Driving Time from Poughkeepsie: 12 hours 30 minutes
Weekend Rates: from $320 per night
A “Welcome to North Carolina” sign lets you know you’re close. Suddenly, the antique malls and Waffle Houses drop away, and you ascend into the Great Smoky Mountains’ rustic elegance. Past blazing foliage, very scenic overlooks, and high-end homes and hotels lies Highlands, one of those idyllic towns where everyone is friendly, and everything is beautiful. And right in the middle of that is Old Edwards Inn and Spa, a Relais & Châteaux property that began as a rooming house in 1895.
Today, its 99 rooms are spread across an array of artfully designed buildings. Old Edwards is its own charming world to discover, abounding in delightful nooks and crannies that include a bubbling fountain, an outdoor fireplace, and heated mineral swimming pools that, weather permitting, remain open through the fall.
Stay in the newest area, the gorgeous Falls Cottages, built with indigenous stone and dark wood and lit with twinkly outdoor lanterns. Inside, the décor is cushy and stylish, with an inviting living room, fireplace, balcony, and luxurious marble bath. Madison’s, the Inn’s fine-dining restaurant, serves up a taste of the South (the cheesy grits are beyond amazing), with local ingredients from its farm and greenhouse.
|Head to Sunset Rock for a half-mile hike to a natural cliff-side amphitheater—a spectacular vantage point for viewing 360 degrees’ worth of magnificent foliage.
|Called the Waterfall Byway, Route 64 meanders through the mountains, passing small towns, gorges and, of course, waterfalls.
|At Whiteside Mountain in nearby Cashiers, the last two weeks of October bring a local phenomenon called The Shadow of the Bear, from 5:30 pm to 6:15 pm daily.
With an elevation of 4,118 feet, Highlands is one of the highest towns east of the Mississippi. Hiking trails and scenic walks reveal glorious fall color. Afterward, peruse Highlands’ upscale shops and boutiques, or dine at one of the local restaurants.