Su­per Swag

N.C. moun­tain­top hide­away of­fers calm, com­fort and fab­u­lous views of Smoky Moun­tains

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - Story and pho­tos by Mary Ann An­der­son

In a tiny swath of North Carolina’s rib­bon of the Smoky Moun­tains sits a spectacula­r gar­den, one crammed with a kalei­do­scopic patch­work of brightly hued zin­nias and dahlias, clumps of black­eyed Su­san, and clus­ters of but­ter-and-eggs, a sweet­lyscented flower that is a nat­u­ral mag­net for jew­el­toned but­ter­flies and bum­ble­bees.

This lux­u­ri­ant gar­den of flow­ers, herbs and veg­eta­bles is at The Swag, a moun­tain­top inn just out­side of Way­nesville — one of those spe­cial places that change your mind­set so that you can truly leave the rest of the world in your rearview mir­ror and not think of it even once.

High atop Hem­phill Moun­tain, The Swag shares a com­mon border with Great Smoky Moun­tains Na­tional Park right at the his­toric Cat­aloochee Divide, a ridge that runs along the verge of the Smok­ies and frames Cat­aloochee Val­ley. Step out­side of the front door of the inn, and there’s the park in all its ver­dant glory. And its el­e­va­tion teeters right on the sky-high 5,000-foot mark, which al­lows the most dra­matic and spectacula­r see-to-for­ever views imag­in­able of the Smok­ies and be­yond.

An end­less mélange of na­ture trails, tai­lored for both the se­ri­ous and un­se­ri­ous hiker, thread not only through the inn’s 250 acres but also the park. The myr­iad hik­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are part of the mag­i­cal draw of The Swag, for here is a port­man­teau of tow­er­ing forests lush with rhodo­den­dron and fern, pas­tures of sweet grass where elk and deer feed, and flower-filled mead­ows rem­i­nis­cent of a fairy tale.

Add into the mix the in­cred­i­ble quiet­ness punc­tu­ated only by the wingflut­ter of dozens of hum­ming­birds that have taken up res­i­dence around the inn, and you have the per­fect an­ti­dote for type-A per­son­al­i­ties and mod­ern­day stress.

This moun­tain­top hide­away is where log cabin meets lux­ury, where ritzy meets rus­tic, and where the walls are lined with too many hos­pi­tal­ity and tourism awards to list.

The Swag — its name comes from the word mean­ing a dip be­tween two moun­tains — is built of stone and hand-hewn logs, mostly from the hard­wood of tulip po­plar trees. The main lodge con­tains the din­ing room, li­brary and a few guest suites, and is partly built from sturdy, old tim­bers from the now long­gone Lone­some Val­ley Prim­i­tive Bap­tist Church in Ten­nessee. The Swag’s then-own­ers Dan and Deener Matthews bought the wood from the church af­ter it was dis­man­tled, plus wood from other log build­ings scat­tered across North Carolina and Ten­nessee, to build the inn with its heav­enly views.

The Matthews first opened The Swag in 1982 and ran it un­til 2018. That’s when An­nie and David Colquitt of Knoxville, Ten­nessee, who had hon­ey­mooned there sev­eral years ear­lier and fallen in love with its beauty and tran­quil­ity, bought it.

Just 14 suites, cab­ins and cot­tages make up the inn, all with wood-burn­ing fire­places and no tele­vi­sions. (Be­fore you ask, wire­less internet is avail­able in case you sim­ply can’t be­come unglued from your phone.)

Each room is dif­fer­ent from an­other, but the com­mon­al­ity is Ap­palachian wood­work and crafts com­bined with touches that in­clude com­fort­able hand­stitched quilts, per­haps a ter­race or an out­door shower, and stun­ning views. And at check-in, you se­lect a hand­crafted walk­ing stick that is per­son­al­ized for you. At the end of your stay, it’s yours to keep.

The Swag is all-in­clu­sive (ex­cept for wine and beer), and a typ­i­cal day be­gins with a coun­try break­fast buf­fet. Lunch is brown-bag and is ready be­fore you take off hik­ing or for a pic­nic. In­side of the bag of good­ies is the Swag Bar, the pop­u­lar home­made con­coc­tion of choco­late, peanut but­ter and corn­flakes. Hors d’oeu­vres are served just be­fore din­ner that might in­clude veg­eta­bles from the gar­den paired with del­i­ca­cies such as lo­cal trout or beef. Dur­ing the day, feel free to graze on ice cream, apples, trail mix or hik­ing bars.

There are myr­iad things to do at this place where the forests touch the sky, Prices: most no­tably the un­real hik­ing and ex­plor­ing the Na­tional Park over lands that were once the happy hunt­ing grounds of the Chero­kee. But the inn, through­out its open sea­son, also hosts spe­cial events and pro­grams that give a stay here ex­tra oomph, among them:

Bear hikes led by bear expert Dr. Michael Pel­ton from the Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee. (Aug. 27-31 and Nov. 24-30)

Bird­ing hikes led by Dr. Bob Collier, an expert birder from Ten­nessee. (June 30-July 5, Sept. 1-6 and Oct. 13-18)

Cook­ing schools led by The Swag’s Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Jake Sch­midt. (Aug. 6-7 and Sept. 30-Oct. 1)

Na­ture walks led by Joel and Kathy Zachry, au­thors of “Bears We’ve Met” and in­struc­tors and di­rec­tors of the Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee/Na­tional Park Ser­vice Smoky Moun­tain Field School. (June 9-14, Sept. 8-13 and Oct. 20-25)

Paint­ing and print­mak­ing led by artist and hiker Gay Bryant. (Nov. 10-17)

Pho­tog­ra­phy lessons and hikes led by renowned out­door ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­pher Steve Yo­com. (Sept. 16-20, Oct. 1-7 and Nov. 17-24)

Sto­ry­telling and hikes with mas­ter sto­ry­teller Don­ald Davis, a guest host with NPR’s “Good Evening” (Oct. 7-13)

Wild­flower Walks led by Mas­ter Nat­u­ral­ist Es­ther Blakely of Cat­aloochee Val­ley Tours, a cer­ti­fied in­ter­pre­ta­tive pre­sen­ter for the na­tional park (July 14-19 and Aug. 11-16)

At an el­e­va­tion of 5,000 feet, The Swag has dra­matic views at every turn, es­pe­cially from Goose­berry Knob, a pop­u­lar spot for pic­nick­ing or sim­ply re­lax­ing.

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