A Retreat for Satisfying Spirit and Appetite
Edited by Sue Wasserman | Photos by Joye Ardyn Durham
Robert Rankin traveled to 47 properties on his journey to becoming an innkeeper. Rural Snowbird Mountain Lodge, located on the scenic Cherohala Skyway in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, was his final stop. He purchased the lodge in 1994 and says it has been “a mad love affair ever since.”
The view seduces immediately. Inviting porch rockers provide a front-row seat to a picture-postcard view of vast peaks and valleys, where ever-shifting fog, clouds and sun meet stationary mountains. The lodge’s oversized great room features hand-hewn chestnut beams, an immense assortment of books, and a stacked stone fireplace, flames crackling continuously in cooler weather.
“Most of us cram as much into a day as we can,” Rankin says. “Snowbird allows people to slow down, be quiet and find space for themselves.”
The inn’s rustic but elegant sensibility can be felt in the main lodge’s 15 guest rooms, each unique, each paneled with various woods milled in 1938 from the 100-acre property. Simply framed photos of the local flora bring the quiet beauty of the outdoors in. Guests who want more exclusive accommodations can choose from eight tastefully appointed rooms in Wolf Cottage or Chestnut Lodge, which include private hot tubs on the balcony.
Even if you’re not a morning person, you may want to set your alarm, grab a cup of coffee and follow the signs to Sunrise Point. The reward for your quarter-mile meander is the opportunity to watch daybreak paint a spectacular, one-of-a-kind canvas using the Smokies and neighboring Lake Santeetlah for a backdrop.
Leaf peeping is serious business here. “I believe our color rivals Vermont,” Rankin says. On cool evenings, he encourages guests to bundle up, grab their favorite beverage and sit outside in front of the roaring fire pit. On a clear night, the stargazing beats any planetarium.
Given on-site trails, tennis courts, assorted nooks and crannies for quiet or public gatherings and a much beloved restaurant (nightly rates include a hearty breakfast, tasty sack lunch and four-course dinner), some guests never feel the need to leave.
“Evening meals at Snowbird are a pampered affair, meant to be savored slowly,” says Rankin, who handpicks the inn’s wines with master sommelier John McCune. “Chef Frank insists that our entrees change daily. Few restaurants will go through the effort, let alone one sitting at the top of a mountain.”
Chef Frank is Francesco Davi, who grows or locally sources most of what he serves. The kitchen staff rolls its own pasta, bakes desserts daily and gathers fresh eggs from well-fed resident chickens. Cheese and charcuterie are aged in-house. Raised in New York and Italy, and influenced by his pastry chef father and private chef grandmother, Davi doesn’t hide his passion for Mediterranean-inspired flavors.
Just ask him about the locally caught trout. “It’s particularly light, flavorful and versatile, and a menu staple. A huge fan of Kalamata olives, having grown up in Italy, I love making tapenade, heavy on the extra-virgin olive oil. I spoon it on the trout, roast for about ten minutes and finish it with yogurt and tzatziki sauce.”
A stocked root cellar helps Davi maintain menu variety through the fall. Ramps, for example, picked and pickled in the spring, appear on the Bloody Mary bar. “Living here and cooking here is more intense than I expected, but I have become more passionate about food than ever.”
The region, with pristine forests, lakes, and streams, is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Guests are invited to use the inn’s fleet of bicycles, canoes, paddleboards and fly fishing equipment. “One of the places I love to send guests is Huckleberry Bald, about ten miles from here on the Cherohala Skyway,” Rankin says. “The 360-degree view from the top is stunning. After you catch your breath, you find it, too.”
For more information, visit snowbirdlodge.com or call 828.479.3433.