Refresh & Restore: Half-Mile Farm

As your car climbs up the curvy roads leading into Highlands, N.C., worries seem to wither away with every inch of elevation gained. This tiny town sits a few miles over the Georgia/North Carolina border, perched on a plateau at 4,100 feet that’s tucked neatly into the Nantahala National Forest portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While there are only a few thousand permanent residents in Highlands, come summer and fall, it swells with approximately 30,000 visitors, all beckoned by the afore-mentioned attitude-shifting altitude, the accompanying mountain scenery and abundant outdoor activities.

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Another draw is Half-Mile Farm and the serenity and comfy, casual yet elegant accommodations found there. Sitting on the banks of Apple Lake, Half-Mile Farm is just minutes from the main part of town, but it’s surrounded by 14 acres of forested peace and quiet, allowing this upscale country inn — and the illusion of seclusion it provides — to charm guests since 2001.

The property offers you an idyllic scene immediately upon arrival. A winding drive leads to a white, 1880s farmhouse, its deep porch dotted with rocking chairs overlooking the reflections of pointy evergreens quivering on the mirror-surfaced lake. Park behind the house and walk across a natural-stone courtyard to enter the “lobby,” actually the entry hall of the house. Your footfall on the wide-planked wood floors will alert one of the innkeepers to your presence so they can begin to wow you with warm hospitality and show you where you’ll be staying.

If you’ve never been, consider booking your spot now. But even if you have (lucky you), you should check it out again. In 2015, it was purchased by Old Edwards Hospitality Group, the company that also owns the historic Old Edwards Inn and Spa that fronts Main Street (and that consistently racks up awards and accolades from national travel media). While a few alterations and refurbishments were made when the OE folks first purchased it (furnishings and fixtures a got a total freshen-up), the most recent additions and embellishments were just completed a few months ago.

Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

One of the new additions is J. Henry Tavern. Right off the farmhouse’s entry hall, this cozy spot begs you to belly up to its copper-topped bar and nibble on tasty bar bites while sipping on expertly prepared cocktails (try the sweet and ginger-spiced Honeycomb).

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Another new space of note is the dining room. With three of its walls made of floor-to-ceiling windows, enjoying the two-course gourmet breakfast (included in your room rate) here is like eating in a treehouse. When weather permits, the “glass walls” all slide open, further enhancing the enchanting effect.

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The Rooms

Half-Mile Farm offers more room options than many properties its size. Upstairs in the original farmhouse, there are several historic rooms; more are in the two-story additions to the back of the house (that frame the courtyard) designed to look like natural extensions of the original structures. Every room at the property has a full, private bath and is individually decorated in a cozy, chic style with original art, lush linens and antique rugs in soft, neutral hues that fit the Appalachian setting. Some of the rooms have working fireplaces and balconies with views of the lake or into the surrounding woodlands. 

Woodland Suite bedroom.  Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

Woodland Suite bedroom. Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

Woodland Suites balcony.  Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

Woodland Suites balcony. Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

Across an expansive yard, three cabins are also available and can be rented in their entirety, as a cabin suite (with a bedroom, the kitchen and living area) or as single cabin rooms.The rustic structures have modern amenities (central heat and air, equipped kitchens, good water pressure) yet with rough-hewn log walls and exposed timber ceilings, they look old and authentic. And that’s because they are. They were built using the materials (walls, floors, doors) from several different mid-1800s mountain cabins that were taken apart and re-assembled onsite at Half-Mile Farm. 

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Cabin bedroom.  Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

Cabin bedroom. Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

The Extras Make the Experience

It’s often the little things that set a stay apart, and that’s the case at Half-Mile Farm. Things like staff who make you feel like family without being overbearing (and who welcome you with a glass of champagne at check-in). Or fresh-baked cookies and chilled bottled water available to grab and go all day.

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Or the afore-mentioned breakfast prepared by the inn’s Chef Jason Tardo that greets you every morning (at your leisure between 8 and 10 a.m.). Expect delights like fluffy and cheesy soufflé followed by a decadent bread pudding with fresh berries and maple sausages.

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Add Chef Jason’s hors ‘d oeuvres (selections like grapes enrobed in soft, tangy goat cheese before being rolled in chopped pecans or cherry tomatoes stuffed with herbaceous housemade boursin) served in the airy dining room warmed by the stacked stone fireplace each evening, and you get why Half-Mile Farm boasts a bevy of return guests.  

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Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

Photo courtesy of Half-Mile Farm.

While Half-Mile Farm is a great base camp for exploring the area and its multitude of adventure options (including the use of Old Edwards amenities like its golf course and the fitness center at Old Edwards Inn), you may find yourself so relaxed, you don’t want to do much more than float around in a canoe on the little lake or sit on the porch, soak up some fresh mountain air and disappear into a good book.

 

I Scream, You Scream

It's hot. I know I'm not telling you anything you don't know. But it is. And it's so steamy and sticky and sweltering, that it's worth saying again. But the cool, creamy treat we all scream for this time of year will refresh you from the inside out, so here are two of my favorites -- one an old standard and one a more recent discovery -- that you can make yourself (no screaming required). 

Peach Ice Cream

It’s not embellished, gussied up, garnished or infused with anything. It’s not fancy. There are no frills. It’s just plain ole peach ice cream (my mama's recipe), but far from being pedestrian, it's perfect in its simplicity. Combine sugar, ripe fruit, Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk (an icon of old-fashioned Southern desserts) and a tub of Cool Whip (yes, Cool Whip), pour into your ice cream machine, and a couple thousand spins of the dasher later, you’re left with a frozen delight full of pure peachy pleasure.

  • 3 small (5 ounce) cans PET evaporated milk

  • 1/2 of a 14 ounce can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk

  • 8 ounces Cool Whip

  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 7 medium to large peaches, peeled, chopped and mashed

  • whole milk (approximately 1/2 to 1 cup)

Mix all the ingredients except the milk together, folding in the Cool Whip last. Pour into a 4-quart  ice cream machine and add milk to the fill line. Freeze following your machine's instructions.

Sweet Cream Gelato

My brother whipped this up for the family over a 4th of July weekend a few years ago. We all agreed it doesn't have the texture that its name "gelato" implies; it has almost the same feel, just a bit airier, as regular homemade ice cream. But the taste was wholly different and delectable. Less sweet, but still satisfying. No fruity flavors, not even a hint of vanilla, but no blandness either, just the light, buttery simplicity of heavy cream and milk. The recipe came from allrecipes.com.

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 4 egg yolks

  • 1/2 sugar

In a medium saucepan, mix milk and cream. Warm until foam forms around the edges. Remove from heat. 

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until frothy. Gradually pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture gels slightly and coats the back of the spoon. If small egg lumps begin to show, remove from heat immediately.

Pour the mixture through a sieve or fine strainer into a bowl. Cover, and chill for several hours or overnight.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a sealed container, and freeze until firm. If the gelato is too firm, place it in the refrigerator until it reaches the desired consistency.