Respites for the Restless in North Georgia
written by JENNIFER COLOSIMO
WHATEVER KIND OF TRAVELER YOU ARE — active wanderlust, five-star standard, under the stars, across the globe or a bike ride away — when you blend getaways with outdoor adventures, a new level of relaxation unfolds. If you’ve spent time discovering that notion near Georgia’s northern border, then you’ll agree. Via roads that require two hands on the wheel and adequate time for scenic stops, there’s so much to see and do that rarely do you get time to enjoy it all.
A temptation free of hustle and bustle and the worry of bedtimes was impossible to resist, much like the promise of concierge service, spa treatments and good food, heightened by the unique juxtaposition of the North Georgia mountains. The two spots I landed satisfied a deep need for equal parts lavish rest and genuine adventure, leaving room to go back for more of both.
BRASSTOWN VALLEY RESORT & SPA
photography courtesy of BRASSTOWN VALLEY RESORT & SPA
My first stop was just over the mountain from the glittering blue-green Lake Chatuge. Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa is nestled among the trees in Young Harris, beckoning plush curiosities with a keen sense of adventure. It opened in 1995, and while much of its charm has remained intact, it has evolved over the years into a sought-after destination for vacationers of all ages. With an amenity list built with the entire family in mind, it begs the question: why not stay longer?
An extended stay feels doable when you’ve got two choices about where to rest your head. The rustic cottages give you the option to spread out a little, with four rooms for rent, plus a parlor. You can park right outside the door and skip waiting on the elevator for a ride to your room. A room at the Lodge is a great option too, as the resort’s hotel boasts cozy, mountain-inspired décor and easy access to sofas in front of the lobby’s grand fireplace, a seat to enjoy your sunset cocktail on the large patio or a walk through the courtyard. Designed with a Cherokee house in mind, the central fireplace is a popular place for people in the area to come enjoy a drink, so find your spot early and snuggle in.
History by HoofBeat
My husband and I started the day with a rustic horseback riding experience at the stables. We never would have called ourselves avid riders before our experience with stable manager Jerry Hamilton, but after a long morning ride soaking in the Cherokee history, spotting quiet deer and glimpsing undisturbed flora majestically cloaked in the dawn’s mist, we may soon be reprioritizing our free time.
It was more than just a sightseeing ride, thank goodness, because as the early morning’s heavy dew snapped a tree branch just off the path and made our horses jumpy, we knew where to shift our weight and how to tighten our heels so that the disturbance was a healthy part of our adventure. With the simple lessons Hamilton provided along the way, we were able to enjoy a peaceful ride that gave us deeper appreciation for the sport overall, as we learned to keep our horses focused and our posture comfortable enough to ask for more saddle time.
From Tees to Treatments
Less heart-pumping, a more friendly competition awaits at the resort’s other majestic beauty. Albeit manmade, the Brasstown Valley Golf Club’s 18 holes of challenging terrain and rolling elevation offer a first-hand view of the ridgeline at competitive prices for the area. One of my father’s favorite courses with five tee sets and challenges for every level golfer, you can easily spend all of your free time trying to lower your score. The course hosts several tournaments, offers golf lessons and clinics and a clubhouse packed with golf goodies, unique home décor, local artisan gifts and crafts.
The cure for recovering from any outdoor adventure sits quietly across the street. The Equani Spa was added to the resort in 2008 and is named for the Cherokee land it sits on (equani is Cherokee for “ridge”). Both the building and its services pay homage to the area’s rich history by weaving distinctive Cherokee elements that stimulate and replenish one’s entire being into their foundations.
Whether you choose manis, pedis, facials or massage, the carefully curated menu of embellishments to these services are what make this an experience to remember. Plan to arrive extra early to browse the options; spend time on the outdoor patio, relaxation room or in your own private hot tub enjoying a signature bath treatment. With a glass of something sparkling in hand, you may decide this is your preferred type of adventure.
Even if your lone activity is reading a good book in one of the patio’s rocking chairs, you can avoid getting back in your car by taking advantage of the resort’s enormous buffet or by grabbing something casual at Brassies, the resort’s “19th hole” and a perfect spot for a quick lunch or quiet dinner by the fire. Both offer incredible views of the area’s unmatched sunsets.
If you’re up for exploring the quaint towns outside of the resort, then make room for memorable meals. Don’t miss Mary’s Southern Grill, tucked away in a shopping center off Highway 17. Choose breakfast platters piled high with eggs, toast, sausage and bacon, homemade jams and jellies, stacks of pancakes and breakfast potatoes done three ways. Mary’s also offers gluten free breads, no-sugar syrups and plenty of other lighter options. The only rules? Come early, bring cash and don’t dillydally or you’ll wait a long time for a seat.
There’s also Blairsville’s Cuba-inspired option, Dan’s Grill. A tiny place taking up another shopping center storefront, this authentic eatery offers a menu of feisty flavors and traditional dishes, like the Midnight Sandwich, a traditional Cuban served pressed on a sweet egg roll, or some of the best black beans you’ll ever eat in your life. Succulent crab cakes to share, homemade agave pastries to go and friendly service keep bringing us back. brasstownvalley.com
VALHALLA RESORT HOTEL
photography courtesy of VALHALLA RESORT HOTEL
When you think about Helen, you’re probably imagining neon-colored inner tubes floating along the river and picturing authentic pairs of lederhosen or playing putt-putt. And while plenty of people flock to the motels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs of downtown for those exact reasons, a new place to stay kicks the expectations of this Bavarian-inspired town to greater heights. This summer, Valhalla Resort Hotel opened its doors to travelers looking for something a little more luxe. For me, it satisfied a deep need to enjoy everything Helen has to offer without thousands of day-trippers and motorcycle brigades fighting me for a parking spot.
Instead, Valhalla offers an oasis; a quaint, yet majestic hotel overlooking the rolling hills and dense forest that sits above the downtown’s busy streets. It provides visitors with a way to enjoy the unique charm of a treasured city with four-star service and lavish amenities. In fact, that’s exactly what inspired owners Jerry and Gayle Murdock to open it. Establishing Valhalla helped them deliver something intimate and luxurious to Atlantans wanting a shorter drive for both high-end dining and luxury resort amenities.
Whether upon first plunge into the pile of impossibly plush pillows, first deluge by the cascading waterfall shower or first flame from the in-room fireplace, this old world-styled castle is truly heaven. That’s where it gets its name – Valhalla being the ancient mythical heaven for Norse warriors who died heroically in battle. With Jerry’s Scottish heritage, and an ambiance that inspires feasting, retreating and relaxing, the name is a natural fit.
Enhanced Southern Sampling
A far cry from the funnel cakes and giant pretzels celebrated on the streets below, the menu at Caledonia rivals anything you’ll eat in town and executive chef Dean Hill is the reason behind it.
With experience from Virginia to Colorado, Washington and back, he previously served as the executive chef for Potomac Point Winery before the Murdocks handpicked him to spearhead their resort’s culinary vision.
“When I cook, I like to use local fresh ingredients that are found seasonally, and I like to layer them for a multitude of different flavors; I’m all about the farm-to-fork concept,” Hill said.
Because the region is rich in local co-ops and farms selling fresh ingredients, this allows Hill to source from businesses like Nora Mills Grainary, Buckhead Beef, Springer Mountain Farms and Jumping Goat Roastery. You’ll recognize the menu’s Southern comfort theme, but look forward to the flair that Chef Hill puts on each, in his own words, taking his favorite childhood meals and putting unrecognizable spins on them. In short, these aren’t your grandma’s fried green tomatoes.
The menu at Caledonia really tests your willpower to order rationally. Starters include pan seared diver scallops and Gulf Coast rock shrimp bruschetta. Salads come creatively topped with Georgia blueberries or smoked gouda and goat cheese fritters. The roasted asparagus is hot, accompanied by a soft poached farm egg, Asher blue cheese, white truffle and crisp Vidalia onion. Choose wisely, because you won’t want to miss a bite of the Buckhead Beef filet, plated with twice cooked (and perfectly crisped) herb and vinegar potatoes, tender morels and Vidalia onion ragout. Other notable options include the pan seared Alaskan halibut served with Meyer lemon risotto and the oven roasted rack of lamb with vanilla and black pepper spätzle. A dessert made in-house – and topped with whipped cream made from Mountain Fresh Creamery dairy products – makes for a sweet ending to this little mountainside culinary fairy tale.
In the Sky Bar or at the pool, guests can savor shareable bites like the chorizo stuffed mushrooms, fish tacos and popcorn tuna; or settle in for a more casual meal with creative salads, soups, sandwiches and excellent shrimp and grits.
The Solasta Spa offers a cozy, convenient escape from the day you spent shopping, wine tasting or hiking waterfalls nearby. Reserve the Mountain Mist Facial for a refreshing twist on the traditional treatment, including an aromatherapy mist; gentle exfoliation with active fruit enzymes and acids to firm, brighten, calm and clear your complexion; a tailored treatment mask and relaxing arm massage. For the adventure seekers, detox with the Hiker’s Relief Massage for an hour of indoor TLC.
Steps outside the spa sits the sparkling blue pool with its private cabanas and plush toweled lounge chairs where you can choose to skip the in-town activities for the day, or recover from them. Spend time in the aromatherapy steam room, gym or opt for afternoon tea on your balcony. To ward off any possible cabana fever, the personalized guest service is poised to escort you and/or your group into town to a nearby winery or trailhead. Truly, Valhalla is anybody’s heaven. valhallaresorthotel.com