In need of a city break with a few good friends, photographer and Fathom contributing editor Anna Petrow unearths a few mountain gems.
WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA – Driving through winding roads flanked with Georgia pines, we reached the North Carolina border in two short hours, already a world away from bustling Atlanta. We continued our climb up into the vine covered hills as we reached the misty, magical Highlands. Around the bend, our beautiful cabin emerged, looking every bit the fairytale cottage – complete with a jaw-dropping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains right from the front yard.
Views for days outside gave way to on-point vintage decor inside. Meticulously revitalized original features like the stone fireplace fit quaintly alongside Wes Anderson-style antiques, like the collection of mismatched framed mountain landscapes, colorful Western rugs, and handmade wood furniture. The highlight for this home cook, though? The glorious kitchen with a gas burning range and a skylight above, not to mention the full wall of knives and cutting boards, beckoned us to whip up a feast at the ten-person dining table.
Naturally, stop number one was to stock up on rations, and we found everything we needed at Mountain Fresh Grocery, including fresh local produce and homemade peach pie. Locals and tourists alike sip from by-the-glass pours at the bar in the center of the market, which serves as a neighborhood watering hole to all – plus an impressive bottle selection for those looking to take home the perfect pairing.
Just a seven-minute drive down the way, quaint shops and darling drink spots abound in the town of Highlands. We drank bourbon mint lemonades on the rooftop at Olde Edwards, where the view of the main street shops from above resembles a scene out of a Hallmark holiday film with the mountains in the distance. Just around the corner is The Ugly Dog Public House, a perfectly low-lit pub with a lively atmosphere that would hit the mark on a chillier evening.
Bopping in and out of boutiques, we made our way to McCulley's of Highlands and Cashiers, which carries Scottish cashmere stacked on shelves from floor to ceiling, a necessary accessory on nights when the cold mountain air moves in. Over on 4th Street, Vivace had a beautifully curated selection of women’s wear, with flowing dresses, cozy cardigans, and butter-soft sweats. For shopping companions looking to take a load off, the vault in the back is something of a speakeasy, with a comfy couch and a help-yourself bourbon collection.
While there’s plenty to do in town, the call of the mountains is of course, the point — with plenty of hikes nearby, we wore our shoes out as best we could. Glen Falls was a favorite of the group — a two-and-half-mile out-and-back trail ending in a glorious pool of clear mountain melt (and a trailhead mere minutes from our place). Higher up views showcasing the majesty of the mountain range can be found on the Whiteside Mountain Trail, a short jaunt from Cashiers. Whiteside Brewing Co. is nearby and ready to refuel hikers with beer, pretzels, and sandwiches.
But mostly, we spent our time at the cabin, drinking coffee on the deck while watching the mist move through the mountains. Curling up with a book on the hanging porch bed. Catching up over a fire pit. We reveled in the peace and quiet while slowly preparing and eating meals the way you only can on a true vacation: over the course of many hours. We baked cinnamon rolls at sunrise, gathered for golden hour charcuterie, and saved desert for after sunset.
Cabin owner Mark has an immense love for the area, and it’s clear in his stewardship of his space that he has a passion for sharing it with friends and travelers alike. Easy-going Southern hospitality on this trip translated to early check-in and a “stay as long as you like” checkout, a candy cabinet stocked with pretty treats, and even a welcome drop-by from the owner’s darling neighbor and dog. When I first booked his spot, I was drawn in by his promise that when you least expect it, the Highlands will cleanse your soul. Between the views, the comfort of slow time with old friends, and the sweet smell of mountain air, I got exactly what I came for.