The Journey is the Destination at this Cycling-inspired Boutique Hotel
“Beautiful day for a ride,”a beaming voice greeted me inside the quaint lobby at Hotel Domestique.
Yes, it sure was –sunny and a highly anticipated temperature of 75 degrees for late March in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Traveler’s Rest, S.C. I was thinking how quickly the two-hour drive passed; then I considered she was referring to a two-wheeled ride, as professional cyclist George Hincapie and his equally avid brother Rich intended for the boutique property.
For those, like me, in need of a crash course in the sport: “domestique” directly translates to “servant,” but also is the name of the position Hincapie consecutively held on multiple teams. A domestique’s primary role is to assist the team’s designated leaders –in this case, winning riders including Lance Armstrong, Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador – even at the expense of his own individual performance. Now, the Hincapies have extended the same humble approach to the hospitality business, creating a world-class, tour de force destination for anyone wanting the ideal breakaway stage.
Bursts of energizing orange, including sunlit hallways, throw pillows in the eclectic library and the scent of Hermès toiletries in the spacious guest bathrooms, are not the only motif throughout the old-world-meets- new interiors. My crash course in cycling continued, as I soon learned the 13 unique rooms are each named for towns through which the Tour de France passes. Guests often leave their doors open, so I was able to peek at the different suites en route to my own.
I was given a metal key for the Portillion room, where I settled comfortably with a view of the picturesque rolling mountainside just beyond the hotel’s terrace and a pre-loaded iPad with digital concierge services. Unpacking my suitcase, I hung my belongings in the high closet and couldn’t help but wonder if the tall and skinny Hincapie had a hand in the design.
In his distinguished career spanning almost two decades, Hincapie was regarded as the premier American classics rider of his generation. In addition to 17 Tour de France races and winning three U.S. National Road Race competitions, he competed in a record 17 Ronde van Vlaanderen races and fi nished second at the grueling Paris-Roubaix, the best ever for any American. Now retired, he is settled in nearby Greenville with his family, remains involved with the Hincapie Sportswear family business and makes regular visits to the hotel.
My anticipation mounted for the following morning when I would try to conjure any inner Hincapie I had … but until then, I would enjoy the pure elegance of the place, beginning with a visit to Restaurant 17. After all, no previous cycling experience is necessary to enjoy the art of leisure.
TOUR DE FARMS
With Chef Greg McPhee in the lead, Restaurant 17 is quickly making Hotel Domestique just as much a destination as the hilly surrounding roads. I found a table by the fireplace below the eye-catching “bubble”chandelier and was presented with the most recent revision of the menu, updated regularly based on the seasonal ingredients the chefs source from more than 10 local farms.
My waitress gave a new meaning to farm-to-table when she proudly shared she was also one of the responsible parties behind Eastatoee Farms in Sunset, S.C. With her guidance, my table began by sampling the smoked local trout spread with pickled onion and buckwheat “Wheat Thins” and a small plate of the cornbread panzanella, roasted beets, shaved onion, local greens, ricotta and herbs. All I can say is I had no idea it was possible to like beets that much. Not long after clearing our plates, the herb-stuffed, whole High Valley Farm line-caught trout for two arrived with sides of the Virginia stone ground white grits, fingerling potatoes and, another surprising veggie favorite for me, roasted Brussels sprouts, dressed with pickled mushrooms, scallion, Brewser oats and fish sauce. Unlike on the roads, Restaurant 17 is best enjoyed at a slower pace and food is more than fuel here.
My only regret from indulging in the savory dinner was how full I still was the next morning. We traded the complimentary three-course, French-style breakfast for a bike fitting with Jeremiah Ranegar, five-time Tour de France soigneur and the staff’s “Swiss Army knife.” Ranegar not only got us the right gear, he eased our novice nerves with a refresher on changing gears and Garmins programmed with a personalized 15-mile down-and-back route along River Road.
The downhill start and peaceful two-lane road helped to lift our confidence as we increasingly saw fewer cars and more farm animals in the lush green countryside. We were almost ready to turn around when it started raining, adding incentive to face the uphill climb and return to the cozy fi replace. While a quick ride, the experience was nothing short of invigorating.
The following morning, I had plans of stretching and putting the yoga mat I packed to use, but ultimately decided to nama-stay longer in the iron poster bed and indulge in breakfast overlooking the pool. The staff I passed in the hallway greeted me by name, including General Manager Ben Webster, who offered to join me for a coffee.
In between big bites of my house-made bagel, salmon lox, pickled onion and capers, I hear more of the property’s history and learn that cycling is “the new golf,” as a platform where business brainstorms happen and big deals are made (although, guests that still truly want to golf can enjoy amenities nearby at The Cliff’s luxury communities). As Webster proudly described the Hincapies, I imagined the vision of Hotel Domestique coming to fruition on rides the brothers shared.
“Above all, George wants to be remembered as a great teammate,” Webster said of the famous domestique. That may be true, but I won’t be forgetting my stay at the Hincapie’s hotel anytime soon, either.
And that was all she rode… for now.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
[a version of this story was originally printed Points North Atlanta | photography courtesy of Colleen Ann McNally; Hotel Domestique]