published Monday, September 6th, 2010

‘Glamping’ in Ellijay — roughing it in style


by Adam Crisp

ELLIJAY, Ga. — Glamour. Camping. The two words don’t have a whole lot in common.

But nestled in the Appalachian foothills halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga sits a business that is all about melding the two.

“We take all the negatives out of camping,” said JoAnn Antonelli, who opened the Martyn House bed and breakfast three years ago.

When most folks camp, they divorce themselves from the notion of ever being clean or comfortable. But that’s camping. Martyn House offers a newfangled concept called “glamping,” Antonelli explained.

So, rather than Coleman tents and flannel sleeping bags, Martyn House tents feature feather beds, full baths and a French press coffeemaker, all inside three tents standing on about 20 acres in rural Georgia apple country. The 18-by-20 tents have iron frames and walls of heavy-duty cotton fiber, and they stand on elevated wood platforms.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Patrick Smith/Chattanooga Times Free Press JoAnn Antonelli, left, and Rick Lucas, owners of The Martyn House, in Ellijay, Ga., offer "glamping," or glamorous camping, as a new way to experience the outdoors.

Guests — no one under 18 is allowed on the property — rave online about the experience. It earned the highest rating possible — 5 out of 5 — on bedandbreakfast.com. Guests such as Leslie Lakey, of Chattanooga, said the Martin House was a great way to unwind.

“We had a ball,” said Lakey, who owns Art Warehouse with her husband, Mark. “It’s just such a fantastic idea. I’m not a camper, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s so different, and we had the best sleep ever.”

While the name is new, glamping isn’t a new concept. Antonelli says she’s stayed in swanky tents while traveling for business in India. And resorts along Caribbean beaches long have let guests slumber in tents along their picture-perfect coastlines.

When Antonelli and her partner, Rick Lucas, moved to Ellijay from Atlanta three years ago, they were searching for a side business to supplement their dual consulting enterprises — she’s in retail; he’s in printing and graphics.

Their original plans were just for a banquet and outdoor event business. In Ellijay, they’ve held four “Farm-to-Table” dinners annually that feature locally grown foods served under an oversized tent.

Not thinking anyone would pay to stay there, they erected one of their glamping tents for friends who stayed overnight.

“Then someone who was here for an event said they would pay us to spend the night,” Antonelli said.

BUILDING A BUSINESS

IF YOU GO

What: Martyn House Bed and Breakfast

When: Season runs from spring to early December

Where: 912 Flat Branch Road, Ellijay, Ga.

How much: $180 per night, includes breakfast and a cocktail hour

For more information: www.themartynhouse.com

The business was born. Two more tents were ordered, and Antonelli and Lucas set about building walking trails, converting their back porch into a dining facility and promoting the business online.

It was a rocky start. It rained so much while the couple was setting up their tents, they worried they might miss the busy summer travel season. The tents are completely waterproof, they say, but the rain prevented construction of the platforms and tent frames and installation of plumbing and electricity.

“It was really scary,” Antonelli said. “You make a big investment like this, and you want to start earning some income, but we couldn’t.”

But once the tents went up, business became solid, and the couple, both 58, decided to quit their day jobs and run it full time.

Some regional publications took notice and then came the biggie: Southern Living magazine, with a circulation of more than 2.5 million.

“Since then, it’s really been busy,” Antonelli said. “They really put us on the map.”

Weekends are booked nearly solid from now until the end of the glamping season in early December, she said. That’s when the weather is too chilly for guests, despite in-room heaters. And besides, Antonelli and Lucas need vacations of their own.

They now are considering adding a fourth and perhaps a fifth tent to the compound.

The appeal of glamping mostly is caught up in being close to nature without being cut off from all the comforts of a traditional hotel, they say.

“Our guests really just want to do something different,” Antonelli said. “We get a lot of people who just want to do something really special, something that’s different and a bit of an adventure.”

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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