How an unknown estate became America's only 5 Star Castle Hotel
Seated on English Knob in a small mountain town called Spruce Pine in the State of North Carolina glows a large estate from miles out. Having grown up in Spruce Pine I have known about this property for some time and local stories run endless about just who occupies the keep. Perhaps there is a princess in the tower or king on a throne. One can imagine that in a town of less than 3,000 people, having such a property in our backyard was in constant chatter. Rumors grew and romantic tales floated around the county. We had heard about who first built the mansion, then the family who eventually turned the mansion into a “castle,” but there seemed to be pieces of the puzzle missing. Sure, it sits upon a highly sought after location with stupendous views but it was never a properly luxurious estate. Having gone up to it as a teen and then later in my mid and late twenties. I recall peeking through the windows but I was left disappointed. It actually seemed empty, styleless and dull. It was missing that wow factor that usually runs synonymous with grand estates. I even recall it having rickety gates with rusting chains, presumably to keep out curious onlookers. It all seemed ominous of a repeating story of a failed Bed & Breakfast that it once was coupled with the multiple faulty ownerships of this estate’s history.
Fast forward to early 2020 where I start to notice life emerging from a once snoozy estate. Videos begin to surface on the Castle’e Facebook. An Instagram pops up and begins posting picturesque photos and otherworldly videos depicting the Castle in such grandeur. Opulent cuisines thrust their way into public attention. Terms like Concierge, Luxury and Amenities pervade social media and a new website is born. Taken by surprise like a child receiving gifts on Christmas morning, I could barely contain my unbelievable scenes of jubilation. Some time passes and I take notice that Smithmore, once the colorless estate has taken on a new reputation. Hundreds of 5-star reviews engulf Google, Facebook & TripAdvisor. I gleefully got into my truck and made my way to Spruce Pine to lay eyes on my childhood memory. The drive from Asheville was less than an hour but could have easily been longer and I wouldn’t have minded. Such scenic roads make for counseling of the soul. My disquisitive nature brought me back to this place I once called home. I approach the estate with great impatience, alas I see the sign. “Castle next left.” Pulling up to a Jaguar green sign reading Smithmore Castle in large gold leaf. A vast improvement from the frumpy sign of the past. Manicured bushes and hedged greens cape outlines the driveway. Aha, behold a fanciful gate, matching the front sign. The green and gold combination resonates well with the prestige and standing of a truly royal estate. I was let in by Castle Concierge who was made aware of my visit. Honestly, I didn’t fully expect to write about Smithmore when I initially began this expedition. I just told staff that I was a native and wanted to grab some photos for my blog. I suppose I didn’t want to be disappointed had I trekked all the way here to find any remnants of the past. Needless to say, I was in for a gratifying surprise. Starting with the directional sign placements which also caught my eye along routes of the exterior within the estate itself. Gorgeous merlot and cream indicated Caves, Hearth, Archery and Valet Parking gave off such a European vibe.
I sat in my vehicle in front of the castle at awe. Taking photos of the view from the altitude and portraits of the turrets yet still in contemplation begotten such metamorphosis. By this time months had passed since I gazed at the reviews online. Perhaps it was a fault I had but a name in them kept recurring…
In walks Benjamin Epicure, a Chef with boundless talents which can be summed into amour propre. At last it’s been made clear. This Chef has not only brought over his culinary accolades but seems to have a knack for design, the likes of which Smithmore desperately needed. I wanted to know more. Who is Chef Benjamin Epicure and what’s his goal for the estate. How has one man managed to do what so many before him have not. I needed answers but most of all I was bizarrely interested in the aims and objectives. I was approached by a tall gorgeous woman who was called Jessie and represented Concierge. “If you’d like to take photos of the interior I can show you great spots.” Taking her up on that I made my way to the front door where a large knocker with a bust safeguards the fortress door. “After you ma’am,” Jessie signals. The foyer was not at all what I remember. This was utterly magnificent. My eyes dashed across the room and up the stairs where stunning burgundy runners hug the treads. Then, led off to a large room with a grandiose fireplace. I was giddy, dumbfounded by the contrast of days long ago. I turned to Jessie and asked if I was able to see more. And with an ethereal voice she replied. “Yes, of course.” I saw the rooms, each decorated uniquely and with such fervorous detail that only an interior designer with oracle powers could have depicted the outcome. A sense of finally being in a real castle overtook me. I begin to get teary as I am honored to see Smithmore like this. This is what it always should have been. And, forever it should be. Hundreds of photos later and jamming my heart with exuberance for not only this Castle but for my home town of Spruce Pine. No, for my State of North Carolina. This Castle is certainly on the map now.
In walks a man in a chef jacket and perfectly messy hair. If there’s even such a thing. Smirks and extends his arm, “I am Chef Benjamin.” In my mind I think, yes of course you are. There’s no mistaking his appeal and direct command. You almost felt as if the Castle was him and he the stones, the walls, the roof and floors. Somehow he managed to manifest himself onto this place. I asked him for a bit of his time so that I would better understand this place. He expounded on what he and his team have accomplished. Always mentioning how the owner was his fraternal twin. How he relied on his expertise and saw him as his confidant. “Robert is a renaissance man and someone I respect.” Chef added. He understands me and more importantly works with my impatience, fast-moving speed mind and hustle and bustle work ethic. He goes on to say how much he misses his family who reside in California. That he feels as though he’s abandoned them. And that he turns to projects at the Castle for solace. “I will not allow a day, a week or a month to go by without me tacking on a new project, otherwise what am I doing here? I try to live each day on full throttle, pushing the limits of my abilities both physically and mentally.” He’s a rockstar surely. And obsessed with Smithmore’s legacy emphatically. Chef Benjamin has managed to change the trajectory of history for not only this estate but for this town and dare I say for all of those many who have exchanged their vows here and will continue to do so. After all, what would have become of Smithmore had Epicure not showed up. Such a thought is downhearted. We spoke at length the chef and I and at times he would share his some deeper visions. He spoke about restaurants in caves, majestic horses, wine making, ballrooms, penthouses and the revival of regency. A vision of a Fiefdom, truly self-sustaining and proper of a time once past. He shows me photos of weddings held at the estate, smiling faces and souls bound forever. I stood in the room where brides stay. The smell of vanilla and oak intertwined at both nostrils end. Such care went into each room, from the tissue boxes to the bedding to even the ice chests in the mini bars. No detail spared, nothing overlooked. The Chef took me around the estate, clamoring it seems that he had but 24 hours in a day because as he put it, “I wish I never slept, there is so much more I want to do at Smithmore.” I could have spoken to the Chef for hours but as time always does, ran out, and he had other guests arriving. A Dining experience for a group of four where the Chef and his assistant had prepared a three-course meal. I peeked into the kitchen through the obscure glass double doors. Ever so saporous aromas of fresh herbs and to speak of the meats prepared is to divulge how royalty dined. This is in fact how royalty dined, no less, no more.
I was now to depart Smithmore feeling out of sorts, of course. As does once whilst awaking from a heavenly dream. Goodbye fortress of my hometown. Parting as they say is sweet sorrow. Knowing however this jewel would be in the best of hands brought upon me the highest levels of gladdening. To the readers I say to you, one must experience this exalted feeling to know how lucky we are that such places exist. Take it all in I say, the sense of nobility when meeting the staff, the panoramic views of the Blue Ridge. The eloquent dishes, the merrymaking and most of all, the memories you will create here. At Smithmore, the Castle in my home town, Spruce Pine North Carolina.
Darlene J. Burleson
Smithmore Castle website:
Chef Benjamin website: