6 Boutique Hotels in the Carolinas
The South is known for its legendary hospitality, and these charming places, all warm and inviting, are no exception. Whether you’re just passing through or planning a romantic getaway or a multi-generational trip, you – and your fellow travelers – will be drawn to the lure of mountain hiking as well as the ocean breezes and pleasures of the beach offered in North and South Carolina.
At these boutique hotels, the staff, especially the concierges, do their best to spend time with guests to make them feel welcome.
1. Kiawah Island Golf Resort Sanctuary
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Located along 10 miles of pristine beach, The sanctuary is part of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort 21 miles from Charleston. The sprawling resort includes 500 villas and private homes, five championship golf courses and 17 restaurants. For the past 15 years, the resort has been ranked the top tennis resort in the world by TennisResortsOnline.com.
The Sanctuary is a luxury hotel rated 5 stars by Forbes Travel Guide, 5 AAA diamonds, with 255 rooms and suites and a luxury spa.
In the lobby, a series of floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views of the large lawn and the Atlantic Ocean. The lobby is decorated in warm golden tones accentuated by a floral pattern. Many seating areas and adjoining spaces are furnished with prized antiques and original decorative arts, sculptures and paintings.
The east and west wings are framed by two dramatic open staircases lined with massive murals depicting natural scenes and native Lowcountry wildlife.
“The Sanctuary was designed to evoke the spirit and feel of a gracious Edwardian-era seaside mansion,” public relations manager Bryan Hunter told me.
Kiawah Island Sanctuary Restaurants
There are four restaurants in the house. The Jasmine Porch specializes in local and regional cuisine. Kids love Beaches and Cream, which serves locally made, all-natural Wholly Cow ice cream.
Activities at the sanctuary
Benefiting from a subtropical climate, Kiawah Island offers many activities throughout the year. Breathtaking scenery and plenty of outdoor and outdoor activities attract families during festivals and school vacations. Cycling 30 miles of paved bike paths between a tunnel of twisting live oak branches and whispering palms allows visitors to commune with the island’s remarkable unspoiled environment.
Christmas at Kiawah Island Sanctuary
The Christmas holidays are heralded by a Santa Claus parade and tree lighting ceremony in late November. The entire complex is adorned with Christmas decor. Kids love the annual unveiling of a giant, all-chocolate sculpture in the lobby. Exquisite culinary offerings include traditional Italian Festa dei Sette Pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes) on Christmas Eve.
Charleston, South Carolina
Emeline, a glamorous boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Charleston, is ideal for a girls getaway. The 212-room property is a short walk from the aquarium and the city’s popular market shops and walking tours.
The expansive yard and greenhouse are a welcome retreat. The social garden is filled with layers of tiered charm with sofas and chairs for relaxing. Emeline offers house bikes for getting around town as well as city travel guides.
Emily accepts pets
Located at 181 Church Street in the Historic District, Emeline brings families together for weddings and reunions in a pet-friendly environment. For many multi-generational travelers, traveling pets are an integral part of their lives. The weight limit for dogs is 75 pounds.
A Pawsome (Bone Appetit) package offers a dog treat custom-made by the in-house pastry chef, as well as a dog mat, bowl, and comfy bed.
Work of art at Emeline
Emeline is ahead of the trend in arts-in-residence. Most of the artwork displayed in public spaces is from Charleston artists such as Whitney Stoddard. Next to the restaurant, Frannie & The Fox, is the Fox Hole – a wall filled with maps, photos and paintings.
Fun fact: The walls of the rooms are adorned with posters of the city’s famous Spoleto Festival USA arts festival.
Food and drink at Emeline’s
Among Emeline’s creative menu choices is the popular drink The Closing Argument, a gin concoction with Midori, genepi and lime. The peach-infused Panzanella salad is also a crowd favorite.
These vacation hideaways are emblematic of gracious Southern hospitality. They capture the deeply rooted heritage of the region combined with a cosmopolitan and diverse culture.
3. The Westin Poinsett
Greenville, South Carolina
The AAA 4 diamonds Westin Poinsett Hotel in Greenville 3 hours northwest of Charleston is a beautiful property. Located on Main Street downtown, guests can leave their car and walk to Falls Park and the bridge over the Reedy River.
The Poinsett is steps away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Greenville, a cityscape filled with chic restaurants, and the Peace Center, an outstanding performance venue.
This elegant 12-story monument dates from 1925 and is named after Joel Poinsett, United States Ambassador to Mexico. He brought the bright red flowering plant, the poinsettia, back to South Carolina. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pro tip: My friends and I like to hang out at the classic piano bar in the lobby lounge or go for Sunday brunch at Spoonbread Restaurant, named after the Southern cornmeal dish.
4. The Omni Grove Park Inn
Asheville, North Carolina
The rustic but elegant Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, is a beautiful resort and getaway in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Built in 1913, the 513-room resort is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Upon entering, the Great Room measures 120 feet in diameter and features 24-foot ceilings and two gigantic 36-foot stone fireplaces.
Special Event: Annual National Gingerbread House Contest at Omni Grove Park
My favorite activity at Omni Grove Park is the annual National Gingerbread House Contest, the largest in the country. The contest takes place at the station in November. Winning entries, including the grand prize winner, are on display from late November through early January. Prizes are in adult, teen, youth and child categories. People of all skill levels are invited to build whimsical creations of candy, gumball-adorned castles and sugarscapes to compete for cash prizes.
My grandchildren and I watched the “ginger magic” in awe as the workers installed the houses one November. No less than 250 culinary masterpieces spread around the spacious ornate lobby and granite hallways, filling the air with the aromas and spirit of Christmas.
This year there will be specialty awards for Best Use of Nuggets, Unique Ingredient, and Pop Culture Star. The competition attracts the highest quality of design, art and baking expertise from across the country. Judges include celebrity chef Carla Hall, Nadine Ornstein of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and James Beard Award winner Cheryl Forberg.
The competition was started in 1992 by a small number of local residents. Last season, the hotel supported 15 community charities through its vacation parking program, according to Susan Rotante, director of marketing and communications. “Gingerbread is always a dynamic season at the hotel. It’s in our DNA – a very special community.
Omni Grove Park Health and Wellness
The Omni Grove Park Inn is also known as a health and wellness destination for city dwellers seeking rest and rejuvenation in the clean mountain air. The 43,000-square-foot, $50 million underground spa features cavernous rock faces, arches and turrets, and small waterfalls. Treatments are enhanced as the sun sets, and fireplaces, starlight, candles, and moonlight add a warm glow to the stone facility.
Pro tip: The Omni Grove Park Inn is also listed in Melody Pittman’s 10 Favorite Historic Hotels to Experience in the United States.
5. The Ballantyne
Charlotte, North Carolina
The Ballantyne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte, is a lavish four-star urban getaway just minutes from downtown Charlotte. On weekends, the hotel’s delicious afternoon tea service is a treat for all ages. Reminiscent of the English custom of afternoon tea, chef-inspired pastries and candied delicacies are elegantly presented on three tiered cake plates.
Pastry chef Christine Clancy offers a variety of tea sandwiches, homemade pastries, cakes and scones, as well as an assortment of fine teas from London’s Rare Tea Company, the official tea of the Royal Family. Champagne can also be added.
The Ballantyne Hotel is a chic American classic with 208 rooms in the main building, a 35-room lodge, and a four-bedroom cottage. It showcases the works of local and regional artists in its carefully curated art collection on display in the Gallery Restaurant. The rosy rose painting above the lobby fireplace is a favorite of guests and staff alike.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the Gallery Restaurant. Executive Chef Charles Gardiner captures the essence of Southern traditions and flavors in his innovative menu. New this year include lemon pistachio olive oil cake and chicken and black truffles. You can also have lunch on the spacious veranda.
Pro tip: The resort features a newly refreshed outdoor pool and two indoor resistance pools, as well as a fitness center.
6. Hotel cashiers
Cashiers, North Carolina
Time passes slowly along the winding back roads of North Carolina. On my way to the Nantahala National Forest, I found the Hotel cashiers a welcome respite in the southwestern part of the state. This affordable 18-room hotel — a 2.5-hour drive from Atlanta — is charming and hospitable in a relaxed mountain setting. Pets are welcome and can run outside where plenty of seating and the fireplace are surrounded by a canopy of trees.
Pro tip: You can easily walk along the Ramble Trail to downtown.
The hotel does not have a restaurant, but it does have a boutique in the lobby and a wine shop. Dining options include four restaurants within 5 minutes.
The village cashier community invites visitors to stroll downtown and visit antique shops, boutiques and restaurants and chat with merchants.
Not to be missed among nearby attractions are Whitewater Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies, and Gorge State Park. Further west, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s favorite scenic drives.