By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 4, 2010; F04
The Mast Farm Inn in historic Valle Crucis, N.C., is the kind of place where you don't have to lock your doors. Not that I had a choice. To protect the historical integrity of my cottage -- the Loom House -- the door could not have a lock installed in it.
"Don't worry. Everything is safe here," innkeeper Sandra Deschamps Siano assured me.
I believed her. Nestled in the beautiful Watauga River Valley off the Blue Ridge Parkway, this peaceful rural community seems largely unchanged and incorruptible. Less than a mile down the road, you can buy Coca-Cola in a glass bottle at the 128-year-old Mast General Store, then sip it while listening to a man play banjo on the porch. (Wander to the back of the store, and you'll find a chicken hatch door in the floor.)
The inn's history goes back even farther than the store's. The first house, a two-room log cabin, was built by Joseph Mast around 1810. Construction of the farmhouse began in the 1880s. He passed the house down to his son Finlay and daughter-in-law Josephine, who began renting rooms and cooking meals for tourists around the turn of the century.
Finlay and Josephine stopped operating the inn in the 1930s, and the property remained mostly empty until 1984, when the first of a series of random pairs of sisters took ownership.
In keeping with tradition, five years ago, Sandra and her sister, Danielle Deschamps, became the innkeepers after years of living and traveling around Paris, London, New York and other parts of North Carolina. Their parents and Sandra's husband help run the inn, which has seven rooms in the main house and seven cottages.
The entire inn is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Loom House is one of the oldest cottages in the county, Sandra told me, which is why she has been reluctant to mess with the door. (You can lock it from the inside, though, which is what I did each night.) "I hope you don't mind. It's very rustic," she told me as she showed me into the two-story cottage.
It was indeed, and smelled of old wood, but it had modern amenities such as a television set, a DVD player, central air-conditioning and free wireless Internet access. In the living room on the ground floor was a massage tub for two. Upstairs was a queen-sized bed (with a quilt, of course) and a bathroom with a corner shower. That's the kind of rustic I could get used to.
"We mostly try to inspire a relaxing environment where you disconnect from the everyday chaos and reconnect with yourself, and the person you are traveling with," Sandra said.
As I sat in a rocking chair on the porch of my cottage, disconnection from the chaos of Washington was easy given that my cellphone barely got service and the WiFi signal was inconsistent. Spotting me with a glass of water in my hand, an employee asked if I would prefer a glass of wine. I couldn't work, so why say no?
The Deschamps sisters have become known for such personalized service. When you reserve a room, they e-mail you a questionnaire asking what you'd like to do during your trip. When you arrive, they give you a cloth bag filled with brochures, guidebooks and magazines to help arrange just those kinds of activities. I had said I wanted to go zip-lining, and in my bag was information about a local zip-lining company.
The accommodations aren't the only draw to the Mast Farm. The on-site restaurant has become quite popular and is a finalist for a state award for promoting farm-to-table dining. Dinner is served only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (plus Sunday in July and October). Usually, there are only two seatings a night in the small dining room.
After I and other guests listened to local guitarist Gary Lane during the Friday night social hour, we were escorted to the dining room for a prix-fixe four-course meal. Even though we were all getting the same food, we each got a menu with our names on it, and the personalization didn't stop there. Danielle, who with her mother, Marie Henriette, is in charge of the cooking, Googles each guest and names each dish after something in his or her life. I got a Georgetown University soup, for instance, because I graduated from Georgetown. Had I been celebrating a birthday or anniversary, my menu would have been even more personalized.
On the menu that night was a hearty tomato soup, a fresh mixed greens salad, and a perfectly cooked steak tucked into a pastry dough that I didn't care for as much. The only decision we had to make during the meal was which of the four desserts to choose. I opted for the heavenly Hummingbird banana pineapple cake with homemade ice cream.
Breakfast the next day was equally good -- and filling. I didn't need vegetable quiche and a sausage with a homemade biscuit, so I tried only a little of both, and was still full until dinner. Good thing there were so many hiking trails nearby.