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Member Monday: Switzerland Inn

The Lure Of The Mountain Retreat

by: Tina M. Wolfe
The relentless rain had thankfully taken a break, giving way to glorious sunshine as I made my way up the mountain to Switzerland Inn. I was excited to visit this treasured community icon that has been hosting summer travelers for 110 years. Cresting the top of U.S Highway 221, I rolled down the windows as I turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway soaking in the cool breeze and relaxing sounds of nature. It’s no wonder this haven in the Appalachians attracted North Carolina Supreme Court Judge Heriot Clarkson to buy up land and build a retreat back in 1911.

Pulling into the driveway the far-reaching vistas won my attention over the construction crew busily making fixes and doing upgrades during the annual off-season. While the original inn (run by Clarkson’s sister Ida) was considered spacious in its day, the two-story, 25-room building has burgeoned over its lifespan and now features a main lodge and restaurant, several quaint cottages, and chalets, a festive pub, swimming pool, and local shops on the acreage. They even have a pickleball court with regular tournaments open to the public.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Jordan Gowan, the granddaughter of the fourth owner of the Inn, and Marketing Director Whitney Ledford. These two co-workers and friends had grown up on this property, worked over the summer college breaks, and were now taking leadership roles in continuing its legacy. They shared favorite memories of family times, special guests that have returned year after year, the young clientele that liven up the pub enjoying local craft beer, and even creating new stories as their own young children become beloved characters in the Inn’s story.

“The Inn has such an ingrained history for Little Switzerland and for us,” Gowan said. “We love to welcome those families that have been coming here for generations and share their memories. We know which room they want, and what table they sit at for dinner.” It’s a great mix of people preserving traditions and those experiencing for the first time, Ledford adds.    

The same welcoming spirit and care that Ida Clarkson showed the “summer residents” of Little Switzerland has been intentionally cultivated by each owner over the years. Clarkson sold the Inn to William Cesna in the ‘60s who razed the original structure and built the current Main House in 1961 just as tourism began to flow heavily to the area.  Cesna later sold the Inn to a Mr. Schwebke and JoAnna and Gary Jensen Sr. (Jordan’s grandparents). The Jensen’s took full ownership in 1983 and it’s been a family affair ever since.

Gowan and her husband Nathan, who co-manages the property, plan to take over the Inn from her parents, making them the third generation of Jensens to operate the Inn. Gary Jensen Jr. (Jordan’s father) is a big contributor to designs and additions the family has applied, said Jordan. “He definitely oversees all the improvements we make during the off season.”  

This favorite centenary lodging facility underwent a facelift this winter with beautiful upgrades including new tile in the bathrooms, new linens, brand new kitchen equipment for those gourmet meals served in the restaurant and fresh landscaping. Even during Covid, Jordan says they were only closed for two months and booked up quickly once they reopened. For the first time, they are opening the Chalet Restaurant for all meals to the public this season, hoping to provide locals with great options for dining out.
For more casual fare and incredible views the Terrace Dining will delight and is open to the public on a first come, first serve basis. With appetizers such as Portobello Fries and Carolina Caprese along with heartier options of North Carolina Trout or Tuscan White Bean Stew with Portobello, this al fresco destination fits the bill. The atmosphere is inviting and fun where guests often partake in games of table tennis or Jenga before their meals. The attention to detail and customer service is all about the optimal experience for the guests.

The main dining room, The Chalet Restaurant is a full-service establishment as well as offering catering services for weddings, showers and corporate meetings or special events. A wall of windows sets the tone for the room. Tables are graced with white linen and silver ready to serve guests breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Arugula, Goat Cheese Avocado Toast with a squeeze of lemon sounded amazing. They also offer omelets, pancakes, French toast, and waffles, breakfast burritos and even a breakfast burger! Dinner options include prime rib and perfectly cooked steaks, salads, roasted duck, seared ahi, and more. There is a creative flair in the kitchen with options that feature a variety of taste profiles and even some savory surprises.

For those looking for a less formal outing, visit the Fowl Play Pub. Custom wood details and a European pub quality makes for a perfect place to gather with friends for a local craft beer including Mica Town offerings, among others. The menu includes lighter fare and there is a great patio to enjoy the cooler mountain evenings.  The Pub also has a private room for parties or meetings.

If you find yourself having too good of time at Switzerland Inn, consider staying in one of their generously appointed rooms. Who doesn’t enjoy a staycation once in a while? There are eight uniquely designed options from the minimalist and private A-Frames, the Caprice with its round architectural features, the detached cottages, to the historic features of the Main Lodge.

The Switzerland Inn is much more than a place to stay. It is an experience that relaxes, entertains, satisfies, and leaves you wanting to come back. It’s a place where great memories become treasured traditions.
Family Photo by the Pool: L to R: Ellie Gowan (4), Nathan Gowan, Jackie Jensen (current owner), JoAnne Jensen, Gary Jensen Sr., Gary Jensen Jr., Sawyer Gowan (3), Jordan Gowan. 

Switzerland Inn is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at 86 High Ridge Road in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. They can be reached at or by calling 828.765.2153.

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