Whether we are travel junkies or just folks who want a break from their own zip code, some creative thinking can pull us off the sofa and into the car for a few days.
North Carolina and the Smoky Mountains are obvious choices in the autumn. But we are not the only ones who have thought of it; finding a room is tough business.
So, I have a solution, closer to home, a bit under the radar: Evins Mill in Smithville, Tennessee, about an hour east of Nashville. It’s a great property with luxurious accommodations, and meandering trails lead to a waterfall. It’s not actually in the mountains, but this woodlands retreat feels as if it is.
I discovered Evins Mill years ago. I loved it. My room was plain and perfect for the surroundings. Rocking chairs out on the porch offered fireflies. A perfect summer night. I even had a whimsical frog to keep me company (by the way, he is still there. He isn’t a prince, as far as I know. I gave him a quick kiss; nothing).
These days, a real treat is dining on the porch. No need to gussy up, but it does feel like the special event we’ve craved.
I’ve recently poured over Evins Mill’s website with surprise. I can still see the resort that I experienced, including the frog, but there’s so much more to it now with luxury accommodations and wide wooden walkways festively sparkling by night with strings of big round glowing bulbs strung through the trees. All the lights are LED as part of the environmental reset.
Once again, it seems a great idea to return. The website is indeed enchanting. So much so that I called the owner, William Cochran, to talk about the magic he has created since I last visited.
His parents stumbled on this place in 1990. It had been the private retreat of U.S. Congressman Joe L. Evins decades before. In shambles, they had a vision of a private family retreat.
“I was in my 20s, an English and history college graduate with no real plan for the future. I had taught school and was just days away from accepting a position with a Nashville bank. My dad made some innuendos about Evins Mill and what it could be,” Cochran says.
The English and history grad set about making a business plan; a far cry from Shakespeare.
“Only a parent would have given the go ahead,” he says. “We dug in. The first five years were ugly, but we finally had a resort we were happy with.”
Now, 27 years later, Cochran has made it his life’s work. And he’s done a bang-up job.
“I even hired a couple of people who were leaving their employ at the revered top-notch Blackberry Farm to be my consultants,” he says. “I never wanted to be another Blackberry Farm, but I wanted the luxurious touches and the service standards that has made it such a desired destination.”
Through the years, Evins Mill has changed and expanded, all in a tasteful way that lures leisure travelers, brides and corporate events.
A historic grist mill from the 1930s that’s no longer is in working order is a fetching place to visit.
“The lawn adjacent is lush and green — and beautiful, I might add. It’s a perfect setting for a wedding,” Cochran says. “We do more than a dozen through the year. We have 20 overnight rooms that accommodate 54 separate beds. For the reception, we can accommodate 125. It takes the worry out of weddings; we’ve joined with an events company so we can do it all, even wedding photos.”
The Evins Inn does a good bit of corporate events, also. It is set up perfectly with meeting rooms and overnight accommodations.
“In 2014, we built a luxury lodge of hand-hewn log walls, poplar floors and decks from which to enjoy the setting day and night,” Cochran says. “We did a great job; it’s interior-designer approved.”
Every effort is made to please every guest every day.
“When you’re here, we want you to feel as if you’re the only person we care about. We strive for excellent service in all categories,” Cochran says. “Our staff is experienced. Our executive chef has been here since 2001, the house manager since 2000 and service captain since 2002. They are dedicated to making your visit pleasant, one you will want to repeat. I’m proud of our long-time employees; I must be doing something right.”
He also told me about additions that I must go see. One is a whimsical area of hammocks — I know I could use some relaxation in these crazy times — and the other is a picnic area to enjoy lunch amidst the hemlocks.
This is a place you can do little or much and enjoy either path. Center Hill Lake is nearby, as is a winery and legal moonshine distillery. Speaking of spirits, a full bar on property offers stress relievers, a toast to the bride and groom, or cocktails and wine for dinner.
The Day Trippers package invites guests to come spend the day on property, complete with a picnic lunch. Is that cool or what? Reservations are a must.
I, however, plan to go back to stay a bit. And I’ve already chosen where I want to stay: the Solstice Lodge, with its soaring ceilings and a deck complete with chairs there amongst the trees. It reminds me of a tree top room I had in Belize; I was eye to eye with the birds. I adored it.
So, if you’re looking for a quick bite of travel, I give you Evins Mill, an easy getaway about an hour up Interstate 40. And take a copy of the book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” with you. It’s great fodder for rocking on the porch and planning post-pandemic international travel.