It's a new year, and that means it's time for a fresh perspective. While Monteagle is probably known to most Chattanoogans as the pit stop between here and Nashville, the much-traversed mountain is actually home to hidden jewels tucked away in its lush forests. From a ready-made home away from home to a wine and dining scene you wouldn't believe, this post New Year getaway promises minimal travel requirements.
"There's a lot more to Monteagle than the McDonald's at the exit," laughs Jim Harmon. "Not only do you have a very comfortable base to stay in and operate from, there's so much to do here." A Sewanee University graduate, he and his wife, Lee, own and operate the Monteagle Inn and Retreat Center, a country-esque bed and breakfast with 13 rooms, a homey dining area and living space and - a guest favorite - an expansive front porch. "It's far enough away from Chattanooga that you can get away from your to-do list, but if you have to get back, you can in 45 minutes," Harmon says.
The inn caters to large groups, corporate retreats and wedding receptions up to 450 people as well as couples and individuals who love to hike the countless trails on Sewanee's campus and in the South Cumberland State Park. Breathtaking views and eye-catching waterfalls lace the trails, allowing hikers to fully escape the civilized world and focus on the beauty of the rugged landscape.
After a long day of hiking, guests can sleep in luxurious comfort and wake to the delicious smells of the inn's famous gourmet breakfast, lauded by the likes of Southern Living Magazine. The inn usually only offers catering options on special occasions, but Harmon says the mountain is home to several fantastic eating options - including Dave's Modern Tavern.
"We just try to do fresh, good food," Chef David James says. James called Chattanooga home until he moved his tavern - formerly Lookout Valley's Modern Dave's - closer to the clouds at the top of Monteagle Mountain. "Being chef and owner, I kind of do what I feel like doing, which allows me to do a lot of different things." Calling James' menu eclectic is an understatement. He serves everything from gourmet seafood - delivered fresh six days a week - to burgers and homemade French fries to lasagna and eggplant parmesan.
Originally from Maryland, James discovered his love for seafood living near Chesapeake Bay. He worked in crab houses and other restaurants until he decided to hitchhike to Texas in 1978. In the South, he continued his trek through the food industry working in restaurants and hotels; at one point he even worked his way up from a dishwasher to the chef's assistant in an Italian restaurant. He says his out-of-the-box training is vitally important to his unique meal offerings.
Of course, you can't dine without wine. The Monteagle Inn has an impressive selection of wine onsite, but for a true vineyard experience guests can travel to the nearby Monteagle Winery. Denise Nunley and her husband, Mike, reopened the winery in 2007 after it had been closed for several years. "It was the first winery he and I ever visited in the 1980s," she says. "Today, we want a relaxed atmosphere. We have folks come in that have never been in a winery or don't necessarily think they like wine. Those customers are always a lot of fun."
The Nunleys appease the taste buds of their customers with regularly held wine tastings and tours of the winery. Situated on a 6-acre piece of land, the small but fruitful vineyard sprawls across the front lawn of the winery, available to guests who would like to walk through or picnic in the area. Denise says they wouldn't be able to offer the quality wine without the help of their friends, who work in the vineyard and bottle the wine after it ferments.
The mountaintop community is just less than an hour away, but as Harmon says, a visit to Monteagle will put guests in a vastly new frame of mind with its "different area code, different time zone, different altitude - different attitude."
Just a few of the wines currently offered at Monteagle Winery
A 100 percent blackberry wine
A fruity and sweet wine
Ross Creek Red:
Made from red muscadine grapes and sweet in finish
Mountain Valley Red:
A Concord wine blend
A rich Cabernet
204 West Main Street
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