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Mountain Retreats

Gorgeous getaways in the hills are a short drive away

By Vanessa Pascale

The South lures in travelers with her fresh mountain air, spectacular views, gorgeous greenspace, mouth-watering food, wineries and unique attractions. Georgia and North Carolina are home to several charming bed-and-breakfasts, posh resorts, lovely towns and a list of fun-filled alfresco adventures.

We handpicked a list of nearby mountain towns that are rich in culture and history and are the perfect destinations to create lasting memories this summer. Choose between high-status mountain towns that make you feel as though you’re vacationing in Europe with their first-class accommodations and bevy of high-end amenities/activities or affordable, family-friendly mountain escapes.

Luxe Weekend Mountain Retreats

Lake Toxaway, North Carolina
Drive: 3 hours

Known as the “land of the waterfalls,” Lake Toxaway, North Carolina is home to over 250 waterfalls, including Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains with a 400-foot drop. This pristine mountain resort community is also known as the “Switzerland of America” since it’s been a favorite vacation destination for wealthy travelers, including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Firestones, for hundreds of years.

Rich in history and culture, the town has preserved historical buildings now listed on the National Register of Historic Places for Transylvania County, including Hillmont, E. M. Backus Lodge and Lake Toxaway Methodist Church. There are several shopping and dining options, from boutiques and sophisticated restaurants to casual cafes and gift shops. And the town is in a great location —not far from Brevard, the Highlands and Asheville.

Lake Toxaway’s premier resort is The Greystone Inn. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains and on the exclusive shores of Lake Toxaway, the largest private lake in North Carolina, The Greystone Inn is surrounded by the infinite beauty of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest and close to Rainbow Falls. The Greystone Inn was the vision of socialite Lucy Armstrong, who often vacationed here with her husband, George. She wanted a vacation home reminiscent of the Swiss mountain chalets she saw during her Europe trips, and George made this a reality. The original structure was built in 1915 and named Hillmont.

This luxurious waterfront golf resort features upscale rooms and suites housed in a 1915 mansion and two lakeside buildings appointed with exquisite vintage-inspired furnishings, fireplaces (in most rooms), wet bars, whirlpool tubs and balconies/patios with breathtaking views of the lake. The Restaurant at The Greystone serves exceptional seasonal fare for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, coupled with stunning views of the lake and mountains. The property also houses the Mansion Bar and a spa and offers a list of recreational activities.

For more information, visit greystoneinn.com.

Adairsville, Georgia
Drive: 1 hour

No need to cross the pond to experience a space that embodies English charm—simply travel to North Georgia’s historic high country. Adairsville is a charming town with a renewed downtown lined with beautiful historic homes, quaint antique shops and upscale dining. The area boasts hiking trails, museums and Cloudland Canyon State Park, which has stunning waterfalls, wildlife, tennis courts and a swimming pool. The mountain views, fresh air, water features, endless greenery and bountiful gardens will have you marveling at Mother Nature’s beauty.

Adairsville is also home to the renowned Barnsley Resort, a luxury resort situated on 3,000 scenic acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Barnsley Resort offers travelers a taste of the English countryside. Founded by Godfrey Barnsley, this Southern estate was a gift to his beloved wife, Julia, two centuries ago. Inspired by British architect Edwin Lutyens, who is known for designing English country homes at the turn of the 20th century, the grounds house a three-story inn, cottages and an English-inspired village, as well as Manor House Ruins and gardens.

Upon entering the inn, you are welcomed with hardwood floors, a grand staircase, exposed beams and a cozy fireplace. The private, exclusive cottages boast old-world charm seen in the fireplaces and clawfoot bathtubs. All cottage rooms and suites feature luxe comforts, including private porches. There are 55 guest rooms and suites in the inn (totaling 140 rooms), a spa, a farm, onsite restaurants, an 1,800-acre hunting preserve, an 18-hole Jim Fazio-designed golf course and a long list of coveted amenities and services.

The adventures to experience here are plentiful, and include horseback riding, archery, air rifles, ax-throwing and disc golf…to name a few. Barnsley Resort is a gorgeous sanctuary that has everything one could want –nature, history, and unrivaled beauty – and is the perfect escape for a romantic getaway, a golf trip, or a family vacation.

For more information, visit barnsleyresort.com.

Highlands, North Carolina
Drive: 2.5 hours

Highlands, North Carolina is nestled in the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains. This charming mountain town has infinite natural beauty – waterfalls, forests, rivers and lots of hiking trails to take it all in. A popular spot with affluent travelers since it was established in 1875, downtown Highlands boasts luxurious accommodations, elevated dining options, small-town charm and walkability.

Old Edwards Inn and Spa, which encompasses several acres of downtown Highlands, is the preferred hotel in this area. Formerly Highlands’ first boardinghouse, today, this luxurious mountaintop resort is a breathtaking haven steeped in dreamy European style. Guest rooms, spa suites, cottages and cabin rentals are appointed with period-style furnishings, sumptuous Italian bedding, heated marble bathroom floors, fireplaces, private patios and more. The award-winning Relais & Chateaux property has everything one needs to feel well taken care of, including an extravagant spa (Condé Nast rated them the “Top Hotel Spa in North America”), a couple of restaurants that serve farm-fresh fare, a Tom Jackson-designed golf course, three pools, a lovely wine garden and quaint shops.

This serene property fosters rest and relaxation and is the perfect setting for either a ladies’ spa getaway or a romantic vacation. For more information, visit oldedwardshospitality.com/old-edwards-inn-spa.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY DAY TRIPS

Dahlonega, Georgia
Drive: 1 hour

Dahlonega sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is known as the Heart of Georgia Wine Country. The area has something for everyone: For the outdoorsy, there are waterfalls, streams and trails surrounded by Georgia’s verdant natural beauty; for the foodies and wine enthusiasts, there are a variety of wineries, vineyards and restaurants; and for the creatives, there are art galleries, live music venues and theaters.

The local accommodations range from cozy spots like the Yellow Daisy Bed and Breakfast to VRBO cabins and Italian-style villas at Montaluce Winery & Restaurant. This region has several vineyards and wineries — Accent Cellars: Dahlonega’s Urban Winery; Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery; and Kaya Vineyard & Winery, to name a few — that offer knowledgeable wine tastings, vineyard tours and wine trails.

Here, there is no shortage of natural beauty at which to marvel. Tourists and locals alike can visit nearby waterfalls (don’t miss Cane Creek Falls, Amicalola Falls and DeSoto Falls) and the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is only 20 miles away.  As the site of the first major U.S. Gold Rush, visitors can go panning for gold in the river, visit real gold mines and learn more at Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site.

Downtown Dahlonega epitomizes that charming-small-town feel; it’s easy to see why it has been the backdrop for Hallmark’s Christmas in Homestead and Lifetime’s A Taste of Christmas. Take a leisurely stroll through the square, where you can pop in and out of one-of-a-kind stores and gift shops and purchase unique souvenirs. The locally owned restaurants range from elevated to casual and serve a variety of fare, including barbeque, Cajun, American and some of the best Southern comfort food around. Don’t miss The Dahlonega Fudge Factory to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Blue Ridge, Georgia
Drive: 1.5 hours

Blue Ridge arguably boasts the best views of Georgia’s lush natural resources with its 16 waterfalls, winding rivers, breathtaking mountains and abundant flora. Fun Fact: Blue Ridge receives the most precipitation of all regions in Georgia. Occupying the entire northeastern part of Georgia and named for the mountain range extending into this area, Blue Ridge is home to Georgia’s tallest mountain, Brasstown Bald, and Springer Mountain, the southernmost terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

To really see the area, ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which takes riders along the Toccoa River and through North Georgia’s countryside. Starting in downtown Blue Ridge, riders embark on a 4-hour, 26-mile round trip journey with a 2-hour layover reserved to explore a couple of the neighboring towns. Mercier Orchards is another must while here. This beautiful orchard has a market, bakery and fruit-picking throughout the year.

Alfresco dining is definitely the way to go here and there are a list of fabulous restaurants offering this. The Black Sheep Restaurant, located in the Historic Butt House, is known as the best dining in Blue Ridge. Serving fresh, locally sourced New Americana, The Black Sheep prides itself on being “comfortably unfamiliar.” For a more casual vibe, stop by Hook & Eye. Known for their “burgers, brews and beautiful views,” this popular rooftop restaurant serves up elevated tavern fare, including meatball sliders, higher ground nachos and warm doughnut bites.

Helen, Georgia
Drive: 1.75 hours

Helen is a picturesque mountain town known for its vineyards and Bavarian-style village juxtaposed against the Chattahoochee River. Located in northeast Georgia, Helen spans two square miles and features German restaurants and shops with alpine facades. During fall and winter, Helen is filled with visitors from all over the world to experience Oktoberfest and see the town decked out for Christmas.

The accommodations in Helen range from hotels, campgrounds and vacation rentals to cozy bed-and-breakfasts and cabins. Notable accommodations include Lucille’s Mountain Top Inn & Spa, a luxurious B&B and spa, and Unicoi State Park & Lodge, which has a lodge with 96 hotel rooms, wine-barrel-turned cabins and campgrounds.

Nature lovers have a wealth of open-air adventures to partake in, from ziplining, trout fishing at Dukes Creek and archery to kayaking and tubing on the Chattahoochee River. This region has a number of recreational parks, including Smithgall Woods State Park and Unicoi State Park, which have lakes, campsites, and hiking trails, as well as beautiful waterfalls like Anna Ruby and Raven Cliff waterfalls. Don’t miss experiencing The Georgia Mountain Coaster, the first alpine coaster in Georgia, which provides an exhilarating ride through the woods and mountains.

Helen has a list of award-winning vineyards, wineries and breweries to explore, including CeNita Vineyards, Winery & Tasting Room and Habersham Winery. Stop by world-renowned Hofer’s for a bite at their restaurant and some delectable baked treats – their apple strudel is delicious. Downtown Helen has every cuisine desired. In business for over 50 years, Paul’s Steakhouse is a Helen staple that serves excellent surf and turf. For a fun, relaxed vibe and German fare, pop into The Troll Tavern. This riverfront pub has a tasty Grilled Reuben, best enjoyed with a pint of beer while overlooking the river. And if you’re in the mood for Thai and sushi, Spice 55 is the place to go.

Ellijay, Georgia
Drive: 1.5 hours

Ellijay is a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Known as Georgia’s Apple Capital, the best time to visit Ellijay is late summer and early fall, so that visitors can partake in apple picking, enjoy freshly made apple pie and sip on cider from one of the many orchards to visit — there’s B.J. Reece Orchards, Red Apple Barn and R&A Orchards, to name a few. Home to a list of wineries, including Engelheim Vineyards; Cartecay Vineyards; Grapes and Ladders Winery; and Ott Farms and Vineyard, visitors can enjoy wine tastings and live music and tour beautiful vineyards.

Ellijay has accommodations for every preference, such as luxe boutique cabins at Dragonfly Dreams Luxury Cabin Rentals; glamping in a Geodesic Dome or Airstream Cabin; or traditional campsites, and bed-and-breakfasts like Ellijay River House Bed & Breakfast. Historic Downtown Ellijay is filled with antique stores, farm-to-table eateries, cafes and shops touting sweet treats, like Abby’s Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt and Bavarian Chocolatier.

Outdoor enthusiasts can mountain bike, golf at Whitepath Golf Course, kayak, horseback ride, fish, zipline, go tubing, kayaking, rafting…the list goes on. Visitors can take a day trip to Amicalola Falls State Park, go tubing with Cartecay River Experience and hike at CCC Fire Tower Combination Loop at Fort Mountain State Park, Gahuti Mountain Trail and Talking Rock Nature Preserve. If you’re seeking a family attraction unique to this area, check out Expedition: Bigfoot!, featuring the country’s largest permanent display of genuine Bigfoot artifacts, life-sized exhibits, photos, sketches, large up-to-date sighting maps, and the World’s only Bigfoot Research and Tech Vehicle on display.

Many of Ellijay’s highly-rated restaurants are walking distance from downtown.  For pizza, check out Ellijay Wood Fired Pizza; for some Southern comfort food, dine at White Columns Restaurant. Finally, go to The Roof Ellijay, known for their bologna sliders and boiled peanuts, for a Sunday brunch or dinner with a great view of the city.

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