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Tour & Travel

The Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, NC

Written by: Martha Schmitt for The Life in Meyers Park Magazine

Valle Crucis

Luxury finds its way into this rural community known for its rich history

Written by: Rita Larkin

for WNC Magazine


If I were to call my imaginary friends Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and Mario Batali and invite them for a weekend getaway, I’d take them to the Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis.

If I were to call my imaginary friends Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and Mario Batali and invite them for a weekend getaway, I’d take them to the Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis.


Oprah and I would chat with innkeepers Gaye and Frank Luaces about their fascinating pasts. We’d learn that Gaye, a jewelry designer, had dreamt of owning a B&B since she was 18, and that she and Frank spent six years completing the remodel of this circa-1900 farmhouse. I’d nod in agreement as Martha marveled at the inn’s décor—immaculate in hues of gray that border on lilac and crisp whites, bleached French-oak floors, and a sumptuous selection of European antiques in every room. And my chef-pal Mario, would feel right at home during the cooking classes offered in the gourmand’s kitchen, particularly the Italian series that explores the cuisine of each region of the country. Sitting next to me at the kitchen island, Mario would pipe in as the guest chef and Gaye share recipes and techniques.


I wondered why the three hadn’t stayed here yet and why they hadn’t taken my calls as I drifted off to sleep on fine linens in my plush bed at Little Pond [208 Valle Cay Dr., (828) 297-1011]. The Lauceses have created a celebrity-worthy retreat in this rural valley known for picturesque farmland. Between the luxury inn and laid-back community, you can spend quite a posh and relaxing weekend in this spot between Banner Elk and Boone.

Play

Valle Crucis was the first rural community in the state to be named to the National Register of Historic Places. If you want to learn some of the history behind that designation while seeing the valley on horseback, head to Dutch Creek Trails [3287 N.C. 194 S., (828) 297-7117], and talk to Keith Ward, whose family extends back eight generations in Watauga County. Just be prepared to filter out the tall tales. The Cowboy Poet, as Ward is called (he writes poetry and reads for audiences across the country), and barn manager Tim Vines take some creative license with the stories they tell the naïve —specifically visiting writers. Some of the yarns about the 1880 barn that houses the operation are told in jest, but the story about the man who robbed the local bank and got off with $13 in pennies is true, I think. The guides lead one-hour rides along Dutch Creek year-round, every day except Sunday.

Shop

At Alta Vista Gallery [2839 Broadstone Rd., (828) 963-5247], housed in a two-story bungalow just down the road from Mast General Store, owner Maria Hyde exhibits landscapes and still lifes by local and regional artists. Here, I kept going back for another look at the contemporary landscapes by West Jefferson artist Tonya Bottomley. That’s the beauty of having so many interpretations of a central theme in one exhibit space; visitors can hone in on the style that resonates most with them. Hyde, a painter herself, takes a special interest in the artists she represents; for each piece that intrigued me, she explained the creator’s background and recent accolades. There are watercolors by Ron Skelton, garden scenes by E. Jean Pollock, and impressionist pieces by J. Sporn. I left with a farm scene painting by Bennette Rowan on my wish list.


Eat

After a decadent breakfast of French toast, granola with yogurt and strawberries, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and coffee at Little Pond, it’s difficult to imagine that you’ll want a ham sandwich on pumpernickel later in the day, but you will. The Ham Shoppe [124 Broadstone Rd., (828) 963-6310] is where locals and visitors-in-the-know head for a mid-day meal. The Hawksnest sandwich, named for a nearby mountain, comes with its own impressive elevation of honey-baked ham, spicy capicolla, and smoked provolone. A little more international is the Russian Mistress with turkey, fresh spinach, tomato, bacon, and Swiss cheese. No mayo on this one, just Russian dressing. You can also take home fresh bread from the bakery.


You don’t have to be a guest to participate in the culinary classes at the Inn at Little Pond. During the session on the food of the Piedmont region of Italy, Chef Tina Houston of Boone talked the group through preparing ricotta gnocchi, and pan-roasted spareribs with sage and white wine. But the best part, of course, was eating it all.





Tomato, Goat Cheese & Fresh Herb Frittata and a Weekend from Heaven!

Written by: Chris Scheuer

for The Café Sucré Farine


Nothing short of spectacular!

.............. that was our experience this past weekend at The Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, North Carolina. We spent three days in the North Carolina mountains celebrating our thirty-sixth anniversary. June was a busy month and we really didn't have much time to plan our special weekend get-away. We knew we wanted to spend time in the mountains, but didn't have a clue on where to go. With a few disappointing experiences in the past, we were a bit leery when we began looking for places to stay. My husband somewhat randomly ran across the website for The Inn at Little Pond Farm and it looked quite lovely. He went ahead and made the reservation, but we were still a bit dubious, even as we drove up the long winding drive leading to the inn.


The rooms are decorated simply, but elegantly and the beds are heavenly with the most deliciously delightful European pillows, linens and down comforters. We slept like babies, all comfy under our featherbeds with the window open to the cool mountain air. Can you tell we liked this place?


Oh and the food! .............. I'm not going to tell you about the wonderful breakfasts and Saturday night dinner, instead I'm going to show you! After all, I did have my wonderful photographer (aka husband) along with me! So check out the pictures and the recipe for the delicious Heirloom Tomato and Fresh Herb Frittata that Gayle prepared for us one of the mornings (I twisted her arm just a teeny bit for the recipe). We LOVED it and I think you will too!

The gorgeous, oversize kitchen, with marble countertops and stainless steel prep tables, is the perfect canvas for bursts of culinary color, including crimson tomatoes, sunny yellow peppers, emerald field greens, and all the other glorious foodstuffs that take the stage during the inn’s culinary classes.

On any given week, budding foodies can brush up on knife skills, learn to create Italian desserts (including gelato), or how to host  French and Italian cookouts.

While Gaye Luaces, who owns the inn with her husband, Frank, refrains from calling the courses a cooking school, the Florida transplant has plenty of kitchen experience to draw upon, having spent vacations abroad learning Tuscan and classical French culinary techniques.

The couple hosts a monthly supper club, bringing in a rotating lineup of chefs, including tonight’s guest, Chef Travis Sparks of Seed to Plate catering, who teach and prepare meals while guests watch, take notes, and participate.

The Luaces each have specialties in the kitchen, too. For this Italian country dinner, Gaye cuts and seasons a tray of tomatoes and pops them into the oven to roast slowly. Meanwhile, Frank creates a latte gelato. His secret for the best flavor: cooking espresso grounds in milk to create a “mud” that he pours through a fine coffee filter. For the next step, he makes crunchy pizzelles by drizzling a thin batter of butter, egg whites, vanilla, and sugar onto a special iron, filling the kitchen with a sweet aroma.

Sparks arrives to prep the main ingredients, bearing tender arugula and mesclun from his family’s Ashe County farm. First, he washes and wraps veal tenderloin in pancetta, tying it neatly with twine.

Greeted by Gaye and refreshing glasses of prosecco, guests gather around tables set with nibbles that introduce great flavor combinations, such as fig jam and creamy Gorgonzola on seeded cranberry crackers, the sweet, roasted tomatoes, and zippy lemon-zested ricotta on toasted olive oil French bread.

The supper club members and their friends hearken from Nebo, Charlotte, Yellow Mountain, and just down the road. After introductions, they settle onto stools around the spacious marble-topped island, which gives everyone a view of the chef as he works. At each seat, the hostess has placed a charming little green envelope that holds tonight’s recipes, making it easy to follow along during the lesson.

“Your hands are the best tools, especially with young greens,” begins Sparks, gently tossing the salad with a dressing he whips up as the group watches. “Otherwise, they will bruise and become slimy.” The instruction is filled with simple, helpful tips like this one. As he pits a mound of pert nectarines, he explains that less ripe fruit is best for grilling. “It’s going to hold together on the grill better.”

Gaye chimes in with explanations as well, sharing that the French feta in the salad is creamier and sweeter than traditional Greek or Italian. “It’s made from goat’s milk as opposed to sheep or cow’s milk; that’s the difference,” she says. Between sips of verdicchio, a crisp white wine from a small premier vineyard in central Italy, some students intently take notes.

Another cheese makes its debut in the second course: a rich fettuccine. The Dolce Gorgonzola from the Piedmont region of Italy is creamy and sweet, with a subtle bite. It and a broad chunk of butter commingle in a warming pan. Sparks invites one of the diners to assist by zesting a lemon, which will counter the creaminess of the dish. Handfuls of fresh, fragrant rosemary are tossed into the sauce. The long, thin tagliarelle noodles cook quickly and easily soak up the rich sauce, imbuing the pasta with a pure and delicate balance of flavor. It’s a light and surprisingly refreshing dish.

The group splits up, with some following Sparks to the back patio to observe him grilling asparagus and tenderloin (which he first seared over the stove), while others remain to tend a marsala sauce reducing on the stove.

Dusk has turned to dark by the time the club reconvenes on the veranda around a simply set picnic table. The outdoor lamps alight and the sound of Italian retro-pop filters outside. As guests sip an Italian red that is a perfect match for the veal, they chat about the challenge of attempting the meal at home. By dessert, it’s clear their attention has settled on enjoying the balmy High Country evening and each others company as they savor velvety spoonfuls of gelato from pizzelle bowls.

“This is usually how it ends up,” Gaye says with a smile as some of the ladies sway to the music under the pines that shelter the wide veranda. “They dance at every class.”





Italian Lessons

The owners of the Inn at Little Pond Farm welcome guests for an instructive culinary fête

Written by: Constance E. Richards

for WNC Magazine

Photograph by: Christopher Shane


Tucked around a bend in the picturesque hills north of Valle Crucis along N.C. 194, the Inn at Little Pond Farm exudes simple luxury. Inside this refined and expanded former farmhouse, white-washed bistro tables, bead board trim, wide-planked, French oak floors, and layered shades of white, cream, and gray create a sense of calm sophistication.

You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the Inn at Little Pond Farm. Tucked into a captivating crook of the mountains between Banner Elk and Boone, it’s “a fur piece” as Faulkner would say, from Greenville. No matter. Innkeepers Frank and his wife Gaye have made a career of catering to weary travelers from neighboring towns and other countries, alike. Together for nearly twenty years, the couple has settled into a comfortable rhythm in which she often plays the straight foil to his mischievous banter. Between the two of them, it’s impossible not to feel like you’re among friends.

The two opened their doors to visitors in early 2009, six years after an extensive and exacting renovation of the circa-1900 farmhouse—much of which was the result of Frank’s skill as a cabinetmaker. For Gaye, a designer of both interiors and fine jewelry, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream of owning a B&B. But in reality, the Inn at Little Pond Farm began with just a culinary program.

Gaye was well-versed in the merits of learning to cook from master chefs in Tuscany and the south of France. Though invaluable to understanding techniques, Gaye says they were often intense, full-day affairs spent knife or spatula in hand. So, for Little Pond’s culinary program, she decided to swap the tools for forks and knives and simply have a guest chef demonstrate how to make the dishes and allow visitors to tuck into the meal upon completion—participation in chopping, optional. “It’s what put us on the map,” she says bustling around her husband as he continues to pour pizzelle batter onto the hot iron.

Guests soon discovered that after a convivial meal with as many as 12 at the table, they wanted nothing more than to head off into slumberland. As such, the inn was ready to accommodate. “We are not your typical B&B with quilts and teddy bears,” she cautions.

Indeed, the only thing rustic about the Inn at Little Pond Farm is its setting. Once inside, the eye rests on smooth expanses of sparkling windows, white beadboard, and antique furnishings punctuated by only the softest of dove grey and cream. Every item in the pantry is perfectly placed to be seen as there are no cupboard doors. Nary a window treatment, painting, or multi-colored Persian rug mar the milky serenity of the rooms.

That theme is carried throughout the house. The kitchen is a study in gleaming marble, stainless-steel prep surfaces, and bright white tile. The bedrooms feature iron or pale fabric headboards with snowy linens. Bleached French oak planks soothe the eye and the feet. Though reclaimed, the floorboards don’t prompt Gaye to launch into a monologue on the origin and history of the wood. It’s as refreshing as the palette. As is the utter lack of even one speck of dust in any corner. Eating off the floor suddenly seems appealing.

As afternoon turns to evening, eating is top of mind, albeit off pearly plates. Soon one of a revolving roster of chefs will arrive to begin prepping for a dinner. The menu and recipes were masterminded by Gaye as part of the continuing series. With the exception of the pizzelle, tonight’s three courses will pay homage to classic French cuisine.

Young chef Hunter Hallmark arrives and ties on his apron even before he’s done shaking the snow off his shoes. Frank is already at work, bent like a crescent moon above a tray of plump pear halves, which he decorates with pats of butter, dollops of honey, and a generous amount of white wine before sliding them into the oven. As the pears poach, the three strategize about how best to grill the lamb chops, as it’s a bit too cold to abide while they grill outdoors.

By 6:15, the other guests arrive and it’s immediately a party, even though many are meeting for the first time. Their chatter only quiets momentarily as Gaye introduces the menu and Chef Hunter explains some of the highlights before launching into an explanation of the best way to extract the beans from a pod of vanilla that will flavor a cherrySavoyarde for dessert.

Frank pours a French white Nostre Pais 2011 Costiere de Nimes to start while everyone digs into a tomato appetizer (its mellow burst of flavor thanks to Gaye’s four-hour roasting in advance) alongside tart cornichons, hard salami, and a dark nut bread that is as dense as a flourless chocolate torte.

The poached pear salad is next, followed by a heaping platter of mussels in a luxurious bath of shallots and cream. Chef Hunter explains how to make a beurre manie for the sauce as several guests venture to help chop herbs, each donning the toque and drawing laughter and applause from those assembled. Despite its French classical roots, the dinner is the opposite of haughty. We can thank Gaye’s Italian and Frank’s Cuban heritage for that.

As the party devours the shellfish, Chef Hunter sets to work on the lamb chops and their garnish. Gaye and Frank never take a seat at the table. Instead they hover around refilling glasses and pulling away empty plates. At one point, Frank hunches over a sauté pan, scrubbing the splatter off the handle with a toothbrush.

In this way, the place is nearly clean by the time dessert is placed in front of the guests. Not that they aren’t observing the Luaces’s meticulous attention to detail. One diner says he’s been to their culinary events multiple times and continues to marvel at the amount of care that goes into every experience.

Not long after, most people say goodbye and head to their rooms. I almost feel guilty seeing the couple still have a few dishes to tackle, but the siren song of the soaking tub was too strong to ignore. Thanks to a thoughtfully provided bottle of bubble bath, the evening was more than complete.

On the other side of slumber was a gloriously bright morning scented with fresh brewed coffee and the cinnamon tendrils rising from French toast. Gaye and Frank thoughtfully prepared a sumptuous breakfast replete with more fruit, yogurt, the toast studded with raisins, and warm maple syrup.

As we push away from the breakfast table, Gaye reminds everyone that Thomas Arrington of Pasture in Richmond, Virginia, and Tom Condron, formerly of Le Cirque who now owns The Liberty in Charlotte, will be making appearances in the coming months. But the Luaces’s hospitality is more than enough reason to journey back.




Full Service

The Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, NC, is steeped in good taste

Written by: Town Magazine

Photograph by: Christopher Shane


Frank Luaces emerges from the wide French doors of a whitewashed farmhouse rubbing his hands vigorously in a dishcloth and grinning broadly. “We’ve been expecting you.” He’s been in the kitchen, carefully tending to the creation of pizzelle, traditional Italian waffle cookies that he’ll press into serving as cups for ice cream after dinner. I have been riding shotgun for the past three hours, idly admiring the scenery as we made our way from Greenville up into the snow-laced hills of Valle Crucis, North Carolina. Frank’s eyes twinkle as he leads us into his workspace. Perhaps it’s the uplifting scent of vanilla and anise, but I feel my spine unkink and my face readjust into a smile.







Getting Personal with Farm-to-Table Cooking

Written by: Karen F. Buchsbaum for

justoffthebeatenpath.wordpress.com

Photograph by: Karen F. Buchsbaum


I saw the Farmer’s Market through new eyes on a recent visit with cookbook author Jill Dahan. Through a class at the Kitchen at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, we started our Saturday with a morning trip to the Watauga County Farmer’s Market in Boone.

Once there, Jill introduced us to farmers, bakers and vendors of all sorts. We tasted goat cheeses, honey, breads, and organic chicken. An egg purveyor told us that if you bake with duck eggs you don’t need to adjust ingredients for altitude (I’ll have to try out that one).

Local farmers have had a very tough year with the excessive rains ruining many crops, diminishing their usually abundant offerings. Thankfully, Jill had gone to the Market when the doors opened at 8AM to reserve some of the best produce for our luncheon class. We added tomatoes, cheeses, breads, micro greens, garlic, and onions to Jill’s reserve of kale, basil and beets.

Once back at Little Pond Farm, the festivities got underway. Under the guidance of innkeepers Gaye and Frank Luaces, Jill got to work in the Inn’s fabulous state-of-the-art kitchen. Jill is all about healthy eating with fresh, wholesome food. Her easy-going style and no-nonsense manner kept the class as interesting as it was educational. Classes at Little Pond Farm are as interactive as you want them. In the past I’ve helped chop and stir, but today the group of 12 enjoyed watching Jill’s prep work as we tasted each delicious course.

While we watched and chatted with Jill about her recipes, techniques and recipe substitutions, we enjoyed a light Rioja rosé wine along with some of the breads and goats cheeses we had selected at the Market. For lunch we had Tomato Pesto Tart (using kale instead of spinach in the pesto); roasted beets and onions served over delicious beet greens (I never thought of using beet greens for a salad); followed by a dessert of cheesecake with a crust made of almonds and macadamia nuts and topped with fresh-from-market raspberries.

Along the way, we learned about cooking with coconut oil and coconut sugar, some tasty new products and how to adapt recipes for fresh items found in the market on any given day.

Best cooking class ever.

A note about the Inn at Little Pond Farm: I have known owner/innkeeper Gaye for more than 20 years, from our days in Coral Gables, Florida. In those days she worked in interior design (specializing in old houses, of course) and jewelry design. I was delighted when a mutual friend told me Gaye had moved up to NC with her husband Frank and were going to open a very special inn.

The couple spent six years, planning, restoring and adding to the circa 1900 farmhouse that is now the serenely enchanting Inn at Little Farm Pond. I already knew Gaye was a perfectionist-extraordinaire and learned Frank was also a master carpenter. Their attention to detail permeates every corner of the Inn from the gleaming gourmet kitchen/class area, sophisticated décor, and peaceful five-acre grounds, to each of the six luxurious guest rooms.

With their talents and personalities, Gaye and Frank are a magical team. When you visit the Inn, I challenge anyone to find a speck of dust; and just open any cabinet to see the extent of the beautiful craftsmanship at Frank’s hand. The gorgeous floors were brought over from Provence and the entire Inn reflects a charming palate of soft grays and soothing shades of white. Those who stay at the Inn, or visit for the regular cooking classes, provide all the other color needed.







Simple Pleasures

Written by: Page Leggett

South Park Magazine


There’s an unspoken rule that mountain inns have to be cozy. You know the image: Dark woods, earth tones, mounted deer heads.

The Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, N.C., just three hours from Charlotte, turns that notion on its head.

Cozy is not quite the right word for the inn, although it’s not wrong, either. The six-suite lodge is filled with wonderful contradictions. It’s dreamy, yet it’s crisp and sharp, too. It’s in the North Carolina high country, but the look is French-meets-Scandinavian.

Nothing is out of place, yet you’ll feel comfortable putting your feet up. Everything about the inn says, “Relax. You’re going to be taken care of.”

And you will be. Co-owner Gaye Luaces has long been intrigued with the notions of home and hospitality. The inn and its esteemed culinary program are the culmination of a nearly lifelong dream for Gaye that began in 1968 while she was in interior design school in New York.

“The dream got tucked away while I pursued my interior design career,” Gaye says. In fact, she’s had several careers – furniture buyer for a department store, kitchen designer, design stylist, visual merchandiser.

And jewelry designer. In 1985, she turned her straightforward aesthetic toward jewelry and opened her own store in Miami. (Gaye’s custom jewelry is available at the inn, as well as in the shop she still owns in Florida.)

When she hired expert cabinetmaker Frank Luaces to build the cabinets for her shop, she got more than an exacting craftsman. She got a husband and partner in her dream. They married five years after meeting and began searching for mountain property.

Deciding to buy an inn is one thing; finding it is another. The perfectionistic couple searched for six years for the right property. Planning and construction took another eight years.

The entire time they were searching, Gaye knew what the inn should look like – uncluttered, simple, sophisticated. She believes less is more, and it shows in the unadorned inn awash in whispered shades of white, grey, taupe and cream.

Since Little Pond Farm opened in 2009, guests have responded with a collective, contented sigh. “We hear it over and over again,” says Gaye. “Our guests tell us, ‘I want to go home and throw everything away.’ They see this is a place of peacefulness. There’s not much artwork on the walls. That’s not how I live. Our intent was to build a retreat, and I think we’ve succeeded.”

Gaye also liked the idea of “taking something old and tired and bringing it to its full glory.” There was little glory – but plenty of old and tired – in the farmhouse the Luaceses discovered. “We fell in love with the setting,” Gaye laughs. “Not with the house.”

The farmhouse, built in 1900, had undergone many (bad) renovations. In fact, there was only one element that survived the meticulous transformation: the stone fireplace in the living room. Gaye and Frank left the farmhouse intact but tore out the interior from basement to rafters.

Gaye designed the interiors and chose all the paint, finishes and furniture. The process was painstaking, but it wasn’t drudgery. She traveled to France, England, Italy, New York, California and Palm Beach to buy antiques. Simplicity isn’t easy to achieve.

Gaye says guests are often surprised by their sophisticated farmhouse. “People are not expecting this,” she says. “They expect quilts and teddy bears.”

Another surprise? A top-notch culinary program with a regular rotation of guest chefs – some local and some of the celebrity variety – who lead dinnertime cooking demos for between eight and 12 people on everything from “The French Table” to Southern fare.

Little Pond Farm has an almost meditative quality about it. Guests can leave the comforts of the inn to shop in nearby Boone or Blowing Rock or take a hike. (Gaye and Frank will even pack you a gourmet picnic.) But many choose to indulge in the exquisite idleness of staying in.

Room rates, starting at $250 a night, include breakfast, afternoon sweets and early evening wine and housemade hors d’oeuvres.

Everything about the inn is light and subdued. As soon as you put your bags down, you’re likely to feel the same way. Little Pond Farm redefines what a mountain inn can be. And, in its own refined way, it’s as comforting as an old quilt.



The Permanent Tourist

http://charleston.thepermanenttourist.com/

Holly Herrick

Laid Back Luxury

Written by: Linda Kramer

Marquee Magazine - Winter 2014

Photograph by: Murray Lee