Road Trip: North Georgia Mountains
Just an hour and a half outside of Atlanta, nature beckons. You’ll pass through mountains on your way to bucolic lakes and waterfalls. And at the end of the rainbow, a surprise awaits – dozens of wineries.
By Vicki Prichard
No one has ever accused me of being a delicate mountain flower, though I’m the first to admit that I’m drawn to the many varieties that bloom in the North Georgia Mountains. I’m a Kentucky girl, and a road trip for me to Dahlonega, GA runs seven hours, but the journey is well worth the stealth navigation through the winding, canopied mountain roads when one takes into account that at the end of the road you’re in the heart of Georgia’s wine country, nestled in the gateway to the Appalachian Mountains.
The site of America’s first major gold rush in 1828 – yes, that’s pre-California – Dahlonega is situated at the foothills of the Northeast Georgia Mountains, 70-miles northeast of Atlanta. If winning lottery numbers have escaped you, try your luck at mining for a few nuggets or gemstones at Crisson Gold Mine where, without a little ‘grubbing’ you might turn up a ruby, emerald, sapphire, amethyst, or garnet; talk about rich soil. As far back as the early 1540’s gold was luring the likes of Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto to North Georgia, where Indians panned for gold along the Chattahoochee River, just north of Atlanta. By the early 1700s, the Spanish were forced out of Georgia, and it wasn’t until 1828 that gold was rediscovered and started a rush.
While there are numerous reasons to sound a rallying cry for a girl’s road trip to Dahlonega, I don’t discount good karma. Back in 1863 North Georgia College and State University was the first state-supported college in Georgia to grant a degree to a woman. Centuries later, this nestled-in-the-mountains community embraces the visual and performing arts as well as the pleasures of its lush, natural backdrop of mountains, lakes and waterfalls. I generally abstain from the abundance of kayaking, canoeing and golf venues around Dahlonega, but I’m the first to take advantage of the year-around hiking, local art, and satisfying retail and culinary venues in this sweet slice of Americana. Adventure-seekers take note that if you want to tighten your biceps by the swing of a club or the plunge of an oar, this is the place for you.
Apparently wine flows as abundantly in Dahlonega as gold once glistened from its mountains and creeks. While my first loyalty is to my native Bourbon, there’s no denying that the smooth wineries of Dahlonega greet the lips like an old friend. Wineries and vineyards range from Montaluce Winery & Estates, Frogtown Cellars, Blackstock Vineyards & Winery, and Three Sisters Vineyards.
Ooh, Ahh, A Mountain Spa
As if a canvas of verdant hills and smooth waters don’t provide adequate comfort, Forrest Hills Mountain Resort beckons with a ‘come curl-up, relax and pamper’ ambiance. Yes, they might be called ‘cabins’ but don’t think for a minute that you and your girlfriends are roughing it. This family-owned resort beckons with a pleasing Girlfriend’s Package that includes a bottle of local wine, cheese board and crackers in your cabin; passes to Blackstock Winery or Three Sisters Vineyards for a wine tasting and a one-hour massage at their spa for each adult. Encouraging retail therapy, they throw in VIP discount coupons for the North Georgia Premium Outlets. But perhaps most satisfying, is the horseback ride through the forest where spring flora and fauna are emerging from a winter’s rest.
With a fitness center, outdoor swimming, sand volleyball, carriage rides and a well-stocked library of chick flicks, you might be inclined to stay put and celebrate your sisterhood here for the duration of your visit, but if you do, proprietor Michele Kraft-DeBlois will likely encourage you out the door to take in all Dahlonega has to offer.
“Forrest Hills is a feeling,” says co-owner Michele Kraft-DeBlois. “It’s a world that’s been developed by our hopes and dreams and the hopes and dreams of our guests over the past 30-plus years. Our No. 1 goal is to make sure you stop and relax, eat great food, spoil yourself at the spa and go home fully rejuvenated, ready to face the world again.”
That “feeling” is one of the reasons 78-year-old Peggie Simmons of Dawsonville, GA, continues to return with between 16 and 30 women from her family – three generations of Caruthers women – for their annual cousin’s retreat.
“We’ve been doing this for twenty-something years and this is our fifth time to Forrest Hills. We come from all over – Alaska, Australia, Montana and Virginia,” says Simmons. “We all stay on one floor in the U-shaped building, and a hot tub in the middle of our deck. It’s gorgeous up here.”
Say The Magic Words
Lily Creek Lodge lures women, but without the impending doom of a Greek tragedy. Owner Sharon Bacek will reward Sunday through Thursday guests who mention LCL’s Georgia Girls Mountain Getaway when they make their reservation with 10 percent off of their room rate and a ten percent discount at the Jolie Day Spa or Littlefield Cottage Day Spa. She sweetens the deal with a sampling of Paul Thomas Chocolates – divine creations from North Georgia’s own chocolatier, Paul T. Hoffman. Yankee’s take note that if you book a two-night stay you’ll receive a bona fide Certificate of Georgia Girldom.
Devil is in the detail, but so are the little luxuries
Mountain Laurel Creek Inn & Spa’s sumptuous rooms give instant ambiance with roomy
Town Square is anything but…
At first glance, Dahlonega’s old-fashioned town square exudes a feel of simpler days and times, but what you’ll find are shops brimming with local art, and culinary venues that give voice to regional talent. Saunter in to Cranberry Corners, Humble Candle Shop to snag some local creations, then settle in for a bite at the Corkscrew Café, the Crimson Moon Cafe, DuMond’s Patio & Grill, or The Smith House, a Dahlonega institution, known for its Sunday brunch with fried chicken and scads of sides.
And if you’re wondering when is the best time to plan your road trip to glimpse spring in all it’s glory, then get out your map now and put in for vacation time because it’s festival time in the North Georgia Mountains. The season kicks off with the Dahlonega Trail Festival, March 16 – 18, which heralds hiking season. Next up is the Mountain Flower Fine Art Festival, March 19 – 20, followed by the 26th Annual Spring Wine Highway Weekend, March 23-25.