“Would you like a glass of champagne?” While checking in to Old Edwards Inn & Spa (OEI) during a summer visit, I was so glad to hear that in spite of many changes that had been made in response to the pandemic, some things are still the same.
This visit to OEI was the first time I ventured out of Atlanta after months of self-isolation. I chose the Highlands, N.C., property because after years of visiting, I knew that I could drive there easily, and their standards would allow me to feel safe and relaxed. And OEI did not disappoint.
If you’re looking for a safe space in the mountains to relieve some of the built up stress that we’ve all experienced, read on to find out why I recommend a long weekend at OEI.
The Service. The staff at this property has always shined when it comes to service. But, this trip, they did something additional — the team made me feel safe. This began when I received a phone call prior to my trip confirming the visit and asking if I had any questions. It was a great opportunity for me to ask the agent questions about what restaurants were open in town and whether the room I’d selected had a mini-fridge.
I went into the trip feeling more comfortable, because I knew what to expect. From the moment I walked in the door to the main inn to check in, everyone was wearing a mask (and all guests are expected to wear masks, too), and it was clear that protocols had been put into place to minimize touching things like my credit card.
My temperature was taken when I arrived but also any time I entered one of the restaurants on the property. As for the bellmen who helped me get my bags to my room, they wore gloves. I was provided with a QR code to access the weekly OEI newsletter, which included information about what was open around the property, the fitness class schedule, and other details to help me plan my time at OEI.
Another touch that I noticed during this trip is that OEI had started using texts to communicate with guests during their stay. I received a text making sure that all was OK with my room, as well as a text when one of the restaurants on the property needed to close early one evening.
The Room. Since I was just coming out of self-isolation, I wanted a room option that felt as private as possible. OEI offers a variety of choices across its sprawling property, ranging from rooms in the main inn to cottages. For this visit, I reserved one of the Hickory King Rooms, as they’re tucked away around the pool area and offer their own secret gardenesque patios.
At a time when eating in restaurants was still new to me (and not all restaurants around Highlands were open — more about this in a bit), the patio offered a welcome alternative for al fresco meals.
The room itself was appointed with a massive cozy bed and arm chairs, as well as a bathroom with a fabulous deep soaking tub and Molton Brown toiletries – the chic yet cozy elements that make a stay at OEI so enjoyable. But, I also noticed the pandemic-friendly adjustments that had been made.
For example, the remote control was covered in plastic, and I was told that I could decline housekeeping if I wasn’t comfortable with people entering my room. When I wasn’t outside hiking or walking around town, it was the perfect spot for me to spend the majority of my getaway. (Because while I wanted to travel beyond Atlanta, my comfort level basically was set where I didn’t want to be out and about around many people.)
The Food. This trip was the first time I’d eaten inside of a restaurant since before the pandemic. My first night, I ventured into Four65 Woodfire Bistro + Bar. The hostess took my temperature, and then I sat at the bar, where the seats were positioned at an appropriate distance from one another.
As I enjoyed my delicious pizza and red wine, I felt completely at ease. The second night, I took advantage of the delivery service that the Ugly Dog Pub offered (one of my local favorites) to have a juicy burger and tater tots delivered to my room.
I also enjoyed lunch at the property’s beautiful Wine Garden and breakfast in Madison’s. Again, my temperature was always taken, tables were socially distanced, and servers did a great job of wearing a mask.
I do want to point out that things can be a bit unpredictable when it comes to finding a place to dine in Highlands during the time of the pandemic. For example, both Four65 and Ugly Dog Pub unexpectedly closed halfway through my visit (to reopen a few days later). Plus, if you didn’t make a reservation in advance, it could be challenging to get a table in a restaurant that was open.
My advice? Bring snacks – and wine – on your trip, so you have things to supplement a meal in your room. And look into things like making reservations, what time in-room dining is offered, and other details in advance. Taking the time to plan these things will help ensure that your getaway isn’t spoiled by dining challenges.
The Great Outdoors. One reason I love OEI is that I can walk out the door and begin one of my favorite hikes that wanders up Satulah Mountain. To get to the trailhead, you walk up a residential road that isn’t open to driving traffic by nonresidents.
Once you arrive at the trail, it’s about a 15-20 minute walk out to a clearing where you’ll get a breathtaking 360-degree view of mountains and valleys. Of course, this is just one of many hikes around the areas.
See our related story:
Best Southern Hotels Where We Always Feel Welcome
If you don’t mind hopping in the car, the Whiteside Mountain and Glen Falls trails are two of my other favorites. And although the gym was closed during my visit, the property also offered a variety of outdoor fitness classes and guided hikes.
Just want to sit outside and enjoy a good book? Know that there are plenty of socially distanced outdoor seating areas across the property designed for you to do just this.
– Amelia Pavlik, The Fit & Well Atlanta Belle