It's late when we cross the state border from Bristol, Tennessee, to its twin city in Virginia. Our destination is Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards , a luxury resort tucked amid 450 scenic acres of Appalachian Mountains in the Virginia Highlands. We’re still powering through highway suburbia when our arrival countdown nears its end, and we begin to wonder when exactly the fast-food restaurants and strip malls will fade into fields and farmland. Then we turn onto Nicewonder Drive. Giant hickory and oak trees guide the winding path, and as we reach the top of a steep hill, it suddenly appears. A combination of dramatic uplights and the natural glow from the moon makes the Nicewonder Inn shine against its backdrop of the lush tree line and shadowy mountains.
Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards is the newest and final development from the late Don Nicewonder, a prominent Virginia businessman and philanthropist who was best known for creating the neighboring Virginian Golf Club and private community in the early 1990s. Nicewonder passed away at the age of 76 last year, just months after the resort opened. However, seeds for the concept were sown nearly a decade earlier when the patriarch had a 6-acre vineyard planted on his southwest Virginia property.
Over the years, the vineyard grew to 12 acres and it now contains an array of grape varietals, including Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. The wine initially was sold at The Virginian, but the Nicewonders dreamed of creating an experience around it. The result is Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards. Featuring a 28-room inn plus nine luxury yurts, hiking trails, a tasting room, a fishing pond, an infinity pool, a disc golf course, a working farm, a spa, and a fine-dining restaurant called Hickory—Nicewonder is now a true destination getaway.
Today, visitors can sample vino accompanied by live folk music and enjoy the cozy firepits at the tasting room and then watch the sunset from one of the inn’s plentiful private balconies. Inside the rooms, you’ll find bottles of the property’s wine chilling in the fridge, local snacks in the cabinets, and plush robes waiting in the closet.
The same comforts can be found in their yurts , which are more like tricked-out tiny homes than tents. If you go with this option, expect to rise each morning to gentle sun streaming in from a domed skylight. The front porch can provide prime seating for a majestic twice-daily viewing of grazing deer, while the back deck may overlook the greenhouse and vegetable gardens of Dan and Heather Huard, the husband-and-wife duo who run Nicewonder’s farming program.
The couple cultivates an impressive array of heirloom and hybrid crops ranging from mesclun and microgreens to pineapple, edible flowers, and rare peppers. They also grow and grind corn for fresh grits and meal, prepare jars of relishes and jellies, and make hickory syrup from tree bark. Chefs and mixologists at Hickory have their pick of the harvest when creating new dishes and drinks for the restaurant. Visit the farmstand, and the couple will be glad to take you on a tour of their gardens and introduce you to their farm cats and Nicewonder’s chickens, all of whom are named.
There’s plenty of room to roam at this hotel retreat, but it was always intended to be intimate. You might strike up a conversation with a family at breakfast and then chat again later while roasting s’mores or lounging by the pool. That convivial spirit is something Nicewonder, who never met a stranger, would have enjoyed almost as much as sharing his beloved slice of the Virginia Highlands with the world.