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Charming lodges tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains; countryside inns brimming with character; and beachfront hotels set on private slices of Atlantic coastline: These are the best resorts in the South. It’s no surprise that a region famous for its hospitality is home to some of the best resorts in the U.S., and this year’s list highlights some small-town destinations with a whole lot to offer.
How Voting Works
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Nearly 165,000 T+L readers completed the 2023 survey, an increase of nearly 25 percent over pre-pandemic voting levels. A total of more than 685,000 votes were cast across over 8,500 unique properties (hotels, cities, cruise lines, etc.).
Hotels were classified as either resort hotel, city hotel, or safari lodge based on their location and amenities, and they were specifically rated on the criteria below:
For each characteristic, respondents could choose a rating of excellent, above average, average, below average, or poor. The final scores are averages of these responses.
What Readers Loved
The Great Smoky Mountains town of Walland, Tennessee made a big impression on readers, as it’s home to Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain, two properties frequently ranked among the best in the country by T+L readers. The Golden Isles of Georgia, made up of four barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean, are home to two more of this year’s honorees, The Cloister and Lodge at Sea Island. The Reserve at Hot Springs in historic Hot Springs, Arkansas — a town known for its geothermal springs and 19th- and 20th-century bathhouses — made the list at No. 10. But no Southern state appears more often in this year’s list than North Carolina. Five of the top 15 best resorts in the South are located in the western part of the state, while another is just west of Raleigh. The small town of Highlands has fewer than 2,000 full-time residents but is home to three ranked resorts: No. 2 Skyline Lodge, No. 6 Old Edwards Inn & Spa, and No. 8 Half-Mile Farm.
T+L readers voted these the best resorts in the South, starting with The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina.
The Full List
1. The Swag: Waynesville, North Carolina
Perched just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about 40 minutes away from Asheville in the small town of Waynesville, The Swag is an all-inclusive Relais & Châteaux resort that offers 18 cozy guest rooms, suites, and cabins. The resort is open seasonally; in 2023, it will be open from April to December and is celebrating its 42nd year in operation. This year, guests can take advantage of new additions, including a spa, bar, hot tub, and fitness center. T+L readers praised the mountaintop views — which stretch on for 50 miles — and activities offered on-site.
Reader Score: 95.1
2. Skyline Lodge: Highlands, North Carolina
This mountaintop lodge in the picturesque town of Highlands was designed by Arthur Kelsey, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1929. It was completely renovated in 2021 and transformed into a modern retreat with a variety of rooms and suites, a steakhouse (which came highly recommended from more than one reader), and a courtyard with fire pits.
Reader Score: 95.10
3. The Fearrington House Inn: Pittsboro, North Carolina
This Relais & Châteaux property outside Chapel Hill is a countryside getaway with 32 guest rooms, a spa, perfectly manicured gardens, and shopping and dining at the English-inspired Fearrington Village.
Reader Score: 95.09
4. Blackberry Mountain: Walland, Tennessee
With 5,200 acres of private land and accommodations ranging from multi-bedroom homes to treehouses, this all-inclusive mountain resort offers extensive culinary, wellness, and adventure programming. T+L readers praised the “amazing” food and the breathtaking location in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Reader Score: 94.72
5. Blackberry Farm: Walland, Tennessee
This pastoral Relais & Châteaux resort is the sibling property to Blackberry Mountain, so it seems only fitting that they’d be ranked one after the other in our 2023 list of the best resorts in the South. Its 4,200 acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains are home to 68 guest accommodations, and rates include meals.
Reader Score: 94.50
6. Old Edwards Inn and Spa: Highlands, North Carolina
Located in the heart of postcard-perfect Highlands, North Carolina, Old Edwards Inn and Spa is a Relais & Châteaux property with a European feel. On-site restaurants, activities, fitness facilities, and a spa provide plenty to do on property, but the resort is also a great home base for outdoor adventures ranging from scenic drives to waterfall hikes.
Reader Score: 93.93
7. The Cloister at Sea Island: Sea Island, Georgia
Located on a private island off the Georgia coast, The Cloister is Sea Island’s premier accommodation option. With a private beach club, spa, and family-friendly activities, this waterfront resort is perfect for a relaxing beach getaway; one reader described it as “beautiful, serene, and fabulous every time.”
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Reader Score: 93.46
8. Half-Mile Farm, Highlands: North Carolina
Not far from sibling property Old Edwards Inn & Spa in an idyllic country setting outside of Highlands, Half-Mile Farm offers a blissful stay for guests 18 and up. Onsite amenities include a heated mineral pool, private lake, and restaurant.
Reader Score: 93.13
9. The Lodge at Sea Island, St. Simons Island, Georgia
Part of the expansive Sea Island resort destination, The Lodge offers guest rooms — located on the grounds of two championship golf courses — ranging from a standard king room to a four-bedroom cottage; all include butler service.
Reader Score: 92.93
10. The Reserve at Hot Springs: Hot Springs, Arkansas
This mansion turned hotel is located in historic Hot Springs, Arkansas, a short drive from Hot Springs National Park. Its 12 guest accommodations include daily breakfast and peaceful places to unwind on porches and around the outdoor firepit.
Reader Score: 92.32
11. Primland Resort, Auberge Resorts Collection: Meadows of Dan, Virginia
Nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains, Primland Resort is a 12,000-acre escape packed with plenty to see and do both outdoors and in. Accommodations include tree houses with sweeping mountain views, lodge rooms with easy access to the resort’s amenities, and roomy cottages.
Reader Score: 92.17
12. The Williamsburg Inn: Williamsburg, Virginia
Located in historic Williamsburg near the Colonial Williamsburg sites and living history museum, The Williamsburg Inn has a fascinating history all its own: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. built the property in 1937, and it counts Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill among its notable former guests. Today guests can select from themed suites dedicated to the dignitaries or enjoy onsite amenities including golf, a spa, pools, and restaurants and bars.
Reader Score: 91.56
13. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Just minutes from Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park and Dollywood’s Splash Country water park, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa is truly a one-of-a-kind property dedicated to the music legend and her beloved Great Smoky Mountains. Now guests can even book a stay on her former tour bus — permanently parked on the resort grounds — for a super unique experience.
Reader Score: 91.29
14. High Hampton: Cashiers, North Carolina
Restored in 2021 by the team behind Blackberry Farm and protected on the National Registry of Historic Places, High Hampton is a Blue Ridge Mountain getaway offering a range of rooms, suites, cabins, and homes. The resort has a spa, restaurants, a golf course, a kids’ club, and water activities on Hampton Lake.
Reader Score: 91.17
15. Keswick Hall: Keswick, Virginia
Dating back to 1912, Keswick Hall offers an upscale stay amid the rolling hills just east of Charlottesville, Virginia. Tennis, golf, a spa, and an infinity pool overlooking the manicured property, along with a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, are hotel highlights.
Reader Score: 91.12