As we’ve recalibrated our lives, local getaways have risen to the forefront—and delightful places like The Wells Hotel have emerged from the fog.

I came to The Wells for a pandemic escape and to sample the culture of our close mountain neighbor near the Nantahala National Forest. Highlands reminds of a quaint Alpine village, a perfect weekend getaway in serene nature with abundant shopping and restaurants filling Main Street.

The Chandler Inn, a former Highlands mainstay less than a mile from downtown, changed hands in November 2019. Its new owner gave the inn a facelift in “mountain-chic Scandinavian style,” along with a name change. The renovation is equal parts woodsy and elegant, rustic and modern, perfectly homey but also appealing to city dwellers with a refined eye.

Each of the hotel’s 12 stylish suites, unique in character and layout, are appointed with luxurious linens, fine bath products, and Nespresso machines. Like a Danish dream, hardwood floors, modern furnishings, and monochromatic accents lend an airy feel, while picture windows bring the outside in. The larger suites have gas fireplaces (a fire in Highlands can always fit the bill, no matter the time of year) and small kitchen areas with a microwave and mini fridge. Many rooms are adjacent to an interior courtyard and have private sitting areas.

The lobby doubles as a gathering space and will evolve into a public café called The Stag Bar later this year. Until then, wine, coffee, and draft beer from local Cashiers spot Whiteside Brewery, a sister property of the hotel, are for guests’ enjoyment.

Spring is on its way, reminding of renewal—which is something we all could use these days. Take your beverage outside to sip by the fire pit. It is a perfect way to wind down or continue your evening in this charmer of a mountain town.


EAT

Four65 Woodfire Bistro + Bar / Neapolitan-style pizza is the star at this Main Street restaurant, though smoke and flame are the backbone of the menu’s Italian-driven dishes. 465 Main St, Highlands, NC. (828) 787-2990, four65.com

Mountain Fresh Grocery / For a hearty Southern breakfast, look no further than this popular spot, where you can sate your hunger with homemade biscuits, then shop for gourmet groceries. Don’t miss the fresh-baked doughtnuts. 521 Main St, Highlands, NC. (828) 526-2400, mfgro.com

The Ruffed Grouse Tavern / Tucked inside the new Highlander Mountain House, this stylish spot pays homage to field and stream. With a focus on regional produce, Chef Charles Hudson crafts inspired, seasonal dishes. 270 Main St, Highlands, NC. (828) 526-2590, highlandermountainhouse.com/the-ruffed-grouse-tavern

PLAY

Sunset Rock / This is a popular Highlands trail and birding area. Only a little more than half a mile to the top, you can settle into natural granite slabs in the rock to watch the sunset. Take a picnic or bottle of wine for an amplified experience. highlandhiker.com/sunset-rock-trail

SHOP

Downtown Highlands brims with boutiques, gift shops, and galleries. A few standouts include home-décor emporium Bardo, artsy gift and plant store Citizen Wilder, and Highlands Wine Shoppe, featuring tastings, accessories, and a vast selection of bottles. Bardo, 460 Main St, (828) 526-4020; Citizen Wilder, 219 S 4th St; Highlands Wine Shoppe, 269 Oak St, (828) 526-4080

The Wells Hotel, 790 N 4th St, Highlands, NC. (828) 482-7736, thewellshotel.com

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