Mountain Moods series: In western North Carolina, there’s a place for everyone: artists and epicures, locals and visitors, explorers and kick-back-and-relaxers. Down in the valleys, high on the peaks, around
Mountain Moods series: In western North Carolina, there’s a place for everyone: artists and epicures, locals and visitors, explorers and kick-back-and-relaxers. Down in the valleys, high on the peaks, around every bend in the road, communities with identities all their own remind us that our mountains contain multitudes.
Just inside the Highlander Mountain House, past the front desk with its wall of brass room keys, owner Jason Reeves is welcoming a new guest. The two relax in the lobby — the warm heart of the inn, anchored by a pair of leather armchairs framing a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. Throughout this 137-year-old English country house retreat is an assortment of art and books from the many places that Reeves has called home over the years — like the Black Mountain College poster announcing a Josef Albers exhibit that hangs next to an original print from photographer Sally Mann, who hails from Reeves’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia.
The inn’s decor serves as an exhibition of the history, culture, and nature of Appalachia. A framed collection of Cherokee arrowheads hangs in the pub. Deer antlers adorn many of the walls, their tips pointing up toward exposed wooden beams running along the lobby ceiling. An old copy of The Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland sits on a side table across from a wooden desk displaying an antique guide to day hikes in Highlands.
It’s the selection of art, books, and curiosities scattered around the inn that entices guests to disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with their surroundings. “We aspire to take a time-out from the digital age,” Reeves says. “We want people to get in touch with reading, writing, and listening.”
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Reeves was inspired by boutique hotels long before he came across this charming house in Highlands. The businessman turned innkeeper earned master’s degrees in historic preservation from Boston University and in real estate and urban design from Harvard; afterward, he lived in New York City for 15 years. To get away from the chaos of urban life during those years, Reeves — as many city dwellers do — vacationed in quieter places such as the picturesque Catskill Mountains north of Manhattan.
After retiring from a successful career in real estate development and private equity, Reeves moved to Charleston and began visiting the mountains of North Carolina. He found Highlands to be the perfect escape — and this old house in the center of town was the perfect spot. “When I got here,” he says, “I thought, why don’t we have a small country house hotel with a designer-like edge?” To him, this meant preserving the historical details and mixing them with modern amenities, plus fine dining featuring locally sourced food.
After a day of adventures around Highlands — like horseback riding, hiking, fly-fishing, or exploring downtown — guests return to the inn for a mountain feast: dishes like bacon-wrapped dates with blue cheese, duck breast with gigante beans, or Cornish hen with chard and sweet potatoes. And as they emerge from their candlelit dinners, they can retire to their rooms and wind down by reading an old book from a curated library — titles like In the Valley by North Carolina author Ron Rash — or listening to a vinyl record hand-picked from Reeves’s personal collection.
Those who have found themselves enamored with not only the hotel but also the Appalachian spirit that it celebrates can step onto their balcony and take in the sounds: the wind rustling leaves, the calls of hidden critters — the harmony of Highlands.