ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. — It's often been said that riding a horse is a little like riding a bike. Once you've mastered the ride, you don't forget how to do it. That's what I experienced on a recent trip to Barnsley Resort, a 3,000-acre luxury resort destination in the foothills of the Appalachians.
As I settled into my saddle and familiarized myself with the gate of my chestnut mare, Ruby, we forded fast-moving streams, swollen from recent rains; skirted the green of No. 14, the most-challenging hole on the Barnsley's Fazio-designed golf course; and trotted through an open field, its trail well-worn from previous rides. Taking a horseback ride around the property is perhaps the best way to gain perspective of this massive retreat and get yourself oriented.
Barnsley Resort, known as The Woodlands to its original owner, Godfrey Barnsley, is a manor-type home built in the 1840s. Barnsley built it for his wife, Julia, who died before its completion. The home remained in the Barnsley family until a tornado ravaged the Italianate-designed structure in 1906. Bavarian Prince Hubertus Fugger bought the estate in 1988, and, with the help of Barnsley historian Clent Coker, saved and restored the ruins and uncovered the historic gardens. He then added cottages and opened it as a resort in 1999. The ruins now stand as testament to the love story of Godfrey and Julia Barnsley and are a place for weddings and other private events. They are open to the public for tours as well.
Stay the night
The past year has seen remarkable growth for Barnsley Resort, a piece of history that's come of age. The Julian Saul family bought the resort in 2004 and soon announced plans for expansion. In March 2018, construction was completed on the new Georgian Hall, a 9,000-square-foot special-event venue with a large ballroom and separate meeting space. During the same month, the resort celebrated the opening of the new Barnsley Resort Inn with English-inspired architecture matching Andrew Jackson Downing's design found throughout the resort. The inn has 55 rooms with king and double-queen beds fitted with luxury linens and all the amenities one might expect of a resort of this caliber. The inn also features two large suites.
Overnight accommodations include 37 charming cottages as well. They range from one to seven bedrooms, all with wood-burning fireplaces and rocking-chair front porches, many overlooking the village green where, during the day, games, such as corn hole, are played. At night, the green is spotted with campfires where guests gather to tell stories and make s'mores — Barnsley provides all the fixings.
Chattanoogans Donna Knowles Killian and husband Bill find Barnsley Resort the perfect quick getaway when they need a break or for special occasions, such as a recent anniversary celebration where they were greeted with balloons when they walked into their cottage.
"We love Barnsley," she says. "It has great accommodations and delicious restaurants, too."
A feast of flavors
Barnsley Resort has three dining venues, all with a different menu of experiences with a variety of tastes and settings.
Hungry for an amazing breakfast? If it's the weekend, Woodlands Grill offers a huge buffet with so many choices, you're likely to go back for seconds — maybe thirds. During the week, an extensive menu features a mixed berry brulee with house-made granola and Greek yogurt, or the Spa Breakfast with an egg white frittata and fresh fruit for the health-conscious. The Heritage Breakfast, with a choice of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, grits and more, is perhaps the all-time favorite. The Grill, which overlooks the golf course, is also open for lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended as the restaurant is the only one offering full-service dining from early-morning breakfast to lunch — whatever you do, order the onion rings and the fork-and-meatloaf sandwich — and dinner into the late evening when local trout is a house favorite.
For an on-the-go meal, the Beer Garden offers walk-up service with a limited menu: sausage biscuits, barbecue sandwiches, snacks and the like. The service is quick, but you'll come to realize the flavor's all there. Take your meal back to your room or cottage, or grab a seat at a picnic table beneath large shade trees. In the evening, the fire pit is blazing, warming the cool nights. Barnyard at the Beer Garden is a fun way to spend a Friday afternoon. It's a time when animals who live at the resort — cows, Peaches the possum and other creatures — are brought to the Beer Garden, making for a petting zoo loved by both kids and adults. The Beer Garden is open for breakfast daily, with lunch and dinner served Thursdays through Sundays.
The Rice House is the resort's choice for fine dining in a casually elegant setting that screams Southern charm. Once a farmhouse in Rome, Georgia, the structure was disassembled and each piece numbered for reconstruction at Barnsley Resort. The menu is small, its focus intense — using produce and meats grown in the resort's garden or from farms, most no more than 150 miles away, thus gaining the eatery's mission as a yard-to-fork restaurant.
"We're trying to blur the lines between farm and the restaurant," says Evan Babb, Rice House chef de cuisine.
The menu changes weekly, depending on what's in season, but will usually feature pastas handmade daily, farm-raised beef, seafood from the Georgia coast and creative Southern specialties such as skilletfuls of cornbread served in Lodge cast iron. The cornbread has become a staple at the restaurant and would be missed if left off the table, says the resort's executive chef, Jason Starnes.
In addition to gathering greens and vegetables from the garden, Babb can be found leading guests on expeditions into the forest, identifying and foraging for mushrooms that might appear on your dinner plate that night. This is an experience that can be arranged for guests when overnight reservations are made.
The Rice House is open Thursday through Saturday for dinner only. Reservations are recommended as this is also a popular dining venue for those living in the Adairsville area.
Go play outside
Barnsley, just about an hour southeast of Chattanooga, celebrates the outdoors — a playground for golfers, hikers, hunters and marksmen.
» For golfers: Though there are numerous golf courses closer to town, Chattanoogan Jeff Sherrill has traveled to the Jim Fazio-designed golf course at Barnsley more than a dozen times over the years to meet the challenge it offers, including the course's signature hole No. 14 with its 120-foot drop in elevation. It also offers a gorgeous view of the mountains.
"It's a peaceful course that's always in good condition and never too crowded," Sherrill says. "And it offers a variety of shots that let you use every club in your bag."
The course has been recognized as having some of the fastest greens in the Southeast, as well as being included in the Top 125 in the country and the No. 2 golf course in Georgia by Conde Nast.
» For the shootist: Though it recently signed with Beretta, one of the top names in the manufacture of firearms, the resort targets marksmen of all levels to test their prowess at sporting clays or afield on hunts for quail, with guides and dogs at the ready.
In partnership with noted outdoorsman John Burrell's High Adventure Co., the Beretta Shooting Grounds at Barnsley encompass 2,000 acres of grasslands for hunting and 28 stations for sporting clays. Bring your own gun and shells — you'll get a discount if you do — or test some of the latest equipment from Beretta under the guidance of a team of experts.
"A partnership with the iconic Beretta brand allows our clients the ability to shoot some of the finest guns produced in the world," Burrell says. "And the quail hunting here has been one of the best-kept secrets in the South."
» For the equestrian: Horseback riding through the trails around the property is the most-popular of all activities Barnsley offers. Make reservations for a group trail ride, or talk to the staff about arranging a romantic picnic ride for you and your favorite equestrian. There are rides around the corral for kids ages 3-10. Riders must be 11 years or older to take off on trail rides that last about 90 minutes. Lessons are available, and reservations are required.
Elsewhere on the property
Staying fit is not a problem at Barnsley. Walkers and runners can take advantage of miles of trails surrounding the property, including a 1.8-mile, 20-station Fit Trail. You can also work off last night's dinner in the fitness center with its weights, treadmills and elliptical trainers.
The resort has several stocked ponds ideal for fishermen of all levels. Launch a canoe and wet a line — catch-and-release fishing is allowed at no charge to guests. And for those wanting instruction, take advantage of staff instructors who offer fly-fishing lessons to anyone interested. You can also arrange for them to take you on a fly-fishing excursion along the waterways of North Georgia.
Interested in learning more about the wilderness around us? You might enjoy a few lessons from Tom Powell, a certified wilderness survival instructor. Powell teaches a course on fire making, knot tying and other wilderness skills in a wooded setting on the resort property the last Saturday of the month through spring. It's a perfect activity for families with children.
Warmer weather might call for a few laps in the saltwater pool, followed by a relaxing massage or sauna in the Spa.
Back along the village green, you'll find corn hole, oversized Connect 4 and bocce ball. Or take a stroll through the gardens for a guided tour.
Remember summer camp? Barnsley Resort is a magical kingdom that welcomes guests of all ages — families, couples or just you — to relive those adventures. Only an hour south of downtown Chattanooga, you can leave in the morning and be there with time to play before lunch.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.