Situated in the mountains of western North Carolina and in the Nantahala National Forest, Highlands is an ideal respite from a harried schedule. I experienced Highlands, North Carolina, a couple of winters ago when my husband surprised me with a weekend getaway for our anniversary. Our visit coincided with a fantastic snowstorm, which only added to the charm of this beautiful town. However, I’m determined to make a return visit between spring and fall, and here are five reasons why!
There’s a bevy of waterfalls in and around Highlands, and several are along US Highway 64. Cascading some 75 feet over a cliff, Dry Falls is easily accessible just off the highway. You can even follow a short trail and walk behind the waterfall. There’s also a viewing platform at the trailhead that’s wheelchair accessible. Also located along Highway 64, Bridal Veil Falls were featured in the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans. Deeper into the Nantahala National Forest, Glen Falls rewards those who make the two-mile round-trip hike with scenic stops to this triple falls. Other area locations worth a visit include Secret Falls, Cullowhee Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls and Silver Run Falls.
Whether you prefer a luxury escape or a homey retreat, accommodations in Highlands are varied. Situated in the heart of downtown, historic Old Edwards Inn and Spa exudes a casual sophistication. The property was converted from the town’s first boardinghouse, which opened in 1878. Guests can choose from luxury guestrooms, suites, cottages and vacation homes. Period antiques, heated marble bathroom floors, fireplaces and complimentary champagne upon arrival are just a few notable amenities.
My husband and I stayed at Old Edwards’ sister property, 200 Main, which is located just down the street. Our spacious room featured a fireplace (which we appreciated during our snowy stay), comfy Frette bed linens, a heated bathroom floor and a private balcony. Guests can relax by the outdoor fire pit, enjoy a swim in the heated outdoor pool or challenge other guests to a game of cornhole on the lawn.
The Park on Main Hotel provides 24 well-appointed suites — most of which offer access to a landscaped courtyard terrace. Suites include a separate living room, separate living room, heated marble bathroom floors and a Keurig coffee maker, among other amenities. Pets are also welcome – they even get their own Orvis dog bed and a PPD Always Creative dog water bowl.
Located just outside the Highlands area, Half-Mile Farm by Old Edwards is a tranquil getaway for the 18 and over crowd. Thanks to a recent multi-million dollar makeover, the inn offers guests all the charming perks of a bed and breakfast with the amenities you’d find in a luxury hotel. This lovingly restored 1882 farmhouse is situated on a 14-acre site in a national forest. Accommodations include 14 country-chic rooms and eight cabin-style suites that boast sitting areas, four-poster beds, fireplaces, kitchenettes, kitchens and porches.
Another stay to consider is nearby AAA Four Diamond Innisfree Bed & Breakfast By-The-Lake. Just a short drive from Highlands, Innisfree is situated on nine acres by Lake Glenville.
Sip a glass of wine on the pavilion and enjoy sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, or take a guided stroll through Innisfree’s vibrant gardens.
For a such a small town (6.2 square miles), Highlands boasts a thriving arts community. Take The Bascom visual arts center, for example. From adult workshops and hands-on family programs to hosting community clubs and arts groups, the center provides an abundance of opportunities to enrich your life through the arts. In addition, it hosts ongoing exhibitions featuring regional artists as well as globally-known artists.
Formally established in the late 1930s, Highlands Playhouse is one of the oldest professional summer stock theaters in the country. Each summer, Playhouse theatre presents three or four popular productions, which over the years have included Guys and Dolls, Cabaret and Damn Yankees.
Another opportunity to immerse yourself in the arts is during the Highlands- Cashiers Chamber Music Festival. This year celebrates the festival’s 38th season. It runs from July 5 – Aug. 11, 2019 and includes a concert series, special programs and events like Feasts — dinners and cocktail buffets held in private homes that are often attended by festival musicians.
You won’t go hungry during your time here. The trick will be making room in your schedule (and your stomach) to fit it all in. Here are a few not to miss:
• Highland Avenue Restaurant: Located on the second floor of the former Holler Hosiery Mill, this farm-to-table restaurant features Appalachian cuisine. Options here include fried oyster salad, N.C. trout, shrimp and grits and roasted beet pasta.
• Wild Thyme Gourmet: You’ll find an excellent wine selection at this restaurant that features American cuisine with an Asian influence. Choose from entrees like ricotta ravioli, shrimp and tasso linguine and bacon wrapped quail.
• Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro: A local favorite for over two decades, this intimate and casual restaurant boasts a German take on American cuisine. A good bet is the Bavarian sampler (bratwurst, kassler, knockwurst and schnitzel served with red cabbage sauerkraut and potato salad).
Check out the Highlands Motoring Festival, which runs from June 6-9, 2019. Planning a fall visit? The popular Highlands Food & Wine Festival takes place Nov. 7-10, 2019.
(Go Magazine May/June 2019)