text by Janna F. Herbison, pictures courtesy of The Swag
We here at Diamond Spas have been fortunate to be part of quite a few luxurious hotel and spas installations all over the country. But one we are particularly proud of is the work we have done at The Swag in North Carolina. And it is not because our products there are any better than any of our other installations, but it is the Inn itself that we are proud to be part of. If you have never had the chance to see this charming Inn, do yourself a favor and book a weekend here. From the sweeping views, to family like hospitality with the charming furnishings and of course how could we leave out the outdoor custom copper tub, or the unique tubs, or the numerous copper shower pans that we got to be part of. We saw this article and wanted to share with our reader why The Swag is something that must be experienced! Booking my ticket now!
_________As Seen in At Home Tennessee Magazine______
I had visited The Swag Country Inn for dinner years ago with my mom before returning for an official stay last November to the retreat near Asheville. And the peaceful, serene setting along with amazing scenery struck me once again. I was fortunate to spend a few days at The Swag this time around, and I’m still counting the days until I can go back.
Now celebrating its 32nd season, The Swag is the perfect blend of high-end, resort-quality cuisine and amenities in a rustic, quiet locale with a season that runs from late April to mid-November. It sits on 250 acres at an elevation of 5,000 feet, and is a full-service destination mountaintop inn. I stayed in a cabin called The Woodshed, complete with a wood-burning fireplace, a private sauna, an outdoor shower, and the Smoky Mountains as my backyard view. No televisions in the rooms – but believe me, you won’t need them. There is a television in the main building, but you eventually forget it’s there. The rooms do come, however, with a new friend – a cute little stuffed black bear you can adopt to take home if you wish (I did – and now “Smokey” belongs to my 8-year-old son).
The Swag has a total of 14 unique guest rooms (including four suites), along with three separate guest quarters – The Woodshed, Two Story and The Cabin. The main lodge and the cabins on the property are actually built of 17th- and 18th-century hand-hewn logs. One of the best souvenirs (aside from the bear) is a personalized hiking stick in each room. Mine came in rather handy during our hikes, and now is a special reminder at home of my Swag stay. Another interesting feature is the daily delivery of the New York TimesDigest – just a small reminder of the busy world left behind, if only for a few days.
The most special aspects about this private retreat, though, are the warm welcome and genuine hospitality you receive from the innkeepers – Dan and Deener Matthews – along with the entire staff of less than 40.
“Once you enter our gated driveway, you will leisurely climb 2-1/2 miles up our tree-lined road,” says Dan. “You will gradually shed the cares of your world behind our welcoming gate.”
Dan is also an Episcopal clergyman, and now Rector Emeritus of Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City. He and others were inside the church across the street from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but miraculously, they all survived that day when the Towers came down.
“I didn’t hear from him for hours,” says Deener. “It was really hard, but we are so very thankful that Dan and everyone at the church eventually made it out. Experiences like that help remind you to be grateful for each day.”
Indeed, the spirit of The Swag is evident to all who visit, and the Matthews say that is an important part of the entire experience.
“When you come here, there is just a feeling in the air, and there’s nothing else like it,” says Deener. “Just breathing it all in is special.”
“We are the highest inn east of the Rockies and have a full mile frontage on the boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” adds Dan. “So when our guests go out to explore the 6,000-year-old trail at our back door, they are not likely to encounter other hikers.”
The food and atmosphere inside the main lodge of The Swag are just as high quality as the amenities. All meals are included in your stay, and include a huge breakfast buffet, lunch packed in a backpack or picnic basket, hors d’oeuvres and drinks on the porch at 4 p.m. (bring your own wine or spirits if that’s a preference), followed by a mouthwatering four-course dinner each night. I can speak from experience in saying each and every meal was delicious and unique.
Executive Chef Bryan Kimmett brings his own flair of slow cooking that he likes to call “comfort food with a twist.” Some of the menu items include Poached Lemon Sole, wild boar stew in red wine, goat cheese, smoked tomato chutney, and Pear and Blackberry Tart for dessert – basically the type of cuisine you would expect from a five-star restaurant in the city, not a mountaintop retreat. But then again, it’s just one way in which The Swag stands out.
One of the most memorable events of my stay, though, took place after an early-morning hike through a nearby trail in the Smokies. Each trail at The Swag is well maintained and carefully marked. We finished the hike and walked high atop Gooseberry Mountain, where we were met with stunning views and a gourmet buffet picnic that Chef Kimmett serves each Wednesday. And if the hike doesn’t take your breath away, believe me, the gorgeous scenery on this particular mountaintop will. It is truly like nothing I have ever seen in terms of nature’s beauty.
Many of the visitors you meet at The Swag have been returning for years. With the inn’s intimate setting, you get the chance to really spend time with the other guests and get to know their stories. One couple from Portland, TN was celebrating a special anniversary – and spends each anniversary at The Swag. Upstairs, next to the gift shop, pictures of some notable guests and friends of the Matthews line the walls, including Dolly Parton, Katie Couric, Rudy Giuliani and even a picture of Dan with the Queen of England. These same pictures are interspersed with photos from events such as their daughter’s wedding and of The Swag’s caretaker. To me, it was just one sign of a rich life and history for this special couple and their family – one they enjoy sharing with others year after year.
So if you are looking for an unforgettable and unique getaway with all the comforts and features of resort living, albeit rustic style, I highly recommend a visit to Dan and Deener’s little hideaway in the mountains. I’ll venture to say The Swag will be one experience you won’t soon forget.