Such a decision: Whether to sequester yourself in a luscious robe, to do nothing but get in and out and in and out of the dry sauna — or the heat sauna — and to step onto the heated tile floor. To refresh yourself with a chilled, rolled washcloth before dipping into the hot tub that gleams like an opal. Or to read a magazine or page through dozens of photography books on architecture, orchids, horses. Or to gaze out the wide, plate-glass windows at the sky, or to drink tea and listen to the water trickling down an interior rock wall, and look at the sky, hearing nothing because it’s a Silent Space with a capital S. Or to have a bite to eat in the open-air café — yes, in your robe — or to fall asleep on a squishy, wide, softly napped chaise lounge before the fire. Then start all over again and just decide how best to Do Nothing.
This is the Old Edwards Inn, a kingdom of perfection, which all of the extremely helpful, whatever-your-heart-desires employees refer to as “the property.” “The property” consists of several blocks in downtown Highlands, but its heart is the 1878 building on the National Register of Historic Places, whose Hummingbird Lounge brings to mind a Brideshead Revisited or Downton Abbey library.
Its wood paneling, 14-foot ceiling, beckoning armchairs, wall of books, low lights, and hidden bar that opens at 2 p.m. lend an English ambience that’s not so much grandiose or moneyed as it is simply rich, as in comfortably rich. A massive banister, which would require four hands to encircle, leads upstairs to rooms with terraces and windows overlooking Main Street and to the mountains beyond.
Much of the inn’s campus feels like a European village, with its varying rooflines and unexpected gathering spots. (Besides the main building’s 84 rooms, accommodation choices include four-bedroom guest estates, where families or bridesmaids often stay.) Wherever you look, in every niche, a fountain trickles; even as you leave the attractive shops along Main Street, a bubbling spigot in a stucco wall makes you feel as though you’re roaming the center of Aix-en-Provence. An outdoor fireplace simply appears around a corner, or across a lawn, like magic: Its flames flicker at the day’s first hint of chill. As you sink into a nearby comfy chair and prop up your feet on an ottoman, you think, Oh, of course: the perfect place.
Planters on walkways and terraces and sitting areas overflow with seasonal flowers; just outside the nail salon, mint, rosemary, and lavender are grown specifically for the herbal foot scrub awaiting you inside, where antique shoes are framed on the walls. The estate’s co-owner, Angela Williams, bought those; she handpicks every furnishing for every room, from desks to pillows to paintings to bedside tables, during trips to Europe.
The same coffee counter where, at breakfast, you enjoy your granola while rocking on the porch, reading the paper, and gazing over a croquet lawn, switches to spirits by afternoon. A bar of some description is never far away. I counted at least three — indoors, outdoors, and next to a pool, where natural minerals, not chlorine, keep the swimming water fresh.
Shhh as you pass the yoga studio, where a class is in session; if you need something noisier, there’s the game room, with pool and poker and foosball and Wii and big screens. I prefer the privacy of my cottage room that feels like a tree house, with its big four-poster bed, and the bay window.
I also like the guy who’s cleaning the windowsills. Not the interior windowsills, the outside ones. I like coming upon a freezer full of complimentary Dove ice-cream bars, and the plump, velvet, gold-trimmed, doorknob-dangling mini-pillow that reads GO AWAY. Rustic elegance, indeed.
At Madison’s, the hotel’s fine restaurant with an Indian-gentleman’s-club feel, they ask me if I’d like some reading material. They ask me if I’d prefer a black napkin in case my white napkin isn’t lint-free. They bring me spicy buttermilk crackers whose consistency is somewhere between a cracker and a cookie, and, when asked, the printed recipe.
The inn has its own greenhouse and garden, where staff grows not only vegetables, but also edible pansies. Before me are braised rabbit legs in butternut-squash bisque with a bourbon-maple reduction. Halfway through the meal, the waiter (“I’ll be your wine navigator tonight”) mentions the double chocolate-and-bourbon soufflé served with chocolate anglaise, because it requires 20 minutes’ baking time. I know that power-of-suggestion trick; it works on me before I even know I’m full.
Everything about the Old Edwards Inn is designed for pleasure, charm, and however much relaxation, activity, or privacy you’d like to indulge in. Time to decide, then: rocking chair, leafy stroll, or golf round; Manhattan, pale ale, pedicure, or yoga pose; modern tree house, secluded cottage, or small historic bedroom; bacon-Cheddar cornbread or sun-dried tomato wheat roll. At Old Edwards, you can’t go wrong.
Even if you forget to fire up that heated floor.
Old Edwards Inn and Spa
445 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(866) 526-8008 or oldedwardsinn.com.