those striking out on their own. After a century of history and developments (the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the modern Greystone Inn boasts 17 guest rooms in the main mansion. New buildings were added since its official 1984 opening: the Lakeside Dining Room; Hillmont with 12 rooms, each with private balcony overlooking the lake, Jacuzzi tub, wet bar, sitting area and fireplace; the Lakeside Suites building with a first-floor spa and a second floor with two luxury suites. There’s casual dining at the Country Club, a more formal, six-course offering in the Lakeside Dining Room (jackets required), which also has patio service.

The High Country Breakfast, says inn manager Clark Lovelace, “is one of the things that guests don’t expect to love as much as they do.” It features eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, omelets, French toast, pastries, fruits and more.

Afternoon tea is presented on the inn’s sun porch with white wicker furniture, and evening hors d’oeuvres are served in the tiny bar and library inside the inn.

Greystone attracts golfers with its mountain course and Tom Fazio Golf Learning Center, and is becoming a croquet destination with its two world-class croquet lawns. For more info: Visit or call 800-824-5766 or 828-966-4700 to ask about the September Getaway Special. Greystone is about 150 miles from uptown Charlotte.

Blowing Rock spots

In addition to Chetola Resort, Blowing Rock is also known for its cozy B&Bs including The Ragged Garden’s Maple Lodge, The Inn at Ragged Gardens with its Guest Cellars Restaurant and Friday Music on the Lawn, and Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant, the area’s first fine-dining restaurant. Proprietor Jimmy Crippen has taken his Iron Chef-inspired “Fire on the Rock” cooking competition that started in Blowing Rock to three other NC locales: “Fire on the Dock” in Wilmington, “Fire in the Triangle” and “Fire in the Triad.”

For a pampering getaway, check out the Westglow Resort & Spa, named second best destination spa in the world by Travel + Leisure readers.

For full details on activities and events, dining and lodging, go to

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