Save, Spend, Splurge: Three Days in Blue Ridge, Georgia
Bicycling, breweries, budding vineyards beckon outdoor enthusiasts to embrace the art of relaxation on any budget
BLUE RIDGE, GEORGIA -- JUNE 2018
About 90 minutes north of Atlanta via Interstate 575, the hills and mountains of Blue Ridge, Georgia, are alive with countless shades of green, the vineyards are budding and country roads beckon bicyclists with a bit of a challenge and rewarding views. Developed in 1887 as a resort town in the North Georgia Mountains, Blue Ridge is where Atlantans go to experience small-town charm with luxurious amenities.
From inspiring hikes and waterfalls, to camping under the stars and sipping fine wines and craft brews while dining on sustainable farm-to-table fare, Blue Ridge offers three-day escapes for any taste. Here are ways to enjoy the town and countryside with ideas on how to save, spend and splurge.
Start your trip with a visit to Mercier Orchards. No North Georgia mountain escape is complete without affordable fresh farm produce. The only apple orchard in Georgia that grows and makes their own hard apple cider and farm wines, including Fall Harvest Apple, Blackberry Winter and Summer Sweet Peach, Mercier's also has tastings of some of the best North Georgia regional wines. U-pick begins in May, followed by apple picking in August. For an authentic experience that's easy on the wallet, try rustic tent camping at Toccoa River Sandy Bottoms Recreation Area, offering a beautiful spot on the river that is ideal for fishing and wading. Toccoa Valley Campground, also on the Toccoa River, offers RV and tent camping. Expand the experience here and spend the day on the river by taking advantage of onsite rental options for tubes, rafts and kayaks.
Rent a pontoon or boat for exploring and fishing at Capt'n Joe's Lake Adventures on Lake Blue Ridge. Afterwards, fuel up at one of these favorite eateries: Chester Brunnenmeyer's Bar and Grill, with rustic décor, an extensive wine list, signature cocktails and regionally crafted beer; Masseria Kitchen and Bar's Mediterranean fare, with a nod toward southern Appalachian ingredients, includes fresh vegetables, roasted chicken and seafood, hand-made pastas and pizza, along with cocktails featuring crafted syrups. For accommodations complete with kitchens, choices include lodges with stunning mountain views, creek-side hideaways, riverfront fishing lodges, cabins on the lake, cozy cabins, hotels and resorts--which range in price from $100 to $1,000 per night. Visit www.BlueRidgeMountains.com/where-to-stay for a complete listing.
Blue Ridge has been named one of the "Top Ten Towns for Craft Lovers" in the country. Visit specialty shops, boutiques and galleries for fine furnishings, art, antiques and unique crafted items. Don't miss Canoe's wearable art--leather bags, totes, jewelry and accessories, all of which are handmade in Blue Ridge. Just over the river in Copperhill, Tennessee, find The Vault, a treasure trove of antiques. At the end of the day, indulge in a one of a kind escape in a romantic treehouse at Bear Claw Vineyard built by "The Treehouse Guys" on DIY network, complete with a galley kitchen and bath, for up to four people, currently starting at $229 per night.
Camp out at Morganton Point Recreation Area and Campground, complete with a pebble beach on Lake Blue Ridge, an ideal spot for floating the day away. Or, cool off with a visit to Horseshoe Bend Park, which offers easy access points to the Toccoa River. Prefer two feet on dry land? Embark on easy hikes with rewarding waterfall views. After building an appetite, satisfy hunger pangs with goods from Gather, which offers delicious foods and beverages sourced as locally to Blue Ridge as possible, as well as unique and affordable kitchen and home goods, eco-friendly housekeeping products and even special items for fur-babies. Feel good about it, too! Gather donates 1% of every purchase to local community charities.
Try tubing, kayaking the Toccoa or an Ocoee River whitewater rafting adventure. Plenty of outfitters can provide everything you need, including transportation. Onland, horseback riding or treetop canopy climbing and ziplining provide a fresh perspective on nature, www.BlueRidgeMountains.com/things-to-do.Savor a healthy lunch at Harvest on Main, which serves Southern-inspired global cuisine, including locally sourced beef, vegetables, local craft beers and an extensive wine collection.
Blue Ridge is known as the capital of North Georgia fly-fishing. Splurge on a fine fly-fishing masterpiece (upwards of$2,500), or make your own custom bamboo fly rod ($1,750 with expert instruction) at Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods, an internationally-recognized source for custom and semi-custom fishing rods prized by generations. Treat yourself to a linen-table clothed dining experience at Black Sheep. The restaurant serves vegetarian and Southern comfort food--including cocktails featuring house-produced moonshine and desserts like bread pudding--in a historic restored 1914 residence. To continue the fly-fishing experience, stay at the Cast & Blast Inn, a simple, casual downtown inn owned by the Oysters.
Spend a refreshing day hiking or biking to local waterfalls on forested trails in the Chattahoochee National Forest--without making a dent in the budget. Find a hiking map here. Restock food supplies at Chester's Provisions, which features unique food and beverages, including craft beers and wine with an assortment of entertainment accessories.
No trip to Blue Ridge would be complete without a visit to any combination of three wineries (including Mercier Orchards) and three breweries. Check the Blue Ridge-Fannin County website for tasting room days and hours. Live music is often featured. New in 2017, Bear Claw Vineyards offers mountain views, bubbling springs and densely planted vineyard. Sip chardonnay, Vidal blanc, cabernet sauvignon, white Riesling and Cayuga in an outdoor setting, www.BearClawVineyards.com. Serenberry is a charming farm winery offering seven to eight wines, including Railroad Red and Blue Ridge Red, www.SerenberryVineyards.com. Here are three ideas for first-class brews: Grumpy Old Men Brewing is a nano-brewery, established in 2012 by two "old retired guys" who, after home brewing, graduated to a choice spot on East Main. Favorites include Moon Over Blue Ridge Wheat, Aska Pale Ale, Devils Den IPA, Hells Holler Porter, and Grasshoppa Imperial IPA. Fannin Brewing Company's Tom Fennell brought his brewing skills to Fannin County for two simple reasons: Fresh air plus fresh water produce fresh beer. Being local is important to Fannin Brewing; it's in the name of their beers: Hiawassee Golden Ale, Toccoa Brown and Blue Ridge Lager. Local ingredients are used in many of their beers, including strawberries, blackberries and sourwood honey. Blue Ridge Brewery is the local brewpub, with the capacity to pour six house brews and eight beers from other craft breweries. The Brewery also serves great food and offers live acoustic music on Friday and Saturday nights starting early.
When it's time to relax, splurge on soothing massage therapy, holistic facials or therapeutic body treatments during a spa day at Teatrees Boutique Spa. When it's time to turn in, trade up to luxury. Serenity in the Mountains offers spa and suite packages that may seem like a splurge, but are actually a bargain. A two-night stay, a 90-minute couples massage, Continental breakfast and wine, cheese and chocolate-covered strawberries is currently $596.16, Sunday-Thursday, based on two guests in one suite. Despite its luxury reputation, Blue Ridge can be thoroughly enjoyed on a low or moderate budget. Just check the website at www.BlueRidgeMountains.com for trip inspiration.