If you’re singing the blues about the lack of holiday travel options, we have a few ideas to share. Since Europe, the Caribbean- well most of the globe – are actually off limits, we want off the beaten path, drivable locales.
Forget New York, Chicago or any metropolitan area.
Think North Georgia. OK, it’s not at the top of your list, or more likely not on your list at all. The North Georgia mountains offer a number of idyllic small towns, all of which are surrounded by glorious nature.
Social distancing comes compliments of the Blue Ridge Mountains and their foothills. Putting Blue in a positive way, here’s a cute town for you, aptly named Blue Ridge. It has an artsy vibe, galleries (not NOMA of course), but cute with some good art and food. In its early days, founded 1806, it became known as the “Switzerland of the South”. I don’t know quite how that came to be.
But here’s the thing, most everything is open. Restaurants may have some limited capacity, but all in all, North Georgia is back to business as usual.
Blue Ridge is mostly mountain home and cabin rentals, all back in the woods with no neighbors. It’s also known for its tree houses. Remember when you were a kid and had one, or a friend did? How fun was that? These tree house rentals aren’t those from way back. They have all the comforts of home. They are literally in tree tops; some have poles to help support them, others just have a tree in the middle of the house. Way cool.
I stayed in a real tree house, an incredibly luxurious version, in Belize. I woke up not only to birdsong but was eye to eye with the vocalists. It’s a memorable experience.
Also, in little Blue Ridge is a train, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The Orient Express it is not, but the kids will love it. It pulls out of a historic depot in the center of town. The excursion is four-hours round trip. It stops in two smaller towns for lunch and shopping. It straddles the Georgia/Tennessee line and a river. I do love trains. This one offers great scenery and large windows for viewing it. It runs daily and Santa will be around on some of those days.
Dubbed Germany in Georgia, with a population of less than 500, and a faux Bavarian village at its center, kids will love it. The village is kitschy but the mountains, waterfalls and the Toccoa River running right through it is a piece of peace in these dreadfully stressful times. Want a house with a river view? Try Cabin Rentals on the River. Other offerings include Georgia Mountain Rentals. And of course, there are plenty of cabin and home rentals tucked into scenic mountain spots. Like all of North Georgia, the place is packed with hikes, and outdoor experiences. Waterfalls are numerous.
I stayed at Smithgall Woods, believe it or not, a Georgia State Park. Georgia ramps up its state parks. Cabins are nudged back in the tress, and there’s a large Smithgall House that accommodates several guests. It’s very nice. Hiking trails are plentiful. Individual cabins are neighbors, for folks who want to get away, but not be isolated in the forests.
Downtown Blue Ridge will be swathed in holiday lights, and they remain up until well past Christmas.
This charming little town is centered by a 19th century square. Shops, small inns and restaurants are plentiful. While small, it’s a city compared to Helen with its population of 7,000. It offers arts, shopping, boutiques and eateries. Like the rest of North Georgia, its pretty much business as usual now.
It has also built a reputation for its vines and wines. Many of them offer accommodations on property. You may not feel like you’re in Napa or Sonoma, but accommodations are pleasant and varied. One offers a log cabin that is the cat’s meow, Cavender Creek. On others, B&B’s or small inns provide rooms with a view of the vines. A total of eight winemakers invite you for a visit or tasting, usually open Thursday through Sundays, but accommodations are available all week.
Of course, cabin rentals out in the woods are plentiful as are hiking trails and waterfalls.
Dahlonega got its start in 1828 with the discovery of gold. A gold museum offers a tour of a mine, and kids can even pan for gold. The town outlasted the rush.
For those who want to stay “downtown” try the Smith House Inn or Hall House. Many B and B’s are available in the area as are lodges.
The town is magical with a huge Christmas tree and lights on everything that doesn’t move for the holidays. Book a horse and carriage ride for a romantic evening or a fun opportunity for the kids. Dahlonega is a bit of a Hallmark moment.
And, North Georgia is but a four hour and change drive from here. Nice.
Happy holidays and travels.