Are you ready for a change of scenery from the family room, kitchen and the bedroom? Want some fresh air someplace other than your backyard?
We’ve got you covered.
With the gradual reopening of our country, travel possibilities are again on the radar. For those of us not yet ready to fly, driving trips seem to be our best option. While I’m not ready for a cross country trip, somewhere off the grid (which I love anyway) that feels safe and is nearby punches my ticket. Following are a few spots I recommend.
The Swag, Waynesville, N.C.
At 5,000 feet above sea level, this rustic piece of paradise is one of my favorite domestic destinations. The Swag perches so high that the clouds seem within reach. The thousands of years-old mountains wear them like boas.
It’s a place that fills my soul.
When I say rustic, don’t think of some ram shack sort of place. The Swag is all inclusive with three gourmet meals daily. Accommodations are luxurious. Guests may choose a room in the main house, or one of the cabins. I prefer the cabins. My last stay was in a cabin with a living room, spacious bedroom, two fireplaces and a magazine photo perfect outdoor shower.
This is a place to do much, or little, and enjoy it tremendously. The property opens to the Great Smoky Mountains, with hiking trails galore. It opens its 39th season in mid-June, postponed from its usual April date. It’s acclaimed by Conde’ Nast as the number one resort in the South.
This season offers outdoor or indoor dining, socially distanced tables, servers wearing masks and gloves. North Carolina distilled hand sanitizer is abundant, both in common areas and accommodations. With rocking chairs and porches, and even some screen doors that slap, The Swag offers the best of times, even now in the worst of times.
Hiking trails provide peaceful isolation. They, like the mountains themselves, take social distancing to new levels.
Under Canvas, Great Smoky Mountains
If you’ve taken a safari excursion in Africa, or like I, long dreamed of doing so, this camp is a tantalizing appetizer for the main event. While you won’t see lions and elephants or giraffes, the camp is fashioned from African safari tents and camps. Do not for one minute envision tents from an outdoor store. These are the real deal. Expansive, luxurious, beautifully furnished, ensuite bathrooms complete with a shower, sink and flushing toilet.
This is by no means roughing it. This is “glamping at its best”.
Under Canvas camps are located at the edge of many national parks including Zion, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and Glacier. And we have one right up the road, just at the entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park.
Ten miles from Gatlinburg, the camp is nestled on 182 acres of lush, wooded terrain. This is fresh air, adventure and luxury all rolled into one. The expansive tents even have daily housekeeping and king size beds with a window above for star gazing. Linens are luxurious, as are the bath amenities.
Added this season are hand sanitizers, not only for the tent, but at stations throughout the camp. Cots are available for children. Every tent has a private deck outfitted with lounge chairs.
Under Canvas offers adventure aplenty be it hiking in the Park, zip lining, whitewater rafting, driving tours, fly fishing and Jeep safaris.
The camp is ideally social distanced. Tents have no connected duct work, each stands alone, check-in is by sanitized touch screen (cleaned after each arrival), pick up food is available to be relished on your personal patio or deck.
While it’s not the Kenya trip I had planned for this summer, Under the Canvas offers a fine substitute.
St. George Island, Florida
Situated on a 22-mile barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, this is off the grid beaching at its best. Dubbed the Forgotten Coast, the sugar white sands and emerald waters are as pristine and fetching as 30-A, just without the crowds, parties and high rises.
There’s not one high rise on the island. Not one. Even in pre-Covid times, beaches were never crowded. Most restaurants have outdoor seating.
Like Robert Frost, I always choose the road less traveled. St. George fits my bill.
In addition to sand and sun, venture out to pristine marshes to see extraordinary wildlife. Rent a kayak, boat, bike, (trails aplenty), or charter a captained deep-sea fishing excursion. I’m told the fishing is great here; I haven’t explored that option myself. But plenty of folks bring home dinner from these waters.
One of my favorite things is to visit is the St. George Island Park on the east end of the island. Huge dunes wearing sea oats, trails, paths and boardwalks are my kind of quarantine.
Island accommodations include villas, cottages, old Florida beach houses and million- dollar homes within a gorgeous gated community on the west end of the Island. The latter reminds me of Hilton Head, South Carolina. I’ve stayed right on the beach in an old Florida house, a spectacular home in the Plantation (the posh gated area), and a condo on the east end.
I loved them all.
And here’s the thing; you have your own house. You’re not wedged into high rises with common areas so there are no social distancing issues. Each short-term rental is sanitized before and after each stay.
Another of my favorite things is a visit to Apalachicola, a small town of historic homes with white picket fences and a “downtown” of historic brick buildings. No skyscrapers here. This area is famous for its oysters; simply divine. A must eat. Restaurants and shops populate the old village; one would assume at least some are re-opened now.
And there’s a real grocery store here; the island offers only a few markets and fresh off the boat seafood.
My go to for accommodations is Collins Vacation Rentals, the best on the island. They have rentals all across the island, and they are familiar with each rental.
If you’re looking for nightlife, this is not the place for you. If walks on the beach and beautiful sunsets are your thing, welcome home.