A honeymoon trip to The Swag, a luxury inn outside Waynesville, N.C., led Annie and David Colquitt to make a long-term commitment.
Annie, the daughter of former Gov. Bill Haslam, and her groom, chose The Swag as their post-wedding destination 10 years ago because they were in grad school and law school, respectively, and “it’s easy to get to but feels like a world away.” The inn, now in its 40th season, was opened by Dan and Deener Matthews, family friends of the Haslams. Annie knew of it as a child but had never visited.
Post honeymoon, the couple visited several times, and Annie remembers David mentioning to the Matthewses that, when they were ready to retire, he and Annie might be interested in taking over. In 2018, that moment arrived. The Matthewses were ready to step away, and the Colquitts were looking for a small-business opportunity. “It was the perfect time for us and them,” she says.
Knoxville residents, the Colquitts, as well as their three young children, are frequent visitors at the inn but hired an on-site general manager to run it on a daily basis. “My goal is to spend part-time at The Swag and more time as a mom,” she says. “Right now, I try to be there once a week, sometimes just for a day, sometimes for three or four. It’s not a very predictable schedule.”
Since taking it over, the Colquitts have aimed to maintain the same quiet and relaxed spirit that embodies the inn while updating existing rooms and adding a few amenities. “We put in a small spa this past year and moved the parking area and built a welcome cabin. We added two guest rooms and an outdoor dining porch, which was so fortuitous. It was finished right before COVID.” They invite an expert in a field — whether it’s birding or watercolor, music or local history — to lead hikes on the weekends or otherwise interact with guests. The inn joined the Relais & Chateaux organization featuring boutique hotels in 2020.
The inn, which borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, was again named in 2021 to Travel + Leisure’s Top 10 Resort Hotels in the South list. It landed at No. 3 on the list this year. East Tennessee properties that made the list include Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain in Walland and Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort in Pigeon Forge.
Currently, The Swag is nearing the end of its 2021 season. It will close until spring after Thanksgiving. But don’t think that means time off for the Colquitts. In addition to finishing some updates at The Swag, they also purchased a neighboring property, Cataloochee Ranch, and are renovating the guest house and cabins there. “It’ll be a little more family friendly,” Annie says. “It has horses, and we’re working on family programming.”
For more info on The Swag, visit www.theswag.com.