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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.