Luxurious Mountain Living

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TEXT Lindsey Phillips PHOTOGRAPHY Lindsey Phillips (left) and courtesy of Monteagle inn (right)

Monteagle Inn is a luxurious, Mediterranean-infused retreat located on the Cumberland Plateau. An ideal event destination or romantic getaway locale, the inn is known for high-quality service and sophisticated suites just miles from hiking trails, mouthwatering cuisine and a variety of other attractions.

Time passes more slowly at Monteagle Inn (monteagleinn.com), a tranquil bed, breakfast and retreat center in the Tennessee mountains. While it may seem you've been sipping your fresh-squeezed orange juice or savoring a fluffy frittata breakfast (made with organic vegetables and herbs from the inn's garden) for hours, it's probably only been about 20 minutes, a phenomenon that hardly exists in the real world of rushed mornings and skipped meals. But here at the inn, the "gourmet mountain breakfast" is followed with ample time to settle into one of the front porch's many rocking chairs, stir your coffee with a cinnamon stick and breathe in the cool mountain air.

While the inn is located just miles from the University of the South in Sewanee on the Cumberland Plateau and about an hour west of Chattanooga. it is a destination in itself, offering special packages like the "Do Nothing" weekend, a two-day escape including wine and a massage. The only requirement during your stay? Relax. And it's not hard to do, especially with the inn's dedicated staff.

"We like doing things for people they don't expect." says proprietor Jim Harmon. who opened the renovated 13-suite bed and breakfast with his late wife Donna in 2002. "I think one of the main joys with the inn is sharing happy times in people's lives, whether it's somebody celebrating an anniversary or whether it's a Sewanee student graduating. My mission is to be around happy people and be a part of the reason they're happy."

When Jim and Donna purchased the inn, Donna, an interior designer, joked, "I've never had a project this big and a budget this small." They transformed the "battleship gray," 10,000-square-foot building into a luxurious Mediterranean-influenced retreat with warm paint hues and an extensive wine collection, all bottles of which are available for purchase during your stay.

"We just wanted to do something different," Harmon explains. "Europeans know how to relax more than we do. They have a really joyful life in food and wine."

Expect to eat well while visiting Monteagle. When guests first arrive the scent of herbs greets them, drifting from the dozens of oregano, thyme, basil and rosemary plants lining the property and foreshadowing the quality of the inn's meals.

Whether you enjoy breakfast at the inn or travel just minutes down Main Street to local restaurants like Papa Ron's (paparons. net) for portabella mushroom ravioli or spinach and goat cheese pizza, prepare to enjoy fresh, well-prepared meals. A favorite dinner locale is High Point Restaurant (highpointrestaurant.net), housed in a mansion said to have been financed by Al Capone (the floorboards are rumored to have once been lined with sand to block incoming bullets, and the restaurant still features escape hatches and underground tunnels.) Built in 1929, the mansion provides a romantic backdrop for the "between Chicago and Miami" cuisine-begin your meal with an appetizer of oysters Rockefeller before choosing from the menu's multiple steak, seafood and poultry dishes like blackberry duck, royal twin lobster tails and French onion steak.

At the inn, Harmon is an expert at wine pairings and hosts frequent wine dinners. The bed and breakfast is also a popular spot for weddings and other special events, from family reunions to business workshops, which is not surprising considering the beauty of the setting. The courtyard, centered by a gazebo, is blooming with flowers and Katie the resident cat is often sunning herself on the porch outside of the 70-seat dining room.

Monteagle Inn also features a large living room arranged in quarters to provide four comfortable lounging areas. It is filled with puzzles, board games and an expansive bookshelf, harkening back to a day when people spent time playing chess on the porch, examining the vegetable-heavy plants in the garden and just enjoying each other's company, which is exactly what guests at Monteagle seem to do. The suites are furnished in comfortable, beautiful pieces, private bathrooms and beds so cozy you many not want to leave the room. The inn also offers a refreshments room with fresh lemonade, cookies and other treats.

When you do actually venture out of the inn, take advantage of the town's location-a short trip down the road will bring you to the South Cumberland Recreation Area, a natural mecca covering more than 17,000 acres. Ninety miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to expert level wind past waterfalls and rock structures. South Cumberland also includes swimming spots and the historic Lone Rock Coke Ovens at Grundy Lake where convicts turned coal into coke (another form of coal) in the 1800s.

Visit the Monteagle Winery (monteaglewinery.com) for tastings of traditional, sweet Southern wines including muscadine, peach and blackberry varieties or shop locally at Loretta's Gifts with a Story (lorenasgifts. com) and Hallelujah Pottery (931.924.0141). For even more suggestions, the inn's staff is a wealth of knowledge about the area.

When the weekend ends, you'll leave Monteagle Inn refreshed, and chances are, you'll come back. Harmon says more than half of the inn's guests are repeaters, and corporate groups also return again and again. There must just be something about the calming accommodations and mountain air. "When people check in they have the burden of life, of work, and when they check in they may be grumpy," Harmon says. "When they leave two days later, they're hugging everyone. They've found something they didn't even know they were looking for."