This story was originally published in the 2013 June/July issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
Intrepid travelers will not shy away from the chance to explore the foothills and mountains of the Carolinas this summer. My plan was to head east from Chattanooga straight through the scenic Ocoee basin and along the winding roads to Highlands, North Carolina where I would spend a day or so unwinding at The Old Edwards Inn. Then I would move on, crossing the South Carolina border, into the foothills region.
Highlands is a charming village, both visually and culturally. It’s also a cool respite from midsummer’s heat.
Opening this month at the Old Edwards Inn are 22 new guest-rooms and an indoor heated mineral pool. The Forbes Four-Star property now has a total room count of 90 and the pool is the resort’s third. The addition is called the Falls Cottages, named for one of the many local waterfalls, and its wood and stone construction fits seamlessly into the natural surroundings.
The guest-rooms and suites feature gas fireplaces, spacious living areas, heated marble bathroom floors and flexible space with common areas adjoining individual rooms, so that guests may book an entire cottage if needed. The new accommodations are two blocks off Main Street behind the historic inn.
“Being located in a scenic mountain town just a short drive from Atlanta, Chattanooga and Charlotte has made Old Edwards a popular destination for city dwellers in need of a retreat,” says Old Edwards CEO Richard Delany.
Once here I would spend an hour or so at the spa, before meeting a friend for dinner. In 2010 Conde´Nast Traveler rated the spa at Old Edwards # 1, with the first ever perfect score in the 20-year history of its Reader’s Survey. A string of awards for both the spa and hotel have followed consecutively each year since 2008.
Later that evening, friends from Charlotte and I met at Madison’s Restaurant and Wine Garden for dinner. The restaurant, located within Old Edwards Inn has won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 2005. My friend would make arrangements for her wedding the following day at The Farm at Old Edwards, another property owned by the Inn, just a few miles away. A rustic barn and fabulous gardens make the venue perfect for lush weddings—of all sizes—in most types of weather. With a newly enclosed glass and stone pavilion, it is now suitable for winter weddings, too.
“We have doubled the number of weddings at Old Edwards over the past three years because of our ability to host large and small weddings in several different venues,” adds Delany.
Back in my room at the Falls Cottages, I’m blown away by the beauty of the place. Owners Angela and Art Williams spared nothing in decorating the cottages, which meet every expectation a regular patron of the Inn might have.
“It has been such fun as well as a challenge to make each room at the Falls Cottages unique. I made a trip to France, Belgium, and England to find antiques and that was part of the fun,” says Angela.
After a bit of gallery hopping the next day, I was ready to continue my drive.
Leaving the village life behind I head down to Greenville, South Carolina where the landscape widens and the energy level rises. Greenville is home to two nationally ranked universities and some major manufacturers, Michelin North America, Inc. and Bavarian Motor Works, also known as BMW.
After checking into the lovely Westin Poinsett Hotel on Main Street, named for South Carolinian statesman, Joel Roberts Poinsett, I head over to the visitor’s center, practically next door, to get a bead on the basics of what to see while in town. The attractive downtown is lined with shade trees that allow for lunch at a sidewalk café on a hot day. The oddly named Tacosushi seemed to be drawing the biggest crowd on a Tuesday and Sassafras is popular, as well.
A couple of blocks from the hotel, on the banks of the Reedy River is the beginning of a 17-mile linear park known as the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The greenway was created on the foundation of an old railroad corridor. Falls Park on the Reedy and Liberty Bridge are sights you don’t want to miss. A waterfall in the middle of town is, after all—a bit unusual.
I’m meeting my friends at the city’s hot new wine bar—Sip!, where you can order small plates and try the latest wines from a menu. We had the $17 Cured Tasting platter with soppressata calabrese, sweet coppa, salami and oven roasted tomatoes.
Here, wine connoisseurs may also purchase a reloadable tasting card and choose from a selection of wines in a self-serve automated cabinet. The extensive rooftop lounge is a delightfully casual place for groups to gather from mid-afternoon throughout the evening. Long after business hours are over, the trees in Greenville light up for a humming tavern nightlife or just a simple stroll.
Dinner is at the Green Room, one block up the street from Sip!. I have a perfect filet with French-style green beans and my friends have what the restaurant is known for—the meatloaf! Laced with chipotle and garlic seasonings—not your mother’s meatloaf— and it is amazing! Both Sip! and The Green Room are part of the High Street Hospitality Group.
Like many modern Southern cities, Greenville has converted most of its old textile mills and warehouses into loft-style apartments and office spaces. It has art galleries and theatre. The Christopher Park Gallery at 608 South Main is fun to visit. It represents the works of new and established artists, as well. I was also surprised to see a Mast General Store on Main Street.
Recreation in the form of spectator sports is plentiful. Aside from collegiate sport there are teams like the Greenville Drive baseball team and the Greenville Road Warriors hockey team offering diversions for sports enthusiasts. Opportunities for golf abound.
And, including all these recreational options, history buffs will find the town quaintly attractive. The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Library is just off South Main. Statues of early entrepreneurs hold court on the sidewalks, serving as posed companions in tourists’ photos. But, venture to the northeast side of town and new industry will be in sharp contrast to this scene.
Here is BMW Zentrum, a museum, yet far more than that. Tourism professionals like to say it is where the past, present and future of BMW come together in a completely unique building. The cars, the speed, the innovation—visitors see it all for free—in the only BMW museum in North America. The Zentrum is also a meeting and events center, a cafe, a gallery and a history lesson–wrapped into one ultimate experience. Located next to the only BMW manufacturing plant in the United States, this unusual destination seems to offer something for everyone.
Visitors may pick up everything they need from the retail shop to take on the open road in fine style. Fashionable BMW apparel or the latest motoring accessories for the office are here. I’m overwhelmed by the variety of gifts for the automotive enthusiast.
Entrance to Zentrum is free. Guided tours of the plant itself are $7.00, during regular Zentrum operating hours. A discount rate of $3.50 is available for students and BMWCCA members. Tour visitors must be 12 years of age or older and no cameras or camera phones are allowed inside the plant. For tour reservations call 1-888-Tour-BMW (868-7269)
My road adventure is fulfilled and it’s time to go home. I am determined to go back to the Carolinas, knowing I have only begun to uncover special treasures and untried adventures.
Visit greenvillecvb.com for more information.
Photography courtesy of Old Edwards Inn & Spa and the High Street Hospitality Group