Hotel Domestique. A touch of Europe in the Carolina foothills
TRAVELERS REST, USA
Exuding a touch of Europe in the Carolina foothills, the luxurious 13 room Hotel Domestique is a mere 30 minutes from Greenville, South Carolina and a 45 minute drive north to the bustling town of Asheville, North Carolina. Set in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hotel Domestique invites guests to spend their time relaxing by the pool or cycling various thigh-burning rides through nearby country roads.
On our first visit to Hotel Domestique we were greeted by the affable Justin Kelly, the hotels Director of Rooms. Although we were not staying at the hotel at the time Justin treated us as guests nonetheless. After showing us one of the second floor rooms Justin left us on our own to explore the remainder of the hotel including the restaurant, pool and outdoor dining area.
Absorbing the beauty of the property along with the uniqueness of the hotel it was clear to us that our next weekend getaway would be spent at the hotel. That opportunity came in early March as we embarked on a 3-day, 2-night sojourn back to Travelers Rest and Hotel Domestique to celebrate Fernanda’s birthday and our upcoming anniversary.
Hotel Domestique is the brainchild of cycling legend George Hincapie, widely considered one of the greatest domestiques of all time. In the cycling world, a domestique is a rider who works for the benefit of his or her team, rather than seeking personal glory. Hincapie fulfilled that role exquisitely by playing a supporting role in Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins. After retiring from his professional cycling career, Hincapie settled with his family in South Carolina’s Upcountry, known throughout the cycling community as a region with a strong cycling culture. Contributing to this reputation is a mild year-round climate along with an abundance of gentle backcountry roads spiced with enough rolling terrain to keep technical riders coming back year after year. Immediately upon opening the property in 2012 Hincapie and his team began attracting riders from around the world.
The words “boutique hotel” get used a lot in the hospitality business creating a sense that guests will experience something other than a corporate chain and a chilly reception on their way to a sterile room accessed by a plastic card. So you can imagine our surprise while checking in when we were handed a key (yes…a key!) to our room. This was one of several hints that Hotel Domestique is truly a unique destination. Turns out we never even used the key during our stay as we felt comfortable enough leaving the door to our room unlocked
After dropping our bags we headed to the bar overlooking the pool to enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne, which quickly took the edge off the five hour drive from Savannah. Being that it was late afternoon and we had a 6pm dinner reservation at Restaurant 17 (the hotels signature restaurant) we finished our champagne and suited up for some well deserved time in the jacuzzi before dinner.
This time of year the hotel is as quiet as the surrounding end-of-winter landscape and although most of the trees on the property had yet to come out of their seasonal slumber there were flashes of soft pink and white as the dogwoods announced the pending arrival of spring. Relaxing in the jacuzzi with a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge mountains it wasn’t long before we could feel the miles begin to slowly melt away. With dinner on the horizon a good soak was all we needed to put us in the mood for a relaxing meal.
At the helm of Restaurant 17 is the talented chef Haydn Shaak. Haydn’s emphasis on purveying as many local ingredients as he can places the restaurant in good company with many of the fine dining establishments in Greenville and Asheville. His food is farm-to-table fresh, expertly prepared and artfully presented. For a restaurant to be this good in a destination location such as this is truly a testimony to his devotion to great cooking.
Dining at Restaurant 17 can be enjoyed indoors, under a gorgeous installation of hundreds of glass bulbs strung from the ceiling that continually change color or, weather permitting, al fresco on the patio facing the Blue Ridge mountains near a shallow pool with splash fountains. If your preference leans toward dining in the privacy of your room then the restaurant is more than happy to accommodate. It was a chilly evening when we arrived so we chose to dine “under the lights”.
The following morning our complimentary breakfast was just the ticket to get us fueled up for a 25 miler along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a popular multi-use trail that extends from the outskirts of Travelers Rest to Greenville. While the SRT will never be considered a technical ride, such as the more challenging roads in the region, it is a safe and fun ride.
Speaking of cycling…
Every October when the Gran Fondo Hincapie rolls into the rolling hills of Travelers Rest chef Haydn and his team can be found on the grounds of the hotel doing what he loves best…feeding hundreds of hungry riders, families, celebs and members of the media. Sure to be on the menu is one of Haydn’s perennial specialties…paella. A few glasses of wine and a plate or two of paella and once again guests are left to wonder…are we somewhere in Europe or the lush green hills of South Carolina?
While Hotel Domestique, and the surrounding area, both enjoy a well deserved reputation as a cyclists mecca that is not the only arrow the hotel has in it quiver. This is a fantastic, and well regarded, destination for weddings, anniversaries and family gatherings. Its peaceful, out-of-the-way surroundings also make it a great place for yoga and wellness retreats.
With only 13 rooms the hotel makes an ideal location for like-minded groups of people with interests ranging from hiking in the nearby mountains to spiritual retreats to camera toting leaf-peepers. Art lovers heading to Asheville for a day of gallery hopping will have their hands (and eyes) full trying to take in all the great art and artists. The hotels close proximity to both Greenville and Asheville make daytripping convenient enough to be back in time for dinner at Restaurant 17 and a relaxing evening under the stars around the communal firepit.
Of paramount importance for any hotel is the quality of their service. At Hotel Domestique every member of their team, from the front desk to the bartenders, wait staff and housekeepers to management and the cycling crew are exceptionally friendly, helpful and professional. The easygoing manner with which they treat their guests is both welcoming and very authentic.
Although Hotel Domestique may seem off the beaten path it is a perfect antidote to anyone’s busy day-to-day life.
It is truly a destination worth a stay…with or without a bike!