Monteagle: The Road Less Traveled

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Take in one lungful of mountain air and you'll swear that Monteagle Tennessee has bewitching powers. High up on the South Cumberland Plateau, this tiny mountain town (which doesn'teven have a red light) offers unbelievable scenery, delicious cuisine and palpable relaxation. Two bed and breakfasts arc ideal for enjoying your weekend retreat. Garden courtyards and a gazebo surround the Monteagle Inn, while Mediterranean colors and cozy fur nishings complement the soothing mountain atmosphere. "Once people get out and see some of the natural beauty around here, their blood pressure drops significantly," owner Jim Harmon says. "They come back with a silly grin on their face and prop their feet up or lounge by the fire." The tight-knit staff at the inn has become close with many of the families who frequent the B&B. "I've even been offered summer homes," says Hope Underhill, the Inn's cook. "That's just the type of people youget coming through here." Underbill's gourmet breakfasts are an unexpected treat; her key ingredients to such preparations as seasoned sweet potato fries and spinach and feta frit-tas are fresh herbs grown just steps away from the porch.

Another overnight alternative is the Adams Edgeworth Inn. a Queen Anne B&B nestled in the private community called The Assembly. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Inn and the surrounding cottages take visitors back to a time when afternoon stints on fern-framed porches were mandatory. Character blossoms in every corner, from original tile to antiques to Victorian footed rubs in each bathroom. "It's one of the last boarding houses left," owner Jeannine Clements says. "A lot of inns have been converted from houses, but ours has always lived its life as an inn. Maintaining its original structure, the B&B has been updated with modern amenities, but all other renovations are done with extreme care to exactly replicate its original form.

The mountains are traditionally filled with local craftsmen. For a great display of such handiwork, visit the Iron Gallery, a store devoted to local artists filled with pottery, wood, glass, paintings, stone, clay and, of course, iron. Big city shopping and chain stores are something you won't find in Monteagle. "Sometimes I get mad that we don't even have a Wal-Mart," says Underhill, who has lived in Monteagle all of her life. "Then I stop and think, 'I don't want one anyway." The local cuisine will surprise visitors, as the town boasts fine dining as well as meat-and-three meals. High Point restaurant is located in a 1929 stone mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Escape hatches on the roof and underground tunnels in the basement testify to its history as a stop on Al Capone's bootlegging network. Try delectable dishes like the horse radish-crusted grouper with a sweet balsamic reduction or the tender filet mignon in a forest mushroom burgundy sauce. Pearl's Foggy Mountain Cafe is another gem, making all of its food from scratch and if possible, from organic sources Mtd local vendors. A drive through Sewanee's campus to admire its dazzling Gothic architecture arranged delicately among the forest is a must while in town.

The biggest asset to the area is the South Cumberland State Park, made up of eight different park areas across four counties. From Main Street, a left on Highway 41 will take you to the visitors center three miles down the road, where you can obtain maps, a camping permit or a local program schedule from the staff. Anyone who is a glutton for the outdoors will be sure to find a favorite campsite, waterfall, rock formation, cave or trail among the 16,000 acres that make up the state park. The Fiery Gizzard, which according to folklore was named by Davy Crockett when he pulled a hot piece of turkey gizzard from a cook ing pot whilecamping in the area, is a 12.5- mile trek that culminates at Foster Falls. The moderate-to-strenuous trail has breathtaking views. Starting from the Grundy Forest Natural Area, an hour's walk down will take hikers along serene streams, impressive columns of rock and an enormous rock crag, several waterfalls and an ideal swimming hole underneath the 12-foot high Sycamore Falls. At Foster Falls, mountain laurel and azaleas form a cap over the 60-foot waterfall, which spills into a deep pool of cold water. Several other spots not to miss include the Sewanee Natural Bridge, a 27-foot high, 100-foot long natural limestone arch and the overlook at Stone Door, which has been hailed as the jewel in the South Cumberland crown.

Whether you're looking for small town charm or outstanding natural beauty, there's one thing you're sure to find. "People really enjoy the peace they find here—it's the mountain," says Harmon. "It's a spiritual retreat." Monteagle is between Nashville and Chattanooga off 1-24.