by Jennifer Kornegay
Dove. Bar. Two simple words that have pretty much nothing to do with the attitude-lifting altitudes found in the town of Highlands, tucked neatly into North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet this chocolate-covered confection on a stick epitomizes one of the quaint hamlet’s chicest, coziest places to stay, The Old Edwards Inn and Spa. It’s a sweet symbol of the over-arching philosophy of stellar service awaiting you at this historic property.
After check-in in the main lobby, its warm glow courtesy of heavy wood paneling and a large stone fireplace, a friendly staff member offers you a flute of chilled champagne to sip on while they lead you on a mini-tour of the inn and all the amenities it offers. There’s the Hummingbird Lounge, the spot to enjoy a drink in old-world elegance; the Wine Garden, an alfresco dining option nestled amid a lush garden with its own waterfall; the pool; the fitness center; the Rooftop Terrace, combining cocktails and views of downtown; the award-winning spa; and Madison’s restaurant. But in the Butler’s Pantry just around the corner and up a few stairs from Hummingbird Lounge, at any time of day or night, guests can help themselves to bottled water, fruit, soft drinks, freshly brewed coffee and the afore-mentioned Dove Bars. It’s just a little something extra that makes a big difference. Other examples include nightly turndown with a homemade goodie on each pillow (NOT an Andes mint bought in bulk) and an exceptionally helpful staff (from the concierge to the cleaning lady).
This attention to detail is a carry over of the ideals that began with the original owners, who were known far and wide for their boundless hospitality. Fronting the main thoroughfare of downtown Highlands, Old Edwards Inn was built in 1878 and served as the town’s first boarding house, known for years as Central House. Over the decades it was added onto, and in 1934, the owners constructed a three-story brick and stone hotel, The Hotel Edwards, next door. In the early 1960s, the property closed. In 1982, it was given a new lease on life when a couple bought what was then known as Edwards Inn and restored it to its former glory. Old Edwards Inn became the four-diamond establishment it is today after another change of ownership in 2001 and a complete renovation in 2004. But the renovation was no mere upgrade; the Inn still retains all of its historic charm and character, as evidenced by its spot on the National Register for Historic Places.
The Inn Experience
While the special touches leave a lasting impression, the standout feature of this Inn is not an ice-cream treat; it’s the entire Old Edwards experience. The past and the present combine beautifully in the Inn. The look and service are echoes from yesteryear, but every room is equipped with modern conveniences (flat-screen TVs and wireless internet); some even include working fireplaces as well as towel warmers and heated floors in the spacious, marble-ensconced bathrooms. There are several room type and size options, but wherever you lay your head at Old Edwards, you’ll be enveloped in a level comfort that’s as stylish as it is soothing.
Decompress & Dine
You should opt to also recline and rest at the Inn’s Spa. This 25,000-square-foot tribute to tranquility has been praised year after year by guests and national media. It recently received tenth place on Conde Naste Traveler’s Top 75 hotel Spas in North America; this is the third year it’s made the top 10. Focused on nourishing the mind, body and spirit, the Spa embraces its surroundings, taking full advantage of the rejuvenating powers flowing in the fresh mountain air, situating one of its treatment areas on a deep, private balcony.
Should all the relaxing and pampering make you hungry, there’s no need to leave the property for dinner. Madison’s restaurant is serving innovative dishes created using fresh, locally sourced ingredients in an intimate atmosphere of laidback luxury, a combo that earned it a AAA Four-Diamond rating. Chef Johannes Klapdohr’s cuisine ranks high on any Highlands “must-eat” list, an impressive feat in a town that’s known for multiple spots to indulge in fabulous wining and dining. The Sweet Onion Chowder with butter-poached lobster, caramelized shallots and chive blossoms will leave you wanting to lick your bowl, while the Bacon-Wrapped Eden Farms Pork Tenderloin with black barley, butter-braised radishes and turnips and crispy fiddlehead ferns is homey and satisfying, yet elevated. Pair the menu with Madison’s Wine Spectator-lauded wine list.
Out & About
For all the accolades heaped on the Inn, the downtown area and the mountains encircling it deserve some attention too. Shopping in Highlands ranges from outdoor adventure outfitters to high-end fashion boutiques, with art galleries and antiques shops rounding out the temptations vying to part you from your money. Don’t miss Dutchman’s for unique home décor, art and gift items. Pop in Rosenthal’s and McCulley’s for ladies clothing. And finish your shopping spree on a sweet note with a visit to Kilwin’s for some rich fudge.
Finally, it’s well worth your effort to lace up your hiking shoes, grab a bottle of water from the Butler’s Pantry and head out for a trek up Whiteside Mountain, a peak with a sheer rock cliff (one of the highest in the Eastern United States) on one side. A bit of huffing and puffing on a 2-mile loop trail through serene woodlands is amply rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the transition from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Piedmont of South Carolina.
See For Yourself
If you need more incentives to make a reservation now, try these: Highlands is only a few hours drive from most points south and Old Edwards Inn and Spa is constantly offering culinary, spa and other packages that are really great deals. There’s just not a good reason to put off a visit, so what are you waiting for? www.oldedwardsinn.com