Indulge in upscale lodgings at the best new inn in western North Carolina.

Highlands Waterfall

I've found it. I used to only dream of a perfect retreat to escape the summer's dog days, but now I've discovered the Old Edwards Inn. Perched along the lazy mountaintop streets of Highlands, it excels at pampering.

It's the ideal season to be here. This region of North Carolina cools off at night, while the days warm up aplenty for a quick dip in the pool.

Stepping into the Main Street entrance, I'm greeted with a glass of Champagne for check-in. The valet leads me to my room, following a zigzag path. It's easy to see how this series of connected buildings, dating to the 19th century, has been developed over the decades. The last time I drove by here several years back, the place appeared ramshackle and in need of major repair. Today every inch displays finely handcrafted millwork, gently worn Oriental rugs, antiques, and fine art. In the few short years since it opened, Old Edwards has established itself as one of the best inns with comfortable service and elegant style.

I am lucky enough to be staying in one of the five spa rooms--it has two seating areas, fine Frette linens, and a bathroom fit for a queen. The room offers every comfort--sophisticated antiques, fresh flowers, heated bathroom floors, a soaking tub, a huge shower, and luxury toiletries.

The inn has 30 other rooms, including cottages with one, two, and three bedrooms. Plus, on the hillside above the gorgeous swimming pool, the Old Edwards Lodge and Conference Center sports another 29 rooms and suites with similar decor but with outside entries, suitable for a business traveler.

The New Spa
The Old Edwards Spa is gorgeous and intimate. An oval room leads to the treatment areas, and multiple relaxation rooms (inside and on terraces) invite soothing quiet. Chandeliers, heated limestone floors, fireplaces, and soft chairs and sofas create a treat for the senses. The Journey to Bliss facial is one of the best I've had anywhere.

Mostly, I want to spend hours in my favorite spot--the Nap Room. A curtained daybed, a cup of tea, and a scented and heated neck pillow turn this space into a slice of heaven.

Dining Out
Madison's Restaurant at the inn offers a well-appointed dining room overlooking a waterfall and stream. The scallops ceviche appetizer features the shellfish flavor in a light but tart marinade, while wild mushroom risotto tastes creamy and earthy.

The Wine Garden at Madison's establishes a more casual setting in the mountain breezes. Even in August, I love the butternut squash soup's tastes combined with a plate of Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses and wine.

A Little Something Extra
In the building next door I can shop at Acorns, featuring antiques and home accessories. And near my room, a butler's pantry stays stocked with treats, from fresh fruit to ice-cream bars. How can I resist ice cream at the end of the day? I'm here to beat the heat after all.

High on the Mountain
Old Edwards Inn and Spa: 445 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741; or 1-866-526-8008. Rates: rooms start at $280, cottages from $600 per night, including breakfast.