Setting out into the deep corners of North Carolina is an adventure in itself: bending along lush forest roads, past highway markets and back-shed potteries, speeding through miles of orchard country, without reception, into the crevasse of Nantahala National Forest is no small journey. Tucked away on a ridge above the water is Lakeview at Fontana, a rustic chic inn and spa, situated perfectly to accommodate an unfussy traveler in need of deep relaxation. While exploring natural bounties of the Great Smokey Mountains, indulge for three nights at Lakeview on the Soak Up Romance spa package.
In autumn you can smell the ripeness in the air while driving through the mountains. Fragrances of rich farmland ready for harvest, apples and grapes hanging by the stem, and leaves turning color above the cool ground awaken the senses to a seasonal feast. These are the luxuries of Western North Carolina, and Lakeview at Fontana is a soft oasis from which to explore these treasures.
From Eastern North Carolina there is a shift in culture as you move west. The atmosphere becomes crisp as the humid, salty air sinks behind and the famous NC barbecue turns from hot and sour to sweet and spicy. It’s not just about the destination, traveling is half the adventure as there are many alluring stops between the piedmont and Lakeview at Fontana.
It took an entire day to drive from the capital to the Great Smokey Mountains, as there are many alluring stops between the piedmont and Lakeview at Fontana. Little-known orchards and cider barns should not be overlooked when searching for a spot to stretch and explore. Most of these farms have been in operation for more than 5 generations, building and growing since the post-civil war land grants. And grown they have, the families in the hills have painstakingly perfected the art of cider-making. Hard or virgin, they sell cider by the gallon or by the barrel. Most native NC folks have no inclination as to the wealth of cider in our state and might find it quite a surprise to learn that Henderson County supplies a large portion of the apples used to make Gerber baby apple sauce! In recent years some of these orchards planted grapes and have begun growing a wine reputation from the fertile soils. Rich, cool, and mossy, these reserve wines have the flavors of a late, wet North Carolina summer.
[St. Paul Mountain Vineyards is a beautiful detour- as you wind through remote areas of the mountain, there is a noticeable strength among the community, though their cabins are miles apart. The vineyard tasting room is surrounded by a roadside garden, and in the afternoon, on the back patio there is a drowning sunset over the vines. While travelers are sitting at the bar for wine tastings, a few locals wander in, get a sarcastic greeting from the bartender and a glass of their regular pour. ]
A day on the road is easily spent detouring, getting lost, finding some quirky shops with quirky people, and arriving to the destination well after check-in. In the mountains of NC, it is easy to get side-tracked exploring the land and its crafts-people. Nevertheless, it is recommended you make time in the meander for grocery shopping before arriving to Lakeview at Fontana. While there are local stores, if you want an authentic taste of the landscape, Food Lion simply will not suffice (especially after you have one taste of that home-grown cider). Bryson City holds a farmer’s market on Fridays from 9am-1pm during the grow and harvest months; WNC Market, outside of Asheville, is open every day from 8am to 6pm featuring several large hangers packed with vendors; and there are various veg and fruit stands along the state highways. The WNC Market is the most extensive, supplying a variety of seasonal veggies, grass-fed meats, dairy, cold cuts, and of course, cider, for the concoction of your next few meals.
Lakeview at Fontana
An October sunrise is cool and sweet and draped with dew. Waking up in the plush bedding at Lakeview made these mornings are made even sweeter by the sounds of birds chirping about the windows. Bare feet on the solid, cold balcony is both invigorating and comforting, both grounding and electrifying; these mornings set the tone for a refreshing three day stay at Lakeview at Fontana.
Breakfast is available in the beautiful, soft-lit café from 7- 10am. French press coffee and tea, assorted pastries, and oatmeal are served with a variety of healthy toppings. The café is an enchanting feature of this rustic, mountainside oasis, complete with deep couches, small tables, beautiful wood accents and refreshing, open windows overlooking the outdoor patio. Anywhere on the property, inside or out, you remain in contact with nature, the primary intrigue for many visitors. Spaces are well designed and luxurious in their simplicity yet, “people don’t come for the rooms,” says owner Tetia McMichael, they come for the serenity of nature’s vestibule.
After many years of operation, Lakeview has firmly placed themselves in the spa market, making it an escape exclusive to adults. The wellness features and forest access make this location perfect for rebalancing and finding peace. A restorative yoga class is available at 9am every morning in a beautiful mountain studio just behind the main house; from there, a moderate two-mile hiking loop is accessible for the perfect start to a long spa day.
The massage providers are truly gifted healers. From their tone to their touch, the ladies at Lakeview take care to release any tension within the body, leaving you feeling nurtured, loved, and perfectly relaxed. “The goal is to be able to completely clock-out”- this is the philosophy of massage therapist, Sara Robinson of Lakeview at Fontana; her service ceded the truth in her words as I drifted between sleep and wakefulness during a 50-minute massage on her table. She no doubt takes such pleasure in her work due in part to the ethicacy with which the property is managed. Sara boasts that Lakeview is more than a place to work, it is a small community that supports and trusts its employees. Staff exceeding 12 years of employment at the spa, and a volume of return guests each year, certainly attest to a culture of fair work and quality service.
As the sun began to float down over the western horizon, casting orange and pink rays across the lake, trace a short path through the forest behind the main house, up into the treetop cabana. This exotic treehouse is equipped with robes, towels, and a selection of bath salts to suit the bathers’ preference and needs. At golden hour, the Cloud 9 Soak is truly magical! De-robing in the open air, surrounded by a panoramic forest in candle-light, frees something in you. Many women retreat to this place to release their inner wild woman. There is a deep healing that comes with being stripped bare this way, in a safe place, where you feel so nurtured and so accepted by the earth and the air. It inspires love, for oneself, and others.
While you’re in the Neighborhood
Bryson City, just 10 minutes from Lakeview at Fontana, offers a quaint, historic supplement to the hospitality you will receive at the hotel. Dozens of shops flying colorful flags and dazzling chimes cater to high season traffic with handsome crafts, fishing tours, and outdoor gear. Coffee bars and a range of restaurants offer delightful fare; notably, The Bistro at Everett Hotel features a seasonal menu, artfully upscaling southern comfort food in a cozy dinning room.
A crossroads of indigenous culture and western development, this small town proudly represents the heritage of Cherokee tribes alongside the mammoth Fontana Dam, which employed 5,000 workers despite a national manpower shortage during WWII. [The Bryson City Visitor Center, Fontana Dam and Visitor Center, The Fly-Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, and The Museum of the Cherokee Indian are fantastic visits for eager students of Appalachian history.] Whether strolling through town for a bite to eat or eager to absorb mountain culture, Bryson City offers a warm welcome.
If you’re in the mood for water, drive 30 minutes south to find one of Trip Advisor’s “Top 20 Most Beautiful Lakes in the US.”, Lake Santeetlah. Just outside Robinsville, it is one of the few lakes that remains clear, making it a great place for fishing and other water sports, especially if you’re keen to rent a boat! Santeetlah Marina offers a range of vessels from kayaks to pontoons for an extraordinary day on the lake. While in town, visit Wehrloom Honey Winery & Essentials for local, raw honey, mead, wine, and other natural bee products.
After a few hours swimming and diving among slimy tree limbs and walking slippery clay shores of Lake Santeetlah, nothing could be more fancied than a drive across the gorge to Lakeview at Fontana where you will be met ready to melt under the skilled hands of the practitioners.
Before you go
No matter where you came from, or where you are going, an escape into the forest of Western North Carolina would not be complete without driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited nation park in the US. Over 450 miles of highway winds among the Blue Ridge Mountains, starting just north of Bryson City at the Cherokee Indian Reserve, over the northern NC boarder, and into Virginia.
Along this route, from Looking Glass, NC into Pisgah forest, a trail of cheese makers has been mapped out among the Blue Ridge Mountains! I have been to the mountains of North Carolina many times but never have I seen this advertised! We were handed a brochure mapping out the cheese trail when we visited Yellow Branch Co., stumbling upon this small shop only by catching sight of a single yellow sign on the side of the road towards Fontana Dam. I felt as if we’d struck a gold mine. Thirteen cheese makers are on the map between Robinsville and Virginia, most of which reside south east of Asheville, in the middle of wine country! This string of pearls should not be overlooked on the journey out, it is a fantastic way to end any trip with a satiated belly and a happy palate.
If you prefer not to drive to each cheese maker, make a stop in Asheville for lunch and sit down at Rhubarb. This delectable tapas restaurant sources local produce, including cheese, veggies, fish, and beer. The staff at Rhubarb is not only knowledgeable and upbeat, they take humble pride in sharing Appalachia’s bounty with its visitors. In fact, that can be said for most everyone I met while traveling in Appalachia, from the buskers to the bartender.