Hiwassee River Retreat offers year-round romantic getaway

Photo contributed by Cortney Bramlett / The treetop soaking tub at Hiwassee River Retreat is a popular add-on. The optional “romance” package includes flower petals, candles, a bottle of bubbly and a special gift.
Photo contributed by Cortney Bramlett / The treetop soaking tub at Hiwassee River Retreat is a popular add-on. The optional “romance” package includes flower petals, candles, a bottle of bubbly and a special gift.

Having discovered the importance of spending quality time alone with each other, Ty and Cortney Bramlett wanted to create a place where couples could recharge and reconnect far away from the stresses of daily life. Last summer, they opened Hiwassee River Retreat, an adults-only boutique waterfront escape.

"I think the people who come realize this is something their marriage needs," Cortney says, adding, "Every single person who's come said they can't wait to come back."

The second marriage for both Ty and Cortney, they began traveling to couples resorts around the world when not in the custody of their six children. The one-on-one time sparked not only a deeper love for each other, but also an idea. Their trips to Belize, Aruba, Mexico and more ultimately became sources of inspiration for what their own retreat would offer.

"We built what we would want," Cortney says, listing outdoor showers, a hot tub and water view as the top things they look for and have therefore incorporated for their guests.

The property's two luxury cabins are refined yet minimalistic -- an escape from the clutter of kids' toys and belongings that are often strewn across family homes, she notes. Having grown up in a log cabin, she wanted the retreat to reflect that rustic charm, but with a modern and high-end aesthetic.

The 143 cabin features a farmhouse glam and slightly retro vibe, while Beloved is a funky take on midcentury modern. Both offer a clawfoot soaking tub, a fully equipped kitchenette, a spacious bathroom with a double walk-in shower and heated floor, a premium king-size bed and a loft with games, books, karaoke and more. Outside, each has its own grill, covered hot tub and outdoor shower on one of the attached decks, and a personal fire pit overlooking the water.

"One comment we've constantly gotten from people is we thought of every detail," Cortney says, referencing the provided kitchen utensils, toiletries and customized welcome kit including a fire starter and other unique touches.

Inspired by the small wedding chapel Ty built for their backyard wedding, the cabins provide plenty of windows to soak up the relaxing view, but the property's shared soaking tub has been a highlight for visitors. Located between the two cabins, it's covered by a clear roof for views from every angle and can be set up with candles, champagne and rose petals for guests -- who can rent it for a private two-hour soak even if not staying on the property.

This spring, the Bramletts will open a formal replica of their backyard wedding chapel onsite. Equipped with a small kitchen, it will host intimate celebrations with up to roughly 30 guests, with wedding and honeymoon packages available.

In the future, the couple plans to scatter additional cabins across the 7-acre property. While geared toward couples, the retreat welcomes solo adults, small women's groups and other age 25-and-up travelers looking for an escape. Each cabin houses two people. (In addition to children, no pets are allowed.)

To book, visit hiwasseeriverretreat.com. There is generally a two-night minimum, though the 143 cabin can be reserved for one-night stays Monday-Thursday.


WHERE TO EAT

The fully equipped kitchenettes offer the perfect opportunity to recreate the homecooked meal that you used to woo your beau, and the retreat offers a variety of meal plan options through a local caterer, so you never have to leave the property. But should you crave a little culinary adventure, there are several "favorites" in nearby Cleveland, Tennessee, recommended by the Bramletts.

The couple says True at BHB is their top pick, loved for its date-night ambiance and all-around delicious menu. The restaurant is the evolution of Bald Headed Bistro, a longtime local hotspot for celebrating special occasions. Get there between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and toast to your love with a happy hour drink before dinner (closed Monday-Sunday).

True's rustic charm is welcoming, and the menu is varied. Trained chef Wesley True and his team turn out artful dishes that are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, everything from wood-fired pizza to filet mignon and chicken schnitzel to Nashville-style hot chicken.

If it's hot chicken you're craving, be sure to swing by Marthie Ann's Hot Chicken and Cold Treats for what reviewers say is the best chicken sandwich ever. The unassuming spot is perfect for a meal on your way to or from the plentiful outdoor activities that surround the retreat, no matter what time of day.

The Southern-style menu offers a smorgasbord of hearty breakfast rolls, wraps and chicken-and-waffle combinations, along with nearly a dozen creative takes on the hot-chicken sandwiches for which the restaurant is known. There are also salads and sides for those looking to eat light, and blue plates for those with more of an appetite. The variety of homemade ice cream is also not to be missed.

To take dessert back to your cabin, stop by Sweet Caroline Cheesecakes for a taste of a local middle schooler's pandemic hobby that's quickly turned into a community favorite. Order ahead if you want to be sure to get your preferred combination in either a 4- or 9-inch size, or select from the featured mini assortments and slices.


WHAT TO DO

Cortney says most couples never leave the property, preferring to relax and simply enjoy each other. Though, there is plenty to do onsite for those who want to bond over shared activities, including cornhole, kayaking/paddleboarding (provided) and fishing (rods provided).

Stock up on toasting provisions for your romantic stay by stopping by one or both of the area's two wineries on your way in. Morris Vineyard, the more established of the two, is highly rated for its predominantly sweet Southern wines and slushies. The three-generation winery also offers an assortment of local jellies and cheeses. Tastings are offered every day; no appointment needed.

Silver Springs offers a more traditional roundup of varietals, using grapes from prized regions to craft its own vintages while the longtime Greek winemaker works to establish his own vineyard. The Greek cafe onsite is highly rated and offers Sunday brunch in addition to lunch Wednesday-Saturday. Silver Springs Vineyards is closed Monday-Tuesday and tastings are done only by appointment.

Those looking for an extra-memorable experience can make the roughly 30-minute drive to Chilhowee Gliderport and get a birds-eye view of the mountains as they soar above them in a motorless aircraft. Rides are offered weekends yearround, though the last weekends in February and March are off-weeks. (Check the calendar at chilhowee.com for future dates.)

In addition to taking advantage of the area's hiking trails, couples that want to connect with nature can take a horse­back ride through Ocoee Horseride, also located about 30 minutes away.Choose from a one-hour trail ride or a daylong ride and picnic in the Chattahoochee and Cherokee National Forests. Both are offered yearround, but a winter sojourn could mean a private ride with just the two of you and your guide.