Most folks know if you want to hide out and hibernate, you head to Highlands in the dead of winter. But summer is the time to join the lively party of big city ex-pats and escapees who create a seasonal spike in the town’s population year after year. Surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest and appointed with high-end offerings, Highlands is a yin and yang of lush and plush.
PLAY For perspective on just how scenic this town is, take a hike to Sunset Rock in Revenel Park. This enormous swath of granite overlooking Main Street and the surrounding peaks is an ideal place to spread a blanket and crack open a picnic basket. The round-trip walk along Sunset Park Drive is just more than a mile. To continue the nature ramble, cross Horse Cove Road to reach Highlands Botanical Garden for shaded winding paths and a tutorial on native species identified by signage along the way. Getting there: From downtown, take Main Street east to Horse Cove Road. Park at the foot of Sunset Park Drive on the right, opposite Highlands Nature Center.
EAT Wild Thyme Gourmet Restaurant is one of those rare places where the words sophisticated and sandwich belong in the same sentence. Two standouts on the menu are the open-faced chèvre sandwich with fig relish and walnuts and the sliced beef loin with roasted Portobello mushroom and horseradish herb spread. There’s also salmon and puff pastry with snap peas and lemon-dill-caper cream sauce. Dinners are equally luscious, and a nine page wine list is available noon or night. If the server tempts you with panna cotta with berry coulis for dessert, don’t resist. It’s dreamy. 343 Main St.; (828) 526-4035; www.wildthymegourmet.com
SHOP Just a few steps into Dutchman’s Designs and this playful and prismatic den of décor will lighten your mood. You’ll want to pick up one of the many cookbooks, such as Home Made Summer or The Gardener & The Grill, and plop down in a comfy chair under a vignette of twinkle lights and mason-jar luminaries hung from cut branches. Be sure to explore both floors of goodies, where you’ll find owl wine corks, wicker picnic baskets, shabby-chic armoires, bath and body products, and more. 342 Main St.; (828) 526-8864;www. dutchmansdesigns.com
STAY Once a private home, Main Street Inn has spent the majority of its 132 years welcoming guests. All 20 rooms are dressed in crisp white. Each exudes its own personality through historic details, whether its a bay window, sawmill beams, or a stone chimney. If you’re lucky, Morgan, owner Debbie Garner’s friendly corgi, will greet you at check-in. 270 Main St.; 1-(800) 213-9142; www.mainstreet-inn.com
While You’re There
Listen Up: The Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival includes performances by Eroica Trio, Vega String Quartet, and the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet. Concerts through August 11; h-cmusicfestival.org
The Latest: Get your fresh juice or smoothie fix at Whole Life Market’s new bar. 680 N. Fourth St.; (828) 526-5999
Signature Souvenir: Pick up a jar (or three) of the delicious spicy-sweet three-pepper jam made with an old Highlands recipe at The Hen House. 488 Main St.; (828) 787-2473