TRAVEL: The Dreamiest Mountain Getaway You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
You'll find this spot 35 miles west of Asheville
A swag is a dip between two mountain peaks. It can also mean a fashionable, confident way of behaving (“That girl’s got swag”), or a hodgepodge of gifts (a “swag bag”). Any of those definitions could apply to the resort of the same name at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Swag doesn’t advertise. It doesn’t have to. Many of its 18 rooms are booked a year out. It’s typically reserved for special occasions—rates start at $800 per night (with a two-night minimum). Most guests are couples who come to honeymoon, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, or just de-stress for a few days. The resort isn’t adults-only, but you seldom see kids roaming the property.
The Swag sits on a 250-acre plot in Waynesville, about 35 miles west of Asheville. Deener and Dan Matthews bought the land, once a potato farm, in 1969 and built an eight-bedroom log house as a family getaway. But they wound up hosting so many friends, they decided to open The Swag to guests in 1982.
Today the resort encompasses an award-winning restaurant, miles of hiking trails, a 70-year-old split-rail fence, and rustic chinked-log cabins equipped with wood-burning fireplaces. (“It takes a lot of money to look this old,” Deener famously quipped.) In 2018, the Matthewses sold the property to David and Annie Colquitt, who added a few features like an outdoor dining porch, spa, and workout room. But they’ve preserved the Matthewses’ legacy, and The Swag is the same majestic mountain retreat it’s been for more than 40 years.
When you arrive at The Swag gate (“a filter for boring people,” as Deener called it), push the intercom button and let the staff know you’ve arrived. Then begin the 15-minute ascent to the Welcome Cabin. Take your time. Once you arrive, you’ll pull under the carport awning, where a staff member shows you inside the cabin and offers you a hot scented towel and an adult beverage while you discuss meal options and activities. Staff will valet your car and load your luggage into a Swag Volvo that takes you the rest of the way up the mountain and directly to your room.
Rooms have a cozy, country-chic aesthetic with beamed ceilings, wood-paneled walls, and no TV. Some have sitting areas and outdoor soaking tubs or showers, and each has a minifridge stocked with snacks and nonalcoholic beverages. Rooms don’t seem extravagant at first blush, but look around: Your bathroom has heated floors and towel racks, and that closet door opens to a sauna. Each night, you return to a tidy room with turn-down service and, on your pillow, a box of treats from a local chocolatier.
“If you leave The Swag hungry, that’s on you,” is a common refrain from the waitstaff. The Swag House serves breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m., and the chef prepares a different flavored muffin and bread each day. After breakfast, select your lunch from the day’s menu, which typically includes a sandwich, wrap, your choice of two sides, and a Swag Bar or Swag Granola Bar. You can opt for a packed lunch to take with you on a day hike or a picnic basket that you can enjoy at your leisure.
Hors d’oeuvres are served on The Dogtrot, the covered patio, at 6 p.m., and The Swag House Bar has wine, craft beer, ciders, and cocktails. Dinner service begins at 7 p.m. Thursdays are reserved for a barbecue buffet and a live band; other nights, it’s a four-course dinner inside the lodge. If your stay falls on a Wednesday or Saturday, go on the Chef’s Picnic atop Gooseberry Knob. And if you’re peckish, check out the deep freezers on The Dogtrot—they’re stocked with bottled drinks and local ice cream that you can help yourself to any time of day (or night).
On the bulletin board near the entrance, you’ll find a list with guest names and where they’re from, as well as the day’s activity schedule. It might include yoga, wine tasting, a day hike, or s’mores by the firepit. You can also book a spa treatment at The Still, or just park yourself in a hammock with a book all day—nothing is mandatory here. On the table beneath the day’s announcements, look for a wooden tag with your name. You can attach it to your walking stick and take it home as a souvenir.
Beside the schedule, you’ll see a photo of The Swag’s “Experts in Residence.” These folks are typically longtime friends of the owners who come for extended periods to provide guided hikes, art classes, birding, music, and talks about local history. If a tour of the property with an Expert in Residence is on the day’s agenda, collect your walking stick and follow along. They can tell you anything you want to know about the foliage, and they’ll entertain you with hilarious stories about bear encounters and the original owners, like the time Deener chased down a lumber truck to snag the colossal tree trunk that is now the hors d’oeuvres table on The Dogtrot. After your hike, head to the outdoor hot tub and order a cocktail from the menu posted by the towel hut. A staff member will bring it out to you while you soak in the sunset.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
The Swag opens for the season in April and closes in late November. Rates, which include all meals and snacks for two adults, start at $800 a night. Each additional person is an extra $200.
TAYLOR BOWLER is the lifestyle editor.