Destinations / Hotels & Resorts / Tennessee / United States

Smoky Mountain Innkeepers with Heart

Motorcyclists are challenged by the "Tail of the Dragon" route.

Motorcyclists are challenged by the “Tail of the Dragon”

Despite tranquil scenes associated with America’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s a busy place. Stretching across western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee, it’s visited by millions of diverse tourists year-round.

For instance, motorcyclists are enticed by the “Tail of the Dragon.” That’s 318 challenging curves along 11 miles of paved road. Cades Cove resembles a ghost town, dating to its early settlers, best seen leisurely via a one-way-loop road traveled by car, walked or on horseback. Then there’s the whirlwind of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, with non-stop entertainment and crowds.

But regardless of how anyone enjoys the Smokies, a good night’s sleep is universal. On a recent visit to Tennessee’s Blount County, I found two winners for shut-eye, fittingly located on “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies.” The bonus was innkeepers with heart.

Butterfly Gap Retreat

For starters, the name alone is a come-on. Tucked into this adults-only property, located on 900 acres, are six elaborate guesthouses, private roads, hiking trails, a stocked man-made pond, creeks and wildlife. Nirvana comes to mind during a stay here. Owned and managed by the tight-knit Johnson family, the retreat is six miles from Maryville, Tennessee. An added plus is Becky Johnson, the effervescent half of the husband-and-wife team of owners.

Butterfly Gap Retreat view across the pond.

Butterfly Gap Retreat view across the pond.

She knits scarves (over 1200 to date) for guests. Her favorite ice cream flavors to make are S’mores, Pumpkin Gingersnap and Caramel Cheesecake. Becky also delivers a hearty breakfast to each guesthouse. “My chickens have a house with a cathedral ceiling, transom and window box,” she said recently about her pampered brood that supply the eggs

Butterfly Gap Retreat’s motto is: If you stay here, you play here. That translates to fishing for catfish, albino, large- and small-mouth bass, trout and more in the 30-foot-deep pond. Becky operated a bulldozer to help dig it. Rowboats are nearby as is a bonfire pit. All extras are free.

Butterfly Gap Retreat - One of the guesthouses

Butterfly Gap Retreat – One of the guesthouses

The handicap-accessible guesthouses were designed by Becky’s architect brother. Her daughters chose the color schemes. Amenities abound such as premium king-size or queen beds, floor-to-ceiling windows, air-jet tubs, gas or wood fireplaces, oversize walk-in showers, decks, screened-in porches, satellite TV, in-unit washer/dryer and much more. The guesthouse made mostly of glass is ready June 2014 and was inspired by willow trees. Unfortunately, there’s no or limited cell phone reception here. The Johnsons communicate throughout the property with walkie-talkies.

Butterfly Gap Retreat is listed in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. Price range is $195 to $215 per night with a two-night minimum. It’s also a popular spot for weddings, with a chapel and reception hall on site. Contact, call 865-984-6021 or check out the family-run Facebook page loaded with updates and discounts.

Richmont Inn
Jim Hind, innkeeper extraordinaire of the Richmont Inn

Jim Hind, innkeeper extraordinaire of the Richmont Inn

Corporate dropouts leave the office grind behind and courageously follow a dream. Innkeepers Jim and Susan Hind did just that when they arrived in Townsend, Tennessee several decades ago. “My mother always said the mountains will bring you back,” Jim said recently when reminiscing about how he and his wife built their beloved and hugely popular Richmont Inn.

They had several objectives in mind from day one. Hospitality and cleanliness were key. Treat each guest with the greatest of care. And build a place around the heritage, history and people from the Smoky Mountains, even naming each room after colorful people from the area. While at it, they included romantic hints to enhance a stay.

“We noticed couples weren’t talking to one another so we removed TVs and telephones from the rooms. Then we created a candlelight evening dessert where they could sit across from one another. No dinners here, but we do have a four-course classic fondue on weekends. The authentic recipe was gleaned from two restaurants in Switzerland. We were going for elegance,” Jim said.

Richmont Inn, Townsend, Tennessee

Richmont Inn, Townsend, Tennessee

It’s obvious they achieved their goals. Throughout the Inn’s ten rooms, the d├ęcor is high-end with balconies, canopy beds and spa tubs for two in many rooms. Appalachia chic is in the main house, which is a 100-year-old modernized barn. And because the Hinds love anything French, they have four luxury suites on site with Stickley and French furniture. “We even went to London and met Lord Spencer, the furniture designer and Princess Diana’s brother, to purchase reproductions from him,” Jim revealed with a touch of pride in his voice.

Richmont Inn is perched atop an eleven-acre ridge, perfect for viewing the mist and shades of the Smokies. Cades Cove National Park is ten minutes away. Conferences, groups and weddings welcome. Per night price range is $160 – $275. Contact or call 866-267-7086.


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