For those in the know, a hush-hush, luxurious retreat has been luring serious hikers and leaf watchers for more than 40 years. Despite being cloaked in a clandestine appeal, The Swag is poised to open a sister property nearby this fall to handle the demand of its loyal visitors. Stephanie Davis Smith peels back the curtain.


It appears that South Floridians have a deep love for the Blue Ridge Mountains. A large flock from the Sunshine State has bought second homes there. And between 2006 and 2019 about 425,000 Floridians, the most from any state, decided to put down roots in North Carolina. Many moved to the areas around Asheville in droves.

If you’re one of them or are considering trading an ocean view for majestic peaks and valleys, book a stay at the uber-luxurious The Swag to discover the area. The Relais & Chateaux property sits at a lofty 5,000-ft elevation on 250 acres, bordered by The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and less than an hour from Asheville. Posh nature lovers will need to book six months to a year out. With only 18 well-appointed suites and cabins on the entire property, this place is perpetually packed from May through early December.

There are no distractions here. Few children. It’s quiet and peaceful. The exploding pink rhododendrons are the only ostentatious touch, if one can call it such. It’s truly a respite where hikers pay upwards of $1,100 a night (all meals included) to explore the resort’s private nature trails with other C-suite execs, captains of industry, and well-heeled guests. Everyone then communes together at 6 pm for hors d’oeuvres and drinks on the covered porch to swap stories of the day. At 7 pm on the dot, the dinner bell rings, and everyone saunters into the lodge for announcements and extravagant four-course meals of filet mignon or stuffed quail paired with specialty wines.

But that’s just the beginning of the slew of memorable experiences here. For instance, the resort packs picnic baskets for trail hikes or meadow strolls. Guests are “fitted” with a walking stick with their name on it. Local handmade chocolates are placed on the bed each evening, old-fashioned coolers are filled with complimentary homemade lavender ice cream and bottled Coca-Colas are there for the taking. Leftovers from dinner are brought to your room with local beer tacked onto the delivery. There’s a new cozy bar and lounge in the lodge and the expanded wine cellar is a treat. Activities on the property include gardening, wine tastings, and lectures by guest experts in residence each week. The newly opened spa, The Still, is an oasis and a new outdoor tented massage platform is an arboraceous sanctuary.

The Trinity Cottage is The Swag’s top prized accommodation and starts at $2,100 a night for two. A 22-foot stone fireplace provides the wow factor on arrival, and the three owners’ suites and two private balconies have the best views of the mountains. A private outdoor soaking tub and outdoor shower with the Cataloochee in the background are a one-of-a-kind experience, while towel heaters, steam showers, sumptuous linens, and bedding are de rigueur.

To keep up with the demand Cataloochee Ranch will open as The Swag’s sister property this fall. The more casual, high-country resort sibling will also spread out across hundreds of acres. The Swag’s rugged natural beauty will, no doubt, translate to Cataloochee Ranch, whose culinary program will lean more towards the “perfectly rustic.” Think gourmet cowboy cuisine. If this new ranch will be anything like The Swag, pack an adventurous spirit and be ready for an incredible escapade that celebrates communion with Mother Nature.

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