Category: Articles

Janet Rock has recently retired after 28 years as the official staff botanist for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park Service’s loss is The Swag’s gain! Throughout her long career Janet monitored rare plants, helped inventory the park’s biodiversity, and conducted pioneering research on plants of concern such as ginseng, ramps, and mosses. Lately she has become intrigued with the abundant and incredibly diverse mushrooms of the southern Appalachian Mountains. She’s eager to share her newfound knowledge with Swag guests!

Because The Swag is situated at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet, its nearby trails offer a wide variety of wildflowers from March into November. Hikes to Hemphill Bald and Purchase Knob are especially rewarding for wildflower and mushroom enthusiasts.

Janet will be accompanied by her husband, Steve Kemp, who also had a long career with the Smokies, but he as a writer, editor, and publisher for the park. He is a regular contributor to Smokies Life Magazine and is the author of several books, including Trees of the Smokies, Great Smoky Mountains Impressions, and, most notoriously, Who Pooped in the Park? Steve compliments Janet’s vast botanical knowledge with his ‘color commentator’ wit, and can also share his knowledge of birds, trees, park conservation issues, and history.

Janet and Steve will be leading hikes of 2-5 miles and presenting informative programs at The Swag. We are thrilled to have them share their vast knowledge with our guests season after season and hope you’ll come join us.


Category: Articles

We are excited to welcome Scott Dean as an Expert-in-Residence at The Swag. Scott will lead hikes and share his knowledge of the flora and fauna encountered on the trail. In the evenings he’ll lead presentations sharing the biodiversity, climate, mammals and more of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as share some of his photography while enjoying nature in all of our seasons.

Scott grew up in the coal fields of southwest VA, and southern WV in the Allegheny Provence of the southern Appalachians. As a child he loved nothing more than spending time with his Grandmother from whom he learned the uses of the plants both for medicine and food, and the folk tales regarding the origins of common names, stories from the Cherokee and Shawnee nations about the plants and animals. These stories are among his favorite things to share with people in his programs.

He spent 21 years in the U. S. Air Force, retiring in 1991, and moved to the Asheville area in early 1992, specifically to study Biology at the University of North Carolina Asheville where, after the professors saw that he was willing to work at being a student, he was allowed to build his major into a study of the southern Appalachians – flora, fauna, geology, and weather. He was a featured speaker and walk leader for UNCA’s Wildflower Pilgrimage for 20 years, a featured speaker at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, led walks for the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, and built the Cougar and Bobcat habitats at the WNC Nature Center in Asheville.

He developed the original Botany, Zoology, and Ecology curricula for the Blue Ridge Naturalist Program which is now offered at the NC Arboretum in Asheville – a program of which he is extremely proud, and for which he still teaches field Flora identification. In addition, he founded a small nature oriented company, Western North Carolina and leads walks here, in the mountains and, with his photography, does speaking programs for interested organizations.

Scott is a popular and in demand speaker, known for his photography as well as his informative and entertaining presentations. When not out in the woods with a group he can generally be found there with his wife, friends and his dogs.

We are proud at The Swag to have such a wonderful group of Experts-in-Residence, and we are grateful to have Scott join our line-up amongst all the other activities he’s involved in. If you’re looking to immerse yourself into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we hope you will consider coming to visit him at The Swag.

-David Colquitt

Category: Articles
We count ourselves blessed to have some of the best neighbors you could ask for, most notably The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With over 500,000 acres, it is the most visited national park in the country, with more than 14 million people visiting the Smokies last year alone!
However, unlike most other national parks, there is no entrance fee. And while it is wonderful that all can experience the National Park at no cost, there are many needs that cannot be met with federal funds alone.
That is where the Friends of the Smokies comes in. As the official fundraising partner for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Friends raise dollars to fund projects and programs that would otherwise not be possible, including trail rehabilitation and historic preservation in Cataloochee Valley and throughout the Park.
For over 25 years, The Swag has hosted a “Friends Weekend” where supporters join for a few days of fun and information on the edge of the National Park, and The Swag founders, Dan & Deener Matthews, have been involved since the organization’s founding.
To help mark Giving Tuesday (November 29), we are encouraging our friends to help contribute to the Friends of the Smokies and our beloved National Park.
The Swag and Cataloochee Ranch will be matching all contributions received, up to $15,000! We are proud, and blessed, to be able to help support our wonderful neighbor and invite you to consider making a contribution here.
Category: Articles

Did you know The Swag started a Pinterest account this year? Whether you are looking for interior design images, planning a trip, or creating a style board for your wedding, we have pinned some of our favorite images from The Swag to inspire you! We also pinned some of our favorite makers whose products we use at The Swag, artists whose work is featured on property, travel articles that mention The Swag, and images from some of Annie and David’s other favorite Relais & Chateaux properties. Check it out and give us a follow, then let us know in the Pinterest comments if there are other boards you would like to see on the page. 


Click here for our Pinterest page!

Category: Articles

To commemorate The Swag’s 40th anniversary in 2022, we partnered with Colby Sexton of West Ashe, to capture video of Dan and Deener Matthews, the founders and visionaries who built The Swag, sharing stories of how this special place came to be. We are grateful to Dan and Deener for sharing their stories, but even moreso, for the place they created. We hope you enjoy this 20-minute short film.




Category: Articles

Today marks the 67th Anniversary of Relais & Châteaux, so David and I thought we would take the opportunity to share why we are so proud to be part of the Relais family.

The Relais & Châteaux vision is  to make “a better world through cuisine and hospitality” through twenty commitments, including three key initiatives:

  • To preserve the diversity of cuisine and hospitality in the world so that future generations can know and share in their richness
  • Share our passion for all that is good and beautiful in this world
  • To work together to create a more humane world

Even before we were in the hospitality industry, we sought out Relais & Châteaux properties when planning special getaways. You might have heard that we honeymooned at The Swag, but we have celebrated other family milestones at Relais properties. David proposed at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, and we learned we were expecting our first child on an anniversary trip to The Inn at Dos Brisas in Texas!

Couple walking grassy knob at The Swag, a Relais & Châteaux property

We look to Relais & Châteaux when planning our travel because of the consistent qualities we came to expect in member properties. Each property is independent and operated by passionate hoteliers and chefs committed to a high level of service, environmental sustainability, and preserving the authentic culture, cuisine, and hospitality of their location. Whether your are visiting a Relais property in Napa, Paris, Botswana, or Argentina, you can expect a distinctive and unique experience that is true to place. Each Relais property provides outstanding service and the highest quality hospitality, but they each carry their own unique flavor.

This value of authenic hospitality and preserving local culture is central to The Swag. When you stay with us at The Swag, we want every detail from the architecture, the cuisine, the music, the interior design, and the artwork to immerse you in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The natural beauty and history of the Smoky Mountains is rich, and we strongly believe in the importance of preserving this place and passing down knowledge for future generations.

We also believe in the value of sharing the good and the beautiful, as well as the importance of working together to create a more humane world. At The Swag, we are committed to supporting our employees, our community, and our environment. In our short time in the Relais family, we can already say that we are learning and improving. We have learned from other Relais members about new sustainability initiatives and resources in hospitality, ways to improve our workplace for our team, and been connected to a network of talented and passionate hospitality experts.

We would love to see you at The Swag soon, but whenever — and wherever — you are travelling, whether in the United States or abroad, Relais & Châteaux includes 580 unique properties in vibrant cities and beautiful landscapes across the planet. The Relais & Châteaux app is a great way to start exploring and planning your next adventure. We wish you wonderful travels and hope we get to see you soon!

-Annie Colquitt, Proprietor

Category: Articles

Note:  Procedures and policies for the 41st season starting in April 2022 will be established closer to our opening date.

Since the onset of the coronavirus, we have updated our procedures to help minimize the health risk to our guests and our team. As vaccines have become widely available and restrictions have been lifted in North Carolina and across the country, we are continually assessing and updating our procedures. Please see below for the latest information on our approach. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us for more information.

Please note: The below list is not exhaustive and details could change as circumstances and state requirements evolve. Please reach out to Guest Services with any questions or concerns.

General Safety and Prevention

  • If you are displaying any symptoms or have been exposed to anyone with the virus in the last 14 days, you may be asked to leave the property. We also encourage those at higher risk for severe illness to take all extra precautions, including delaying your trip if necessary.
  • Face Coverings – North Carolina lifted its indoor mask mandate and related restrictions effective May 13, 2021. We are not requiring or asking that guests wear masks on property.  Of course, guests and Team Members are welcome to wear face coverings if they choose to do so.
  • Vaccinations – We are encouraging all to obtain the vaccine, and The Swag is incentivizing all Team Members to do so with a financial reward. However, to protect the personal privacy of staff members, it is The Swag’s policy that Team Members not disclose whether they — or others — have been vaccinated. We will not be asking guests to disclose whether they have received the vaccine, but we encourage all to follow the CDC recommendations, which provide that a face covering should be worn if you have not been vaccinated.
  • If a guest or team member is displaying coronavirus symptoms, they may be asked to leave the property.

Dining at The Swag

  • Guests may request their preferred dining options, including (1) indoor dining, (2) outdoor dining (weather permitting), and (3) in-room dining. There will be no added charge for in-room dining.
  • Our traditional buffets (Sunday Brunch, Wednesday Picnic, and Thursday BBQ) will continue in slightly altered form. We will invite guests to the serving tables to ensure six-foot distancing between parties and our dining team will plate the food.

Housekeeping & Cleaning

  • To accommodate personal preferences related to Team Members entering your room, we will tailor housekeeping procedures to meet your comfort level.
Category: Articles

With more time being spent at home these days, this could be the year to tackle a new challenge and begin composting food waste to improve your soil.

For those interested in starting their own compost pile, Swag Team Member Jill Metterhausen (also a master gardener) shares her experience and knowledge below.

Composting is a process that controls the decomposition and transformation of biodegradable material into a humus-like substance. As we start gearing up to plant our summer gardens, adding compost to your beds is one of the best steps you can take for better soil health and plant growth. It replaces nutrients in the soil that were likely depleted from last year’s production.

But, how can you set up your own compost? There are two ways to do it, depending on the amount of effort you’d like to put into it.

Slow (cold) composting is the simplest way to compost, but takes a greater amount of time to achieve the soil you desire – about a year. You can simply gather leaves and sprinkle them with water in a pile or bin, and they will decay on their own. Food scraps can be added, but must be buried deep so they are out of reach of pests. Weed seeds and pathogens will likely survive.

Fast (hot) composting will produce a higher quality of compost in less than half the time, but requires more effort. A pile needs a balance of organic materials, moisture, and oxygen to support microorganisms that will heat the pile to 140˚-150˚. At these temperatures, most weed seeds and pathogens will be killed. You must aerate your pile, check temperature and moisture levels within your pile, and be sure to get the right mixture of materials. This is the method we use at The Swag.

Fast composting can be done in a pile or bin, but the size is important for maintaining heat. It should be 27 cubic feet – 3 feet wide, deep and tall. Set it up in a convenient location that is over 6 feet away from your home or other wooden structures, ideally far away from the vegetable garden, and in a shaded location to help retain moisture. There are two basic styles of fast composting:

  • A Single Batch composting system is where materials are added all at once to form a pile.
  • Alternatively, a Continuous Pile is where organic materials are added as they become available.

If you were to Google options for compost bins or structures, you will find an overwhelming amount of options. At The Swag, we use the continuous pile style in a large three-bin compost system. In the first month, we will add all ‘brown’ and ‘green’ scraps to the first bin. In the second month, we will move that pile to bin two to aerate and mix. All new scraps will be added to bin one. In the third month, we will move bin two to bin three to repeat the process, bin one to bin two and start over in bin one. At this point, you’ll notice the breakdown of scraps starting to look more like healthy soil in bin three.

To start your compost pile, add 4-5 inches of carbonaceous materials (browns) then 2-3 inches of nitrogenous materials (greens), and continue to alternate layers. Water each layer thoroughly to ensure that moisture is evenly distributed. You could toss in a handful of soil to introduce more microorganisms. Top with browns to keep out flies and other pests, and provide a filter for odors.Examples of ‘Browns’ to add are: 

  • Examples of ‘Browns’ to add are: brown leaves, newspaper, straw, cardboard, hay, dryer lint, cotton balls and swabs, and bark. 
  • Examples of ‘Greens’ to add are: small amounts of grass clippings, vegetables, fruit, coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells, seaweed, and vegetarian livestock manures.
  • Examples of what NOT to add: Never add anything to your compost that has been treated with a chemical pesticide, diseased or insect infested plants, weeds with invasive roots, heavily coated paper, wood ash, thorny stems.

If you don’t turn the pile as often as you’d like, don’t worry, it will continue to compost, just on a more delayed schedule. We have emptied our compost from last season into all of our raised beds to prepare for our growing season and look forward to producing more fresh and unique produce for your dining experience!

Written By: Jill Metterhausen, Master Gardner


Source: North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook
Published by NC State Extension, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, NC State University
North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook
January 2018

Category: Articles

I know that many of our loyal Swaggers are longing for the crisp spring air, budding wildflowers, and views through leafless trees toward the mountains. While you may not be able to make it up to The Swag this weekend, we can all visit the Great Smoky Mountains through the magic of reading.

The region’s beauty and history inspired many wonderful works of fiction and nonfiction. Here are three of my suggestions for those of you looking for a mountain escape.

Note: The below links are to Amazon but we’d also encourage you to see if your local book store is offering delivery during this time.

Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell

Many of our Swag guests visit Cataloochee valley in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to view elk, walk the trails, or explore the historic structures in the valley. Local author Wayne Caldwell weaves a layered tale of families’ dreams and drama that spans multiple decades and generations in the Cataloochee Valley. His novel will give you a richer appreciation for what life in the valley would have been like before the formation of the national park. If you like it, check out the sequel, Requiem by Fire.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

One of the prominent peaks in the view from The Swag’s porch is that of Cold Mountain. Charles Frazier’s bestselling novel by the same name is an epic love story set during the American Civil War in Western North Carolina. I recently reread this one (it was published over twenty years ago now) and it made me cry again! If you’re feeling lazy, you can also just stream the award winning film based on the book. I fondly remember seeing it in theaters with my grandmother, who covered my eyes for all the scenes with nudity (and there are a few!)

Women of The Smokies: No Place for the Weary Kind by Courtney Lix

This nonfiction work tells the stories of nineteen remarkable women who lived in the Smokies. From legendary hikers, to early settlers, to Dolly Parton, their stories are inspiring. I am halfway through this one currently, but I have loved learning about the lives of these tough, persevering women. Reading about Lydia Whaley’s difficulties scratching out a life in the mountains as a Civil War widow really puts my current frustrations about the availability of toilet paper at the grocery store into perspective. Learning about Cherokee artists Lottie Stamper and Amanda Swimmer’s stories remind me of the deep value of creating something beautiful and useful, and they inspire me to get up and make something with my hands while I have more time at home.

Also, check out this sampling of just some of the many wonderful books authored by our Experts-in-Residence, Musicians, and more:

There are many more great books about The Swag’s region, and we would love to hear what your favorites are! Please chime in on our Facebook page and let us know what books you recommend about life in the mountains.

Happy Reading!

-Annie Colquitt

Category: Articles

We are extremely pleased to announce that The Swag is joining the 580 hotels and restaurants around the world as a member of Relais & Châteaux. For nearly sixty years, this association has brought together properties that are committed to offering unparalleled hospitality in unique places.

As described on its website, “The experiences one has at Relais & Châteaux properties give one the feeling of total immersion in a place and its culture, allowing them to be discovered from up close with all that they have to offer. The attentiveness and sincerity of our team give you a sense of enjoyment that comes paired with respect for every person’s privacy, all through a warm and privileged relationship.” It is to this level of service, hospitality, and authenticity that we will all continue to aspire each day.

Speaking personally, some of our very best trips and meals have been at Relais & Châteaux properties, whether it is with our “neighbors” at Blackberry Farm or Old Edwards Inn and Spa, or farther away in Santa Fe (Inn of the Five Graces), Colorado (Dunton Hot Springs), California (Meadowood), or beyond. Simply put, the other properties in the association are among our favorite places in the world. To be joining this association is a testament to the hardworking team at The Swag, Dan and Deener Matthews, and to you, our loyal guests.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be working on integrating our systems, which will include launching a new website with a new booking system that is much more user friendly.

We are deeply honored to be joining this association and welcome the challenge that it brings to continue pursuing excellence and improvement in all that we do while retaining who we are at The Swag.

-Annie & David Colquitt