Springtime is the best time at many Southern inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and hotels. This is when flowers are at their peak, and the methodical work of landscapers is thrust into the spotlight. Here are five Southern resorts where the blooms are at their best.
Magnolia Springs, Alabama
Named for the quaint town in which it resides (Magnolia Springs, Alabama; population 723), Magnolia Springs Inn owners David Worthington and Eric Bigelow updated a late-1800s hotel to modern standards in 1997, while keeping its historic character intact. Each spring, bursts of pink, purple, and red flowers bloom in the front lawn, offset by the inn’s pale-yellow exterior and pearly-white wraparound porch. A canopy of mature oak trees bends elegantly above Oak Street out front (the pedestrian-friendly town’s main drag), providing a fitting welcome for guests intent on experiencing small-town, Southern hospitality during their stay. Rates from $169/night; magnoliasprings.com.
Insider Tip: For a five-star dinner showcasing locally sourced fish, walk down the street to Jesse’s Restaurant, where the region’s Creole influence inspires po’ boy sandwiches, fish tacos on Mexican flatbread, or spicy shrimp and grits with Cajun sausage, as well as Southern-specialty desserts (like slices of key lime or sweet-potato pie).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: To get to Magnolia Springs, which is on Mobile Bay, fly into one of two airports and rent a car: Mobile Regional Airport is a 45-minute drive southeast and Pensacola International Airport about a 50-minute drive to the west.
Asheville, North Carolina
On top of this Asheville, North Carolina, estate being America’s largest residence (once belonging to George Vanderbilt and now owned by his descendants), home to a winery (Biltmore Estate Winery), and listed on the National Historic Register, Biltmore also boasts amazing gardens. Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, its 8,000 acres—designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, famous for his work on Central Park—comprise a mix of native and introduced flora that in springtime includes pink Lady’s Slippers, Sweet Shrubs, Mock Orange, azaleas, rhododendrons, some 250 rose varieties, and flowering dogwoods. Until May 20, the Festival of Flowers coaxes crowds to Biltmore, but you can visit any time during the months of April, May, and June to witness the gardens’ best moments. Rates from $299/night; www.biltmore.com.
Insider Tip: Sit down to a leisurely lunch or dinner at Bistro, on the Biltmore’s property, which sources locally grown ingredients (from trout to honey) for Southern-inspired menus (try the pan-roasted silver trout with white-truffled grits and collard greens).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Biltmore’s entrance is four miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway and a 20-minute drive from Asheville Regional Airport.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Set on a 4,200-acre plot in the Great Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee, Blackberry Farm is a haven for not just outdoor enthusiasts but foodies, too. While the luxury resort provides fine dining, a cooking school, and FarmStead (responsible for growing much of the food and cocktail ingredients used on site), the gardens are worth a stroll even if you aren’t staying overnight. In late spring, you can expect to see daffodils, tulips, and other bold flowers popping out of the soil, but it’s also worth a peek at the on-site farm where around this time of year sassafras, morel mushrooms, salad greens, herbs, yarrow, salad burnet, garlic, and chives are ready to be harvested by Blackberry Farm’s gardeners. Rates from $395/night; www.blackberryfarm.com.
Insider Tip: If you love Blackberry Farm and want to continue the artisanal food journeys back home, check out the artisanal food goods for sale in the FarmStead’s gift shop, touting everything from pickles and preserves to seeds.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Located about 40 miles southeast from Knoxville, Tennessee, it’s a smooth drive in a rental car from Knoxville McGhee Tyson Airport.
Keswick Hall at Monticello
This 600-acre private Italianate estate set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains is also home to many trails suitable for jogging and hiking, which means you never have to leave Keswick Hall at Monticello to get your adrenaline fix. You can also keep things low-key with walks in formal and informal gardens, as well as a "kitchen garden" that sources rare finds like green-zebra tomatoes for the hotel’s chefs. Cut flowers culled from the estate’s gardens serve as natural perfumes not just in guests’ rooms but in common areas, too. This spring (April 22), Keswick Hall at Monticello makes its first appearance on a garden tour in conjunction with the Historic Garden Tour of Virginia, proof of its wide appeal to avid gardeners. Rates from $615/night; www.keswick.com.
Insider Tip: Book a spa treatment that relies upon one of the most indulgent agricultural products: wine grapes. The Keswick Reserve, a new treatment, begins with a glass of red wine before easing into a grape-seed oil massage, Shiraz body scrub, red-wine body mask, Pinot Noir facial and, finally, Shiraz face and body smoother.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Convenient to Charlottesville and Richmond—it’s a little over an hour from Richmond International Airport and 20 minutes from Charlottesville Albemarle Airport—Keswick Hall at Monticello is also just 2.5 hours by car from Washington D.C., perfect for a weekend getaway for locals.
Azalea Inn & Gardens
In sync with romantic Savannah, Georgia, is Azalea Inn & Gardens, with its Victorian garden imagined by owners Michael and Teresa Jacobson, who took over the 10-room bed-and-breakfast in 2005. Not only are the namesake azaleas in bloom, but so are ferns, roses, dracaena, trees (palm, pomegranate, and magnolia), and more. Chaises are thoughtfully positioned in the garden to allow for quiet contemplation, as are curved stone walkways. Set in a Queen Italianate mansion, the inn’s location on cobbled-brick Huntingdon Street is a dream come true for garden lovers as many homes upkeep meticulous lawns here. Rates from $215/night; azaleainn.com.
Insider Tip: For wine and appetizer hour, open to inn guests, local garden fare is whipped into gourmet nibbles, such as tomato jam on rosemary shortbread (a recent offering).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: To cut down on travel time, fly into Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (a 25-minute drive from the inn) or drive from Atlanta, which takes about four hours.
Photo Credits: courtesy Magnolia Springs; The Biltmore Company; Blackberry Farm; Keswick Hall at Monticello; Jumping Rocks Photography