Tucked away on the Cataloochee Divide, nestled between Knoxville and Asheville, is a mountaintop, award-winning resort designed to whisk away all your worries. At The Swag, guests are invited to unwind, unplug and enjoy the view.
Originally built as a second family home by Dan and Deener Matthews in 1971, the main living room was constructed using logs from a Primitive Baptist Church in Tennessee, materials that date back to 1795. When the World's Fair came around in 1982, the couple transitioned the property into an inn.
Fast forward to 2011, when David and Annie Colquitt were looking for a nearby retreat for their short honeymoon. They were in graduate school and didn’t have a lot of time to spare. On the recommendation of Annie’s grandparents, who were friends with the Matthews, the newlyweds visited The Swag. The first seed of an idea was sown.
“We just fell in love with it,” Annie says. “We were only here two or three days, but it felt like a full, beautiful, restful vacation. It was so secluded, unique and intimate. It’s a haven on the mountain.”
They returned to The Swag a few more times, and there was the occasional conversation about what it might be like if the Matthews sold it to them. Would it be fun? Could they work in hospitality? Could this actually happen?
Years later, in 2018, the Matthews were in Knoxville visiting Annie’s grandparents, and word came down to David that if he was serious about buying The Swag, the time was now. Within hours, they had a handshake deal.
“David was looking for businesses to buy, but most of the businesses would be totally different and I wouldn’t be involved,” Annie says. “We were talking about making a major change, and then this came about as something we could to together. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Right away the Colquitts decided that The Swag didn’t need a full remodel. Part of its charm is the integrity of the building, its character and charm. They were cautious of too much change too quickly, particularly for the resort’s longtime guests. They decided to spend their first season of ownership settling in and getting to know the staff and guests, all while making mental notes about what needed tidying up, what needed replacing, and what was just fine as is.
“We think what makes The Swag special is the sense of community built between the guests, the staff and the owners,” David says. “It’s a 14-room property where dinner is served. We do hors d'oeuvres that foster relationships. Plus, there’s a natural beauty here. Knock on wood, we can’t mess that up.”
The Swag is all-inclusive, so mealtimes are opportunities to wow and treat each guest. Chef Jake Schmidt works with local farmers to create both traditional and modern dishes, while pastry chef Stephanie Hyzy, Gold recipient of The American Culinary Federation, specializes in gluten-free and vegan desserts.
“Breakfast is buffet-style with eggs made-to-order. Guests select their lunch the day before, which is picnic-style. They can take their lunches while hiking or enjoy them on the porch,” David says. “Barring dietary restrictions, dinner is a four-course meal. There’s always a fish option, red steak, poultry and vegetarian option.
“Wednesdays are my favorite,” he continues. “We have a big cookout buffet on Gooseberry Knob. The chef has a grill going with bison burgers, fried chicken, salads and sides, a whole dessert spread. It’s every Wednesday for lunch unless it rains, and then it’s just inside.”
While The Swag doesn’t have a full spa yet, it’s earmarked for the near future. Until that space is designated, guests can still enjoy a massage from a masseuse they keep on reserve. Other activities on the property include a racketball court, a library, board games and hiking. They also help guests plan outings to the Biltmore, museums and other excursions.
“We have event leaders who’ll come to stay and lead a hike or do something else that’s their area of expertise. We’ve had a photographer come and give instruction, a watercolor artist, a bear expert from Knoxville who gave a wildlife lecture. Birders, naturalists, people who know all about the Great Smoky Mountains,” Annie says. “But it’s not like summer camp. We have someone who comes every year to write. For him, he’s social during dinner but then retreats to write.”
The Colquitts' goals are to preserve The Swag while also creating new opportunities for guests, updating the decor, and bringing new life to the property.
“There’s a sense of exhaling when you come here,” David says. “Once you come up that unpaved driveway, you leave a lot of noise behind.”
The Swag closes the Saturday after Thanksgiving for the winter season and reopens mid-April. For more information, or to book a room for 2020, visit TheSwag.com.