Nestled at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, between Greenville and Asheville, is the perfect weekend getaway. The Travelers Rest moniker comes from pioneer days when travelers followed a trail dotted with the occasional tavern or inn. Long gone are the just-passing-through days, as not only does it now offer tranquil, comfortable lodgings, but also energizing outdoor activities such as golf, fishing, hiking, and world-class cycling.
As we turned onto the Road of Vines to approach the jewel that is Hotel Domestique, the beautiful view could easily be of a chateau in Europe. This property is the inspiration of the legendary cyclist George Hincapie. In competitive road cycling, a domestique is the cyclist who supports the higher ranking members of the team, cycling in front to allow a team member to ride in one’s slipstream, acting as a pacemaker, and protecting the leader from oncoming assaults from competitors.
George was a key domestique for Lance Armstrong. He chose this region as his training arena for its similarity to familiar Alpine hills in Europe. He now shares his passion with guests, who can sign up for training and excursions with him and his crew. While the property has become a base camp for elite cyclists, cycling adventures are easily accommodated for all levels of riders. Chad Greenwood, the on-site mechanic, will take your measurements and find the perfect bike from their finely tuned high-end fleet.
General Manager Eric Poovey greeted us warmly, taking my briefcase from my hand as Vincy from guest services presented me with a glass of sparkling wine. Five-star service is part of this five-star hotel. My eyes glided over every inch of the elegant lobby decor, taking in its rustic architecture with exposed stone walls, hardwood columns, and ironwork staircase contrasting exquisitely with the contemporary, relaxed furnishings and extraordinary art. With just 13 rooms and roaring fireplaces, it gives a vibe of an intimate, cozy castle, which creates an ideal events venue.
We were escorted to our room, where we found a lit fireplace, luxuriously dressed four-poster bed, and a balcony with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While we could not imagine ever wanting to leave, Grace Leavitt, guest services manager extraordinaire, had put together an itinerary that took us to downtown Travelers Rest that afternoon.
We first stopped at The Carolina Honey Bee Shop, owned by a family that had been keeping bees for generations. They offer an array of raw and unpasteurized honey varieties to sample and purchase, everything needed to start and maintain hives, Italian hybrid honeybee packages, and beginner and advanced beekeeping classes. A few steps away, we came to another family-owned business, Copperhead Distillery. John, the owner, and his daughter, Megan, welcomed us like old friends and gave us a history of moonshine in the area. The complimentary shots of varying flavors took on special meaning that day as we joined in celebrating Copperhead Distillery’s sixth anniversary. What a happy place!
The afternoon flew by, and we hurried back to make our 7 p.m. reservations at the hotel’s Restaurant 17, so named for George’s 17 professional races. Chef Haydn Shaak prepared a meal sourced almost entirely from nearby farms and streams. Each day’s offerings depend on the availability of ingredients and the inspiration they provide to his progressive approach to cuisine. I was shocked at how delicious the catfish was after being persuaded to order it by Sam, our server. It was served with Carolina golden grits and turnips poached in whey, with a watercress finish. As for Paul, my husband, I later apologized for the look I gave him when he ordered a burger from this innovative menu that includes Coeur de Manzo, striped bass crudo, foie gras, and New Zealand lamb — just to name a few — all prepared in a creative, seasonally influenced way. Complemented with mushrooms, smoked cheddar, Benton’s bacon, and a secret sauce, it was, however, undeniably the best burger he had ever tasted. For dessert, we had vanilla cream orange tart and grapefruit macaroons with pistachio and grapefruit syrup.
A private yoga session with Karina at 8 a.m. began my next morning at Hotel Domestique. Her melodious voice and gentle touch were transforming, and the calming of my mind lasted throughout my day.
Breakfast at Restaurant 17 consisted of handmade biscuits topped with perfectly poached eggs and local sausage covered with hollandaise sauce, served with roasted root vegetables, fresh orange juice, and exceptional coffee, while we enjoyed a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
For lunch we went to Sidewall Pizza, and I was impressed by their innovative flavor combinations. Their dough and sauce are made in-house, as is their homemade ice cream, made with local milk and featuring a different flavor daily. They also have draft and bottled craft beers, well-paired wines, and natural, cane sugar sodas.
After just a short walk along these charming streets, we came to Sunrift Adventures Outdoor Shop, where visitors can rent hiking, biking, kayaking, and general outdoor gear as well as the proper outfit for a specific adventure. Conveniently located across from this shop is the famous Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile walking or biking greenway that connects Travelers Rest with Greenville.
That evening we returned to Restaurant 17, where Chef Shaak had prepared a special four-course dinner paired with a bottle of County Line Pinot Noir. We began with a local strawberry salad topped with house ricotta and Champagne caviar, followed by a Hickory Nut Gap pork belly served with Anson Mills Sea Island red peas, cauliflower slaw, and a sunny-side up egg. The main course consisted of Brasstown, North Carolina, rib eye and Coast of Carolina striped bass with smoked marble potatoes, braised greens, and roasted root vegetables. For dessert, we enjoyed a strawberry madeleine cake made with Hickory Bluff Farm strawberries, fresh whipped cream, and crème anglaise.
While we never found the time to enjoy the Paris Mountain trails and Tandem Creperie or to drive any of the BMWs made available to guests of this special place, we will forever hold fondest memories of the domestiques dedicated to serving every guest with the finest of care.