By Lila Battis
July 10, 2019
Courtesy of The Inn at Willow Grove

The South is often painted with a broad brush — regarded as a monolithic region of angel oaks, indulgent food, and honeyed accents. But in truth, the Southeast is richly varied: the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia shares little with the white-sand beaches of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, accents shift regionally from twang to lilt to television-host neutral, and even within a single state, the barbecue debates run as hot and fierce as any political disagreement (Team Vinegar!).

That’s good news for travelers, because you could explore the region for years and never have the same experience twice. The one thing you’re guaranteed to find, no matter the locale? That legendary Southern hospitality — something this year’s winners for the World’s Best resort hotels in the South bring in spades.

Every year, for the World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Hotels were rated on their facilities, location, service, food, and overall value. Properties were classified as city or resort based on their locations and amenities.

Related: The World's Best Awards 2019

Some familiar names appear on this year’s list of the top resort hotels in the South: seven of the 10 properties chosen by readers were on last year’s lineup, too. Perennial favorite Blackberry Farm, in the Great Smoky Mountains, jumped three slots this year, coming in at No. 4. Its expansive 4,200-acre estate, legendary culinary program, and top-of-the-line service have helped it earn a reputation as one of the country’s finest retreats. As one reader put it, “Blackberry Farm could not be any better. It is absolutely phenomenal.”

Just across the state line in North Carolina, the Swag offers a more rustic sensibility that’s no less welcoming, with rough-hewn wood furnishings, handmade quilts, and stone fireplaces that keep the place cozy year-round. One fan likened it to “camp for adults,” saying that the property “has all the amenities you’d want to take advantage of.”

Ahead, our full list of winners for the World’s Best resort hotels in the South.

10. Old Edwards Inn & Spa, Highlands, North Carolina

Courtesy of Old Edwards Inn & Spa

Score: 91.84

More information: oldedwardsinn.com

9. Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia

Courtesy of The Inn at Little Washington

Score: 91.91

More information: theinnatlittlewashington.com

8. The Cloister at Sea Island, Sea Island, Georgia

Courtesy of The Cloister

Score: 92.13

More information: seaisland.com

7. The Fearrington House Inn, Pittsboro, North Carolina

Courtesy of Fearrington Village

Score: 92.29

More information: fearrington.com/inn

6. Montage Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, South Carolina

Courtesy of Montage Palmetto Bluff

Score: 92.70

More information: montagehotels.com

5. Primland, Meadows of Dan, Virginia

Courtesy of Primland

Score: 92.76

More information: primland.com

4. Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee

Courtesy of Blackberry Farm

Score: 93.58

More information: blackberryfarm.com

3. The Swag Resort, Waynesville, North Carolina

Jumping Rocks Photography

Score: 93.75

More information: theswag.com

2. Lodge at Sea Island, Sea Island, Georgia

Courtesy of Sea Island

Score: 93.83

More information: seaisland.com

1. Inn at Willow Grove, Orange, Virginia

Courtesy of The Inn at Willow Grove

Score: 97.22

From the outside, this year’s first-place winner looks like so many other Southern resorts, set within a stately 18th-century mansion that oozes grandeur. But step inside and you’ll see how the property’s fresh, contemporary approach sets it apart. The design is warm and eclectic, with an edge, and overstuffed leather furnishings and vintage pieces mingle with animal-print accents and industrial items. The location — just two hours from D.C., nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the middle of Virginia’s wine country — is a dream for those who want to hike, bike, and go vineyard-hopping within easy reach of a major airport. “As you enter the grounds, you’ll feel your stress slip away,” said one fan. Of course, the service is superlative as well. One reader gushed over the thoughtful staffer who “brought hot beignets and coffee to us in our lovely cottage at 5 a.m. before we went hot-air ballooning.”

More information: innatwillowgrove.com

Want to experience one of the World’s Best resorts for yourself? This October, join Travel + Leisure editor in chief Jacqueline Gifford and Food & Wine’s executive wine editor Ray Isle for an intimate trip to California’s Wine Country during fall harvest season. With the iconic Meadowood Napa Valley as your home base, you’ll be treated to exclusive tastings at some of the region’s best wineries, including a handful that are typically closed to the public. Book your trip now before spots disappear.

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2019.

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