You don't need a passport and weeks of vacation time for a European experience (though weeks of vacation never hurt). Old World charm can be found just over the state line.
With its 26 wineries — coupled with the abundant natural assets Scenic City residents have come to expect — Northwest Georgia is a wonderland for oenophiles and outdoor adventurers alike. Visitors will drive through covered bridges and pass by old-timey general stores as they make their way through the mountains to reach the area's charming small towns. But it's not just Americana that awaits.
Be sure to bring a bottle or two of Georgia wine home with you to share as you recount the tales of your varied adventures not far from home.
Chateau Elan Winery and Resort is a destination in itself, and with its seven restaurants, abundance of activities and hotel, you'll never have a reason to leave.
The resort has a European feel despite its North Georgia locale, owing in part to the French chateau-inspired building and grounds, as well as its Irish pub — shipped in its entirety from Ireland, where it was constructed. Choose a room or suite in the main building; one of 14 recently renovated suites in the spa, which is housed in its own separate mansion; or bring along your pooch and stay in one of the resort's freestanding villas. Activities offered across the 3,500-acre property include tastings and tours at the winery, four championship golf courses (and a golf school, if you're not quite a champion), tennis, and a spa with seasonally inspired treatments. Along with wine, the estate also offers tastings of olive oils and local Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses. Several of Chateau Elan's restaurants have dress codes, such as the golf club and Versailles, serving haute French cuisine, so be sure to pack your finest.
The location of the country's first major gold rush, Dahlonega was recently named one of the top 25 small towns in the U.S. by Architectural Digest. With its history, wineries and waterfalls, it's easy to see why.
What to do
Dahlonega has its very own wine trail, with stops including Wolf Mountain Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars, Montaluce Winery, and Cavender Creek and Three Sisters vineyards. The trail's 39 miles take around an hour and 15 minutes to drive.
When you need a break from imbibing at area wineries, head to beautiful Cane Creek Falls, a perfect picnic spot just a short walk from the parking area. The property is part of Camp Glisson, and is closed to the public in the summer when camp is in session.
One of the area's most spectacular swimming holes is found in Tallulah Gorge State Park, where you'll need to acquire a gorge floor hiking permit to hike the Sliding Rock Trail to Bridal Veil Falls. The park issues up to 100 permits a day starting at 8 a.m.
Where to stay
The eco-conscious will love Cedar House Inn and Yurts, with its sustainable permaculture gardens and round, tent-like yurts that offer a unique glamping experience.
The Smith House offers rooms in the historic inn, built in 1895, as well as recently renovated cabins and the Chestatee Villas in Dahlonega's town square. Its restaurant — a local favorite since 1922 — serves Southern country cuisine family-style.
Get a taste of Italy at Montaluce's villas, with views of the vineyard and the sunset.
Where to stay
Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa is a relaxing Blue Ridge mountain retreat, featuring a 7,500-square-foot spa, stables, indoor pool and golf. Spend your evenings curled up in front of the fireplace in your room, visiting the on-site nightclub or star-gazing on clear nights from the resort's observatory.
What to do
Crane Creek Vineyards offers tours and tastings, as well as tapas and live acoustic music every Friday from 6-8 p.m.
Hamilton Gardens, located on 33 acres on the shores of Lake Chatuge in nearby Hiawassee, boasts 3,000 plants, including the largest collection of rhododendrons — 400 varieties — in the Southeast.
Helen is a little slice of Germany in North Georgia, where all the town's buildings share a Bavarian-style look reminiscent of an alpine village. The facades of all the storefronts were remodeled in the Bavarian style back in 1969, when area business owners came up with the idea as a way to revitalize the town.
What to do
Among Helen's best features is the Chattahoochee River, a popular spot for tubing and trout fishing that runs through the center of town. Duke's Creek in Smithgall Woods State Park is a prime trout fishing stream, and has an Instagram-worthy waterfall. Anna Ruby Falls and Raven Cliff Falls are also worth the hike.
You're in the middle of Georgia wine country, within easy reach of the seven stops on the Unicoi Wine Trail: Habersham Winery, Kaya Vineyard and Winery, The Cottage Vineyard & Winery, Sylvan Valley Lodge and Cellars, Serenity Cellars, Yonah Mountain Vineyards and CeNita Vineyards.
Be sure to stop by one of the tourist-filled candy shops in town for chocolate covered strawberries, because they're delicious — and because you are, in fact, a tourist like most others you'll meet in Helen. The town has only 430 residents, yet hosts around 2 million visitors a year.
If you've got kids in tow, or are just a kid at heart yourself, you can't miss BabyLand General Hospital, where Cabbage Patch Kids are born. Located near Helen in the lovely mountain town of Cleveland, also home to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, BabyLand is where the lovable, hand-stitched fabric dolls live until their adoption. View the Cabbage Patch, where Mother Cabbages are pollinated with magic crystal dust sprinkled by Bunnybees, and adopt your own "Kid" after watching its birthing ceremony.
Where to stay
Rent a cabin from Cedar Creek Cabin Rentals, which offers numerous options in the area, ranging from rustic to luxurious.