Thursday, November 8, 2018

An Autumn Wander in the North Georgia Mountains

When you think of the state of Georgia, its' cities such as Atlanta and Savannah might come to mind. Or you might think of Martin Luther King Jr or the coastal islands such as Jekyll. But the Blue Ridge Mountains probably didn't pop into your head right away. Yet, in the far northeastern corner of Georgia is a scenic area of mountains, wineries, state parks, shopping and history only a short drive from Atlanta. I recently spent a few days enjoying some fall weather - though we were too early for leaf peeping - in the North Georgia mountains. Come along as I visit  the Blue Ridge area of Georgia.

Helen, Georgia
We started our trip in the Bavarian look-alike town of Helen. Known for the longest Oktoberfest in the States, Helen was a struggling mill town that made the decision to style all it's buildings as if it was in Germany. It's a small town with shopping and of course, German food. But the main attractions here in the fall is the Oktoberfest Celebration. All the hotels I tried to book were sold out - lesson learned: book in advance - so we didn't attend Oktoberfest since we would be driving 30 miles to our lodging through the mountains after dark. But I'd like to make it there someday!

We did a bit of shopping, had a little fudge and then headed out to Habersham Winery just outside of town. The tasting bar was packed so we each got a glass of wine and enjoyed the patio. Most of the wines here are sweeter and made with muscadine grapes that grow well in the Southern climate.
No wine connoisseur here - I'm a slushie kind of girl

We ate at Paul's Steak House which I had enjoyed on a previous visit so I knew I was in for some good food. It was also very busy - every table was spoken for with a short line to get in and it was early in the evening - so I guess the word is out that Paul's is the place to go in Helen. Good food and good service made for an enjoyable meal.

Most people don't know that the first Gold Rush in the United States didn't take place in California. It took place in the small town of Dahlonega in Northern Georgia some twenty years before California's. Dahlonega - pronounced Dah-LON -a-ga - honors that history with a Gold Rush Museum in the town square along with some cute little shops, a few antique malls and a few tasting rooms. Dahlonega is also home to the University of North Georgia which has been designated as The Military College of Georgia. And did I mention that there are some 40 wineries in Northern Georgia? Many are located in the Dahlonega area. 
That gold isn't gold paint, it's real gold from the Gold Rush here in the Georgia mountains

We did a bit of shopping and then had lunch at The Picnic Cafe and Desserty. The cafe offers home made quiche, soups and desserts and we were all quite happy with our meal.

 We had stopped at the Visitor Center and the volunteer there suggested that we had to visit Monteluce Winery while we were in the area. So that's where we headed next. And I swear you would think you were in Tuscany and not Georgia. Monteluce is an incredibly elegant winery in a stunning setting. I would highly recommend visiting this winery and it's restaurant for some delicious wine and handmade pasta on the patio overlooking the vineyard. Our Visitor Center helper did not lead us astray!

Next up was Amicalola Falls State Park and the view from it's lodge. Amicalola Falls is Georgia's highest waterfall. It's a one mile strenous hike to the falls overlook and then another 7.5 miles to Springer Mountain which is the end point of the Appalachian Trail. We - being my sister and my 90 year old mom and I - didn't attempt any of this. But I knew that we could at least take in the views of the mountains from the State Park Lodge. The lodge is a popular - and beautiful - place to stay or eat at the dining room with floor to ceiling windows or take on the challenge of the zipline and ropes course. It's definitely worth the $5 per car entrance fee.

Blue Ridge
There are the Blue Ridge Mountains, there's Blue Ridge Lake and there's the actual town of Blue Ridge which is where we went next. Known for the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, Blue Ridge is a cute - and popular - town quite close to the Tennessee border. It's main street is one long cute shop extravaganza and we enjoyed wandering it on a beautiful afternoon.

 Our first intention was to take the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway out of town - it takes you one hour to the Georgia-Tennessee border where you have two hours to wander in McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee and then return - but since the foliage was still quite green we opted out this time. Hopefully there will be a return visit someday. So for now we shopped and ate - hmm....seems to be a recurring theme - enjoying lunch at the recommended Cantaberry for some delicious soups and sandwiches. 

Our afternoon excursion was to the humongous Mercier Orchards. In business since 1943 and now run by the fourth generation of the Mercier family, the orchard is like no other that I've been to. There is a cafe, bakery, apple tasting bar, Christmas room, and hard cider tasting bar, which I enjoyed. It was $10 to taste 5 ciders or wines - your choice - and I chose 2 ciders and 3 wines.Or you could taste one complimentary cider. The best part was when our host explained that identification was required - he was serious - and my mom had to show her ID. She thought he was just teasing her. But he wasn't. She has loved telling everyone she was carded at the bar. 

We also had to try Mercier's famous - on the Food Network, no less - apple fried pies. Homemade dough is folded over sweet apples and then dropped in oil and fried. And of course, you can't forget the swipe of sweet glaze over the top. To die for. Really.

And then all too soon our visit to the mountains was over. If this an area that you haven't explored, I highly recommend it. There are so many nooks and crannies to be explored that I'm already planning my trip back. 

How about you? Have you been to the North Georgia Mountains?

Linking up with: Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and Sharon's Souvenirs!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

October Beach of the Month: South Carolina's Low Country

South Carolina's Low Country includes the towns of Beaufort, Bluffton, Walterboro, Ridgeland and the Sea Islands, Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie Island and Edisto Beach.(Some lists include Charleston, also) It's a treasure trove of beauty. It 's beaches, marshland, low country cuisine, history and trees dripping with Spanish Moss. It's the home to Marines at Parris Island, the backdrop for movies such as Forrest Gump and The Prince of Tides and festivals in every month of every kind. And it's where I put my toes in the sand for my Beach of the Month for October.

Hunting Island State Park

There are beaches in the Low Country at places like Hilton Head, Edisto, St Helena Island, and the private Harbour Island. I put my toes in the sand at Hunting Island State Park - a 5000 acre semi-tropical barrier island 15 miles from Beaufort. It holds the honor of being the most visited state park in South Carolina - and with good reason. There are 5 miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and forest, a lighthouse, camping and a nature trail. And of the 20 years I've lived in the Southeast, I'd never visited Hunting Island. Wow - was I missing out. I visited on a sunny fall day and immediately fell in love with the tropical feel of the beach. Simply stunning and not crowded, I could foresee a visit for a full beach day. I'll be back.

Where to Stay
Palmetto Bluff - Bluffton
A luxurious collection of rooms, suites, cottages and vacation homes, along the May River in Bluffton, Palmetto Bluff is a 20,000 acre community with golfing, a marina, restaurants,walking trail and a nature reserve. The place to stay if you want luxury and to spend the big bucks.

The Rhett House Inn in Beaufort
4 Star Bed and Breakfast in an historic low country antebellum mansion in Beaufort with antique decor. THE place to stay in Beaufort.

Greyhound Flats in Beaufort
An annex of the popular Beaufort Inn a few blocks from the water in an old Greyhound Station. Free breakfast, wifi and parking. Your choice if you prefer a more contemporary vibe.

There are also your usual chain hotels - Holiday Inn, Hampton and Choice Hotels along with Air BnB and

What to Do
Take a Tour
Go on a tour - horse drawn buggy, kayak, or boat tours are available in Beaufort and the surrounding area. I took a buggy ride through the historic district of Beaufort learning about not only the history of the city but also some of the celebrity residents who have lived there.

Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head all offer plenty of shopping including boutiques, home stores and souvenir shops that are locally owned. Try the Chocolate Tree in Beaufort if you'd like some delicious chocolate that Tom Hanks likes.

Port Royal Observation Tower and Boardwalk
Take a walk along the Port Royal boardwalk and then climb the observation tower to get a view of the surrounding marshland and intracoastal waterway. You can even try your hand at fishing or crabbing while you're there.

Visit a Festival
There's gajillions of festivals in the Lowcountry. I happened upon the Bluffton Oyster Festival and Art Walk with live music, open art galleries and booths selling crafts and art. You can attend Water or Shrimp Festivals in Beaufort, or a Beach Music and Shag Festival on Edisto Island

Visit Historic Sites
Freedman's Cottage in Bluffton
Guided tours are available of the Garvin-Garvey Freedman's Cottage in Bluffton on Tuesdays & Thursdays. (Cyrus Garvin, a Freedman, built this cottage on the May River and 54 acres after being freed from slavery)

The Old Sheldon Church Ruins 
The Old Sheldon Church Ruins is an historic site of Prince William's Parish Church built between 1745 and 1753. Prince William's was supposedly burned by the British in 1779 during the Revolutionary War and later rebuilt only to be burned again in 1865 by Sherman in the Civil War. Today the property is owned and maintained by St. Helena's Church in Beaufort but visits are allowed along as you treat the property according to the rules posted. Popular as a photo site - there were family photos being taken when I was there - this is a very, very cool place to awash yourself in history. Be warned: bring bug spray - they're pretty fierce here.

Where to Eat
Plum's in Beaufort
A  very popular seafood and American eats restaurant right on the water in downtown Beaufort.
She Crab Soup

Panini's on the Waterfront in Beaufort
Panini's is in the historic bank building in Beaufort on the water with patio dining and serving Italian cuisine including brick oven pizzas.

Captain Woody's in Bluffton
Built of scrapped wood from old buildings ( and an old church door from Pennsylvania), Captain Woody's in Bluffton has screened porch and rooftop dining while their Hilton Head location has an outdoor deck. Sandwiches, salads, and seafood served along with weekend brunch.

The Bluffton Oyster Company
A restaurant and seafood company, Bluffton Oyster Company sells fresh local oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, fish and crabs out of their historic building in Bluffton, caters and serves dinner at their Toomer Family Seafood House. 
Oyster Shell walkway

How about you? Have you been to the South Carolina Low Country?

Linking up with: Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global, The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog PartyThe Weekly Postcard at California Globetrotter and Sharon's Souvenirs!