The Swag: It just keeps getting better

Some friends from Knoxville returned recently from a long weekend at The Swag, and we noticed a number of notable improvements to an already wonderful experience. We are told that even more upgrades are on the way.

From left, Phyllis Nichols, John Winemiller, R.J. Hinde, Jim Nichols and Alan Carmichael toast to a great weekend at The Swag.

The Swag, a breath-taking 250-acre property located just 90 miles from downtown Knoxville, truly is a magical place. At 5,000 feet above sea level, it’s usually about 10 degrees cooler there than in Knoxville. Alan and I try to go there during three seasons — spring, summer and fall — because every season at The Swag offers a totally different experience.

The Swag has only 18 unique accommodations, giving it a warm, intimate atmosphere. Something about it just allows guests to “breathe out” a little, no matter the stresses of their normal lives. Since 2020, The Swag has been a member of Relais + Chateaux, a collection of 580 properties around the world dedicated to “creating a better world through cuisine and hospitality.” How’s that for a motto?

A very good sign located at the entrance to the two-mile Swag Road that leads to the resort near Waynesville, N.C.

Our friends, Annie and David Colquitt, own The Swag, having purchased it in 2018 from original founders, Dan and Deener Matthews.

Changes this season include:

  • Open season lengthened. The resort is open this year until Dec. 10.
  • All buildings are now on generators, eliminating power outage issues.
  • A new vegetable garden, including mushrooms and bees for honey. According to David Colquitt, the logs for the mushrooms have been inoculated and will actually produce the mushrooms next season. “Our goal is to grow 50 percent of the consumed produce on site, with the remainder purchased locally,” Colquitt said.
  • New bathrooms on Gooseberry Knob. Water and power have been extended to the popular picnic area, located a quarter-mile from the main house, making proper restroom facilities possible. “It’s a small but important upgrade for anyone forced to use the old composting toilet,” Colquitt laughed. (As someone who has experienced both situations, I can tell you he is correct!)
  • Trinity Cottage, a newly remodeled three-bedroom cabin that formerly was the owners’ lodging, has opened to guests.
  • Kitchen expansion. Exterior work on the project was completed this past off-season. Next off-season will see completion of the kitchen’s new interior.  “More space will allow us to continue to elevate and enhance the food experience,” Colquitt said.

On the horizon for next year: The Swag will open earlier (March 8) and nearby Cataloochee Ranch also will be open by that time, giving Swag guests the opportunity to experience all that the ranch has to offer. (Cataloochee also is owned by the Colquitts.)

Looking out from the front porch of Swag House on a recent Saturday at 5 p.m. That black speck in the center of the photo is a little bird that had visited the feeders on the porch.

We stayed in a cottage called “Woodshed” this visit. It has an outdoor shower (in addition to an indoor one, thank goodness!), sauna and a porch literally inches from the border to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here’s Alan in “relax” mode.

Alan on the porch of “Woodshed.” That’s the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to his right.

Many of the cottages have fireplaces. The staff will help you get it started, if you’d like, and bring extra wood. Alan kept ours going.

Here are some tips from some experienced Swag visitors.

When you go to The Swag, try to be there on Wednesday or Saturday for the picnic lunch at Gooseberry Knob. You can hike the easy quarter-mile path to get there, or you can catch a lift on one of the Swag-branded Volvos.

John Winemiller, sitting, and Alan Carmichael waiting for the picnic at Gooseberry Knob. It’s an ever-changing beautiful view from up there. (Photo by Jim Nichols.)

The Swag’s Katelyn Gallamore starting a fire in the fire pit at Gooseberry Knob.

From left, Phyllis Nichols, Alan Carmichael and Jim Nichols waiting to be called to the buffet line at the picnic at Gooseberry Knob.

Lunch time! From left: Executive Chef Jake Schmidt preparing bison burgers, hot dogs and fish sandwiches (my order); deviled eggs, chips and other lunch accoutrements; salads; and desserts.

My plate. Makes me hungry just looking at it! That’s a specialty cocktail — blackberry lemonade — served with it.

One more look at that spectacular view from Gooseberry Knob.

One of the best parts of the Swag experience is the included exposure to a number of so-called “experts in residence” who come and stay for a week at a time. On this visit, Doug and Kathy Peters were there. He’s a lawyer from Atlanta who also is a talented singer-songwriter and an expert on hikes and other experiences at The Swag.

Alan Carmichael, left, and Doug Peters, one of the “experts in residence” during our visit. Doug and his wife, Kathy, took us on an easy hike to a sweet little area called “Dan’s Hideaway.”

Kathy Peters. We opted for the easy hike. But they also offer much more challenging experiences. (Personally, I’m not there for a challenge! Ha.)

Alan and our fellow hikers listening to Doug.

We made it to “Dan’s Hideaway.”

There’s also a handy hammock at the hideaway.

And this pretty little stream.

Doug pointed out so-called “bear corn” to us. It was used by Native Americans as a medicinal plant to treat things such as menopausal pain.

Many of Doug’s songs are about experiences in Appalachia and its environs.

There’s usually a complimentary tasting of some kind on at least one of the afternoons of your Swag visit. In our case, there was a beer tasting on one of the first days.

Here are the five we tasted. I normally am a wine drinker, so I learned a lot! Stephanie Sweeney, the director of dining services, led us through them. (She’s a hoot, by the way!)

I actually liked a few of them!

On a different day, Phyllis and I also took advantage of a wine tasting.

Now, that’s more like it!

If your stay at The Swag happens to include a Thursday night, you are in luck! That’s the day of the amazing barbecue buffet.

Chef Jeb Aldrich minding the grill at the barbecue buffet. He will be the executive chef at Cataloochee Ranch when it opens.

R.J. Hinde’s plate after a run through the buffet line.

A band called Hill Country has been performing at The Swag for over 30 years! They played the night of the barbecue when we were there. I’ll put a snippet of their performance at the end of this blog post.

Phyllis and Jim Nichols with Doug Peters, right. Phyllis was documenting Hill Country.

The food at the The Swag is something else. It’s not fussy so-called “tweezer food,” but it’s definitely special. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, a cookie break at 3 p.m. and hors d’oeuvres at 6 p.m. Plus, if you want, s’mores at the fire pit after dinner! Suffice it to say, you will not go hungry!

A couple of breakfast items. Avocado toast, at top, and my go-to order, Mexican scramble, at bottom.

Every evening you get to choose from a beef dish, seafood option, poultry or vegetarian, in addition to an amuse-bouche, soup, a second course and dessert. Wine pairings are available for $85, an option I highly recommend.

I absolutely love their soups.

Here’s creamy celery root soup with rye croutons and cashews. Yum-yum.

Bartender Raven Grant presenting the dry Riesling, with which it was paired.

Scallops with pea puree, wild mushrooms and nori brown butter. Delish paired with a Chablis.

The Swag’s signature “cookies and cream” dessert paired with a Madeira.

Even though Alan did not order the wine pairings, he did enjoy a glass of that Madeira!

So, that’s just an example of the yumminess that is the food at The Swag.

Plus the cookie break!

Thanks again to Stephanie Sweeney, director of dining services, left, and Sandra Lankford, dining services supervisor, for the over-the-top dining fun!

So, there you have it! Our group hopes to see you there sometime soon! From left, Jim Nichols, me, Alan Carmichael, Phyllis Nichols, R.J. Hinde, Kathy Peters, John Winemiller, and Doug Peters.

Here’s a tune from Hill Country:

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7 Responses to The Swag: It just keeps getting better

  1. Alan Carmichael, on May 22nd, 2023 at 1:28 pm said:

    The Swag just keeps getting better and better.

  2. Mary Ellen Brewington, on May 22nd, 2023 at 2:29 pm said:

    One of the most magical places on earth! I’m feeling some FOMO but loving your pictures.

  3. Phyllis Y. Nichols, on May 22nd, 2023 at 2:38 pm said:

    Thanks for capturing The Swag so perfectly and for not showing my plate! The food, the hospitality of the staff, the accommodations and Mother Nature are why we’ll be back in October. Annie and David have created a very special place even more enjoyable with friends!

  4. Wayne Christensen, on May 22nd, 2023 at 2:59 pm said:

    Luved this! Cynthia, could you please send me just the music in some form?

  5. Cynthia Moxley, on May 22nd, 2023 at 3:39 pm said:

    Alan, Mary Ellen and Phyllis: Totally agree!

    Wayne: Will do.

  6. Sara pinnell, on May 22nd, 2023 at 4:42 pm said:

    Fomo here as well Mary Ellen!!

  7. Betty Sue Sparks, on May 22nd, 2023 at 11:46 pm said:

    Cynthia, thanks for the reminder. It’s time to return! Even though we have a cabin in Waynesville, we love to visit the Swag at least once a year. It is at the top of our list for relaxation, good food, and fellowship. We always make new friends and enjoy lively conversations on the porch. Our souvenir hiking sticks are excellent reminders of celebrations through the years. It’s a special place.

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