The Swag: A Luxury Mountain Paradise

An Enchanting, Serene, and Remote Retreat

By Charlene & Richard Mixa

Scenic views of North Carolina's highest mountain ranges

Scenic views of North Carolina’s highest mountain ranges

A refined luxury inn and the highest inn east of the Mississippi, The Swag sits atop a 250 acre oasis in the North Carolina Mountains where nature and serenity create a remote mountain paradise.  A serene retreat to recharge and indulge the senses.  Original architecturally designed luxurious accommodations lure guests with surprises, warm hospitality, and charm for an unconventional and extraordinary getaway.  With incomparable Smoky Mountain National Park views and a panorama of over four of North Carolina’s six highest mountain ranges, The Swag meets the definition of paradise “a place of extreme beauty, delight and happiness.”

A two mile one-lane private mountain road twists and turns through the pristine forest and flowering rhododendrons leading us to a favorite mountain retreat.  With an elevation change of 1,000 feet our ears pop and cooler temperatures greet us.  Ah!  Fresh clean air at 5,000 feet! From the porch of The Swag Lodge, it’s magnificent views of miles of North Carolina’s highest mountains.   The Swag is definitely a remote mountain respite.  Once we arrive there is little need to leave until we head home.

The Terrace Room's Master Bedroom with the Rhododendron bed and a welcoming bear, too.

The Terrace Room’s Master Bedroom with the Rhododendron bed and a welcoming bear, too.

With a warm welcome, we are escorted to the Terrace Room, a one bedroom suite, with a rustic decor that has all the elegance and touches of a five star hotel.  As an all-inclusive resort, The Swag assures each guest a unique experience.  Our spacious Master Bedroom with a cathedral ceiling features a stack-stone fireplace, a comfy sitting area, and a rhododendron king bed.  Adjacent to the Master Bedroom is a luxurious bathroom with our own private sauna, steam-shower, and Jacuzzi with picture windows.  The cozy living area has a wet bar, a refrigerator fully stocked with complimentary beverages and snacks, as well as, a second bathroom.  Our secluded outdoor patio’s recliners are tempting for an afternoon snooze.  All the buildings at The Swag are redesigned and repurposed historic buildings.  Each building was carefully disassembled, driven up the private road, and creatively refurbished into unique rustic accommodations.  Additionally, accommodations are individually decorated with handmade quilts, woven rugs, early American rustic antiques and original artwork.

The Swag Lodge

The Swag Lodge

Each evening guests gather at the dog trot for the pre-dinner hors de oeuvres.  Sipping wine and beers, the view is mesmerizing as we gaze over the mountain scenery.  Guests share the tale of how they came to select The Swag as their getaway.  At 7:00 PM, we locate our place cards for the dinner seating, in either the Dining Room at the long family tables or more intimate tables in the Living Room.  Deener Matthews, the Innkeeper, welcomes us as we sit down to a four-course gourmet dinner.  Options for dinner entres are tantalizing as is each course.  One evening we select a succulent Main Lobster with herb gnocchi.  Our second evening for our main courses, I opt for the delicious Kona Kompachi, a mild Hawaiian fish,  while Richard selects a tantalizing Pork Tenderloin.  Seated at the family table conversation is lively as we make new friends.  Especially nice is each night we are seated with different guests allowing us to meet more people.  One evening we have the pleasure of being seated with Deener, and her husband, Dan, the former Rector of the Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City.  Hearing their stories of how The Swag came about, as it was initially a family retreat, is exciting.  Deener, never planned to be an Innkeeper, but the door opened and she heartily took on the challenge of creating a luxury mountain retreat.  Plus, Dan, became the imaginative designer and architect of each of The Swag buildings and accommodations.

Doug and Kathy Peters - "Songs of the Hearth"

Doug and Kathy Peters – “Songs of the Hearth”

After dinner everyone gathers in the Living Room for Songs from the Hearth.”   Doug Peters, a singer/song writer, entertains with fun and enjoyable tunes he has written about the mountains.  Actually Doug is a lawyer by trade but he and his wife Kathy have been Event Leaders at The Swag since 1986, coordinating hiking excursions and providing evening entertainment with a smile and chuckle.  A favorite song is one Doug adapted from a magnet he found in The Swag Gift Shop.  We sing along to “Advice from a BEAR“  – Live large, When life gets hairy grin and bear it, Live with the seasons, Take a good long nap, Look after your honey!”  A special treat  is another Swag guest, JJ Lawhorn, an American country music singer-songwriter, from Nashville sings a few songs for us.  Afterwards, we visit with new friends and return to relax in the Terrace Room.  Here soft music is playing, handmade chocolates and a gift are part of the nightly turndown service.  We slip into our warm fluffy robes and relax by a fire.

The Nature Trail is like walking through a tunnel of trees.

The Nature Trail is like walking through a tunnel of trees.

The Swag is truly hiker’s haven and photographers dream.   Just a few steps from the front porch we find hiking options from easy strolls to challenging climbs to magnificent trails in the Smoky Mountain National Park.  Be prepared to take lots of pictures of the wonderful mountain scenery. Hiking maps of the trails are great to allow guests to explore on their own.  Even better join the group hike!  Being at The Swag on a Wednesday it’s a morning hike and the fantastic Picnic on Gooseberry Knob.  After awakening our muscles in the steam shower, we enjoy a hearty breakfast buffet.  With our personalized Swag hiking sticks and good walking shoes, we gather for Kathy and Doug’s hike.  Some guests are enjoying a “do nothing at all day,” a massage, or their own adventure, while the rest of us look forward to exploring the trails of this pristine forest.  Doug and Kathy plan a shorter hike to assure everyone arrives in time for the Swag Picnic at noon.  Today, another Swag guest, Stephen Rhodes, a poet and essayist, is sharing some of his poems on our hike.  Strolling through The Swag Garden, where most of the vegetables and herbs are grown for Swag meals, we stop for Steve to read his first poem about leaving his family homestead.  Touching and beautiful!  The trail takes us through the tall hardwoods and flowering rhododendrons as it winds along the mountain.  Kathy and Doug assure the hike is challenging for the active guests but not overwhelming for others.  With friends joining us for the picnic lunch, we are sad to leave the hike early.Sq. The Swag

Giving our friends, Ronnie and Kathy a tour of The Swag, we amble  the quarter of a mile to Gooseberry Knob.  Yep!   More stunning views await with Adirondack chairs and umbrellas at this lush meadow.  Deener greets us and Chef Jake walks us through the selections at the gourmet picnic including a Fresh Garden Salad, Apple Slaw, Sliced Watermelon, Potato Salad, Farro Green Tomato Chutney Salad and a southern tradition, Deviled Eggs.  Crunchy fried chicken is featured, as well as, hot off the grill fresh salmon, burgers, hot dogs and brats.  An array of mouthwatering homemade desserts include decadent selections of Buttemilk Pie, Eclairs, Fudge, Cherry Cream Tart, Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cake, and Chocolate Pecan Pie.  We hope our morning hike burned off calories as we return again and again.

Water Lily at The Swag Pond

Water Lily at The Swag Pond

Exploring other areas of the Swag, we hike down to the Swag Pond with flowering water lilies and the waterwheel.  For those seeking other activities The Swag has a library, outdoor hot tub with amazing views, croquet, horse shoes, corn hole game and badminton.  For us the afternoon is spent exploring some of the unique hideaways tucked into the mountain side with more astounding views, relaxing in a swing or hammock.  Sated from lunch and ready for a respite after hikes and walks, we settle into a nice nap in our private patio followed by a soak in the Jacuzzi and our own private Sauna.

We depart on Thursday morning to return to the real world.  The Swag buffet breakfast prepares us and as always The Swag “Backpack Lunch” has the infamous “Swag Bars!”  Leaving The Swag, we recall how sometimes we return to a favorite place to find it does not live up to our original memories.  On each visit to The Swag, we are again mesmerized by the magnificent mountains, the rustic and elegant charm of the accommodations, the friendliness of the staff, and especially the family feeling created by Deener and Dan.  On our visit to The Swag, we thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful respite from our hectic lives.  Here is a Mountain Paradise that that consistently exceeds our expectations.

Congratulations to The Swag:
Conde Nast Traveler magazine rated the Swag #2 in the southeast among all resort hotels in 2017 Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards.
On January 4, 2018, The Swag was named the “Most Romantic” in the world, under Hotel Standouts by Andrew Harper, Luxury Travel Expert, who provides discerning travelers with getting the most out of their vacations. Congratulations to the Swag staff! Job Well Done!
If you go:
The Swag, 2300 Swag Road, Waynesville, NC 28785
800.789.7672 or 828.926.0430


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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.