A scenic road with stunning vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains winds its way up to the chic hilltop hideaway of Highlands, North Carolina. On the corner of the town’s charming Main Street, the historic Old Edwards Inn & Spa invites you into the cozy lobby with the fireplace ablaze, comfortable seating and relaxed, elegant decor. With a welcome glass of Champagne for adults, Dove ice cream bars for the kids, and a warm and attentive staff, it’s the type of place where everyone is instantly made to feel right at home.
Old Edwards Inn & Spa enjoys a perfect location right in the heart of picturesque downtown Highlands, within easy walking distance of all the restaurants, cafes, galleries and quality boutiques. At 4,118 feet, the town is one of the highest east of the Mississippi River and is located in one of only two rain forests in the U.S. Nestled in the Nantahala National Forest and the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll be enveloped by fresh mountain air, natural beauty, pristine woodlands and countless trails, rivers, lakes and waterfalls to explore.
The nearest major airports are in Asheville, less than 2 hours’ drive, and Atlanta, about 3 hours’ drive. Our family drove up from Charleston, about 5 hours away.
The property features a wide variety of accommodations. There are options that will work for any size family or multigenerational group, ranging from rooms in the historic inn to suites, cottages, condos and full-size estate homes. Each separate area is decorated in its own style. Some are more traditional and some are more contemporary, but the overall vibe is relaxed elegance.
Basic rooms in the Historic Main Inn, a converted boardinghouse, tend to be a bit smaller and more traditional, and some boast little patios with views over downtown Highlands. A variety of suites offer more space and have a hint of cottage chic in their decor. The Falls Cottages and Residences are also great options for families who need more space to spread out.
Our family stayed in The Terrace on Main, a well-appointed, spacious condo just a block down from the Main Inn and lobby. It was an easy walk to all the hotel amenities, dining venues and spa, yet still in the heart of downtown. The accommodations are laid out incredibly well for families, with three bedrooms (each with its own ensuite bath), a gourmet kitchen and a dining table for up to eight guests, a living room and separate den with additional sleeper sofas, a laundry room and an additional bathroom. The condo had been updated recently, and the decor was fresh and contemporary. We had everything we needed for a very comfortable stay.
Old Edwards Inn & Spa has a wide assortment of things to do on-property. Highlights for families include two outdoor heated mineral pools (open seasonally), a game and theater room, fire pits and expansive grassy areas with lawn games. Moms will love sneaking off to the impressive spa, and dads will appreciate having exclusive access to golf at the nearby Old Edwards Club.
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There are several dining options onsite. Stop in for morning coffee at Art’s, perfect for sipping on the porch. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at the award-winning Madison’s Restaurant, which showcases locally sourced ingredients and an impressive wine cellar.
Breakfast is for hotel guests only and is served daily from 7-10 am. The food is fresh and delicious, and a great way to fuel up before heading out for the day’s adventures. Lunch and dinner are open to the public, so I highly recommend reservations. While still resort casual, dinner at Madison’s tends to be a more formal affair. They offer a children’s menu, though our kids were able to find plenty of things they enjoyed from the adult menu, and I have no doubt the kitchen would happily whip up a special request if you have a picky eater in your party. Service here continued to impress us, and the staff made our kids feel very welcome.
Seasonally, you can dine alfresco by the waterfall in the lovely Wine Garden, which serves lunch, lighter fare, drinks and dinner in a beautiful setting. For a more casual yet still delicious dining experience, Four65 Bistro has a beautiful wood-fired oven and open kitchen where they cook up tasty pizzas, sandwiches and salads, again with a focus on fresh, local ingredients.
Adults will appreciate inventive cocktails and light bites in the cozy Hummingbird Lounge and Library in the Main Inn. The Hickory Pool Cabana offers poolside drinks, lunch and lighter afternoon fare. You can also order room and pool service, and they’ll deliver it throughout the property. And the Spa Cafe offers a tranquil environment to enjoy lunch or lighter fare and drinks after your treatment.
Off-property, there are plenty of dining options. We enjoyed Wild Thyme and Kilwin’s for ice cream in Highlands, and a great lunch at Cornucopia in the charming town of Cashiers, about 10 miles down the road.
There is no shortage of things to do in and around Highlands; you’re sure to find something to please everyone in your group. Downtown Highlands is home to cultural events, art galleries and boutiques. For those who want more action, there is a multitude of outdoor activities to choose from, including hiking, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, canoeing, rafting, gem mining, tennis and golf.
Another highlight of our trip was our private tour with Highland Excursions. Our fabulous guide picked us up from Old Edwards in a Pinzgauer Swiss Army vehicle, and took us on a spectacular exploration of some of the area’s best Blue Ridge Mountain vistas, waterfalls and swimming holes. We learned more about the area’s rich history, found salamander eggs and ended on a sweet note by making s’mores.
Families with kids of all ages can really appreciate the natural beauty that abounds at this lovely mountain retreat in North Carolina.
Certain Spa Suites and rooms in the Historic Main Inn are not ideal for younger children.
Being a mountain resort, the weather here is cooler. It’s a good idea to bring warmer layers even in the summer, as nights and mornings can be chilly. Highlands is also in a temperate rain forest, so wet weather is not uncommon. A rain jacket and shoes that will stand up to the elements are also recommended.
Some activities and amenities are seasonal and may be closed or unavailable in the colder months, November to April.
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Editor’s Note: Chelsea received a media package from Old Edwards Inn & Spa in order to review the property for families. As always, all opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Chelsea Johnson and Old Edwards Inn & Spa.
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