Off the beaten path, Albany, Georgia is an ideal destination for reconnecting. Located near I-10 in Southwest, Georgia, and only 30 minutes from I-75, this small-town charmer will appeal to outdoorsy types as well as luxury lovers.
Perhaps the two attractions that set the stage for romance are dining and lodging. Albany has more than two dozen safe and affordable accommodations to suit every taste, many with complimentary breakfast. Some require no driving to dinner and drinks. One option is Merry Acres Inn, with historic Southern charm and complimentary transportation to and from three restaurants. After dinner and dessert, continue sweetie sessions over nightcaps at Merry Acres’ on-site Manor House Pub. Special room and amenities packages are available, including a splurge-worthy chauffeured 1939 Studebaker or 1973 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.
For a romantic dinner with service and ambiance, choose from several options. The Catch Seafood and Oyster Bar focuses on the fresh, not frozen, bounty of the Georgia and Florida coast, yet satisfies meat-eaters and vegetarians. Osteria is Albany’s newest restaurant, a stylish Italian concept that also pays homage to the former, much-loved Henry Campbell’s Steakhouse. Next door to Pretoria Fields, Albany’s first craft brewery, The Flint serves succulent Southern fare like fresh seafood, oxtails, steaks and more in a softly-lit atmosphere.
Active outdoor adventurists have plenty of ways to love Albany. Paddle the Flint River by kayak or canoe via the several picturesque launch areas. Kayak Attack Adventures provides equipment, advice and guided tours. Engage in the South’s quintessential quail hunting experience at internationally recognized Wynfield Plantation amid the area’s natural beauty. Or try their sporting clays and skeet ranges. Afterward, relax in the rustic hunting lodge over a glass of wine or aged whiskey. The downtown Albany Welcome Center in the Historic Bridge House offers well-maintained bicycles for rent at reasonable rates—take them out on the six-acre Riverfront Park trails. At the Welcome Center, or online at VisitAlbanyGA.com/explore, discover dozens of additional pursuits, including mountain biking, golf and fly-fishing.
Honor the heroes and ordinary people who were part of the Civil Rights movement at the Albany Civil Rights Institute. In addition to a digital oral database and an interactive exhibit the museum includes the restored Old Mount Zion Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired thousands in 1961. Afterward, reflect with a free “concert” at Ray Charles Plaza. The Albany native and beloved musician is honored with a life-size bronze sculpture seated at a Baby Grand piano on a rotating pedestal fountain. His sweet, familiar melodies play as water spills into a reflecting pool.
Treat your sweetie to an Albany shopping trip. In addition to malls and national retailers, more than 20 boutiques and specialty stores provide on-trend fashions and home décor, antiques, gifts, recreational and fitness gear. First, fortify at one of many specialty coffee shop and bakery options, including Cornerstone Coffee, which serves locally-roasted beans, along with pastries from Sugar Mama’s Bakery. Afterward, relax tired muscles at Oasis Day Spa and Salon with a couples’ massage. www.VisitAlbanyGA.com
Americus/Sumter County, Georgia
In west-central Georgia, convenient to I-75, three hours south of Atlanta and only two hours north of I-10, Americus is not only an ideal stopping point en route to Florida, it’s a top destination for its major attractions, including two national historic sites. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains honors our country’s 39th president, while the Andersonville National Historic Site is home to the Andersonville National Cemetery and the nation’s only POW Museum. Head to the Glass Blowing Studios for a factory tour and take a peek into the art and community behind it—Americus is the #1 place in the world for this art.
Here, have a romantic getaway in a storybook castle. The crown jewel of downtown Americus is the Windsor Hotel, originally built in 1892 for northern guests escaping winter’s cold. Parties, balls and celebratory events of yesteryear are all part of its colorful history. The stunning five-story Victorian masterpiece covers almost an entire city block and wows with a three-story open atrium lobby and amazing architecture. No two rooms are alike, from the circular Bridal Suite with private staircase and demi-canopied King bed to the well-appointed Chamber Rooms.
Stay overnight and toast on the Windsor’s veranda, complete with rocking chairs and live music every Friday night. Have dinner at Rosemary & Thyme or a drink and appetizer at Floyd’s, the long-ago doorman’s namesake pub. Head to Café Campesino for healthy breakfasts and organic coffee, and take a romantic ride in 1949 vintage train cars on the The SAM Shortline Excursion Train. Check the schedules for special events like Valentine’s Dinner, Murder Mystery and Wine and Cheese tasting trains. Regular weekend rides explore rural landscapes and the historic towns of Americus, Plains, Leslie and Archery. In Plains, browse President Carter’s campaign museum and an antique mall, buy a bag of peanuts from local merchants and stop in Plain Peanuts to try their peanut butter ice cream. In the community of Archery, explore President Jimmy Carter’s boyhood farm. The train will stop just steps from his old front porch, and you’ll have plenty of time to explore this National Historic Site before the SAM Shortline returns to the depot. For more ideas, go to www.VisitAmericusGA.com.
Atlanta, Georgia’s Brookhaven
Atlanta isn’t just a big city. Just northeast of downtown, Brookhaven is composed of distinct neighborhoods, many with historical significance dating to the 1800s. Brookhaven’s community-focused vibe welcomes visitors to explore locally-owned restaurants, shops, greenspace and more—creating a memorable and personable getaway for couples and fur-babies. With 18 parks spanning Brookhaven’s 12-square-miles, a lush tree canopy and multi-use trails, it’s easy to escape city life while remaining near to modern conveniences. Stroll the waterfront Peachtree Creek Greenway and explore the city’s other parks including dog-friendly Brookhaven Park.
For a romantic stay, head for the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Perimeter at Villa Christina, a lavish urban hotel with the comfort and sophistication of a resort. Settle into spacious, suite-inspired guestrooms with pet-friendly options. Even though it’s just inside the north Atlanta Perimeter (I-285), you wouldn’t know it as you walk the beautiful gardens nestled in the trees, sit and enjoy the calming waterfall, and maybe even catch a glimpse of the family of deer that frolic about.
For dinner, Arnette’s Chop Shop is a modern take on the traditional American steakhouse and features a contemporary, chef-driven menu, extensive wine list and a well-curated craft cocktail program. The restaurant is split into two levels: the dining room featuring an open kitchen and an upscale bar on the second level. On lively Dresden Drive, Haven Restaurant and Bar is an upscale eatery that has been voted a top ten for six years straight. The cuisine is modern American influenced by French, continental and hints of new Southern. On Clairmont Avenue, entering from a tree-lined patio, a warm glow permeates Petite Violette, with its large windows for ample natural light as well as creative light fixtures throughout. Live music is a signature element, with curated selections every Wednesday through Saturday night. A full bar with fine wines complements sophisticated French Provençal cuisine and specially crafted menus including Cajun Creole, Wild Game, and the Mediterranean. Secreto Southern Kitchen translates to secret—the secret art of incredible food. Dishes are based on recipes that have been handed down, recreated, and refined to amaze the palette and create a sensory experience. A combination of a warm, comfortable atmosphere and farm-to-table ingredients makes for an unforgettable meal.
Things to Do: Brookhaven Wines is a specialty wine store located on Dresden Drive with more than 450 different wines from around the world, 150 wines under $20, as well as collectible and hard-to-find wines and high-quality cigars. On Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, the store decorks a couple of bottles to share, so drop in and grab a glass. The Beer Growler Brookhaven is home to 45 craft selections of beer, cider & cold brew. Sample some high-quality craft beers at the bar in this relaxed environment and stay for a game of darts. Before or after, treat yourselves to total relaxation with a Togetherness Massage at Natural Body Brookhaven. www.ExploreBrookhaven.com
Only 30 minutes south of Atlanta, and a convenient stop on the way to Savannah or Orlando, Henry County includes the cities of Stockbridge, McDonough, Hampton and Locust Grove, as well as delightful family farms for tours, produce, honey, handcrafted soaps and more. Memorable attractions include Atlanta Motor Speedway, inspiring animal encounters, military museums and helicopter rides in military aircraft and one of Georgia’s few remaining Civil War battlefields.
Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove is home to over a thousand neglected, surrendered and abused animals. Operating as a non-profit educational sanctuary, the 250-acre facility offers a park-style atmosphere for self-guided tours or behind-the-scenes guided tours for a fee. Continue exploring the area and take a self-guided tour along Henry County’s Artisan Trail, a collection of places featuring artisan goods and art throughout the area. Experience agritourism at Southern Belle Farm and other area farms. Delight in custom barnwood furniture, leather goods and more at area retailers. Satisfy a craving at local restaurants like Drip-Thru Coffee and Made Fresh Juice Co. Take home a Georgia-made souvenir as a reminder of your getaway.
Take love to new heights with a trip to the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation which honors the military’s “Sky Soldiers” by restoring and maintaining vintage aircraft from the Vietnam War. The experience takes flight when climbing aboard a UH-1H Huey, where a veteran pilot brings guests high into the clouds aboard this impressive chopper. Thrill-seekers will enjoy a more intense ride by taking a seat inside the AH-1F Cobra attack helicopter. The hangars that serve as the home for the flying museum of Vietnam-era Huey and Cobra helicopters are located in Hampton at the Atlanta Speedway Airport (formerly Henry County Airport). Admission is free. https://armyav.org/about/
Set among landscaped gardens, Stockbridge Lakes Bed & Breakfast features three beautiful rooms on the main level and a one-bedroom apartment-style retreat on the lower level, all with a private bath, a modern feel and Southern charm. Mornings include a fresh home-cooked, locally-sourced Southern-style breakfast with a flair or beautiful breakfast basket perfect for in-room or outdoor dining. Stroll the paths around the lake, admire each other and the view, and enjoy the paddle boat, feeding the fish and yard games. Afternoons, sample fine cheeses and refreshing beverages. Turndown service includes chocolate truffles and cold bottled waters. To celebrate with a memorable evening, the chef is preparing a special three-course candlelight dinner by the lake, either in the dining room or open-air pavilion, open to all by reservation. The separate package includes a photoshoot, a dozen roses and more. https://www.stockbridgelakesbnb.com/events.html Additional lodging options range from familiar brand hotels to sleeping under the stars at beautiful campsites. www.VisitHenryCountyGeorgia.com
The North Georgia Mountains
Step into Helen, a storybook Alpine Bavarian Village just an hour and a half north of Atlanta in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stroll amid cobblestone pathways and gingerbread-laced buildings through a lively downtown with one-of-a-kind shopping, dining and adventurous attractions like the Georgia Mountain Coaster. Retreat to the quiet side in historic Sautee-Nacoochee, with a romantic stay in a premium bed and breakfast like Lucille’s Mountain Top Inn & Spa, sitting on a small mountaintop just outside the village of Sautee-Nacoochee and only four miles from Helen, with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Sautee Valley. From there, explore the scenic community, with its exquisitely preserved/restored artists cabins, home furnishings and mercantile stores. In the old rural schoolhouse, the Sautee Nacoochee Center hosts juried events for regional artists, and next door the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia is exhibiting The Pottery of Whelchel Meaders through April 6, 2022. The Winterfest Arts Tour is held February 19-20, 2022 in Sautee-Nacoochee and Helen.
For a larger resort-style experience reminiscent of an ancient Scottish castle, Valhalla Resort Hotel offers mountain views from king and VIP suites and the area’s true fine-dining restaurant, all within the Innsbruck Golf Community. Upscale amenities include concierge, valet, spa services, a relaxing pool and options for golf, hiking, fly fishing, winery tours and more are offered. Next to Unicoi State Park, a short 30-minute trek to twin waterfalls known as Anna Ruby Falls in the Chattahoochee National Forest is about as romantic as it gets, but there are plenty more to be found at the Alpine Helen-White County website’s waterfall guide. After peak leaf season through early spring, the waterfalls and trails are even less traveled and the views are even better.
Bodensee Restaurant offers fine German dining in a setting reminiscent of the Alps. Bodensee is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and features Chef Aurel Prodan’s culinary specialties like Weiner Schnitzel or the Haus Platter featuring knockwurst, homemade garlic wurst and smoked pork chop with sauerkraut and German potato salad. Sit inside or out on the deck with your mate while noshing on Southern specialties at Cowboys & Angels Restaurant and Bar. Choose from soups and salads, steaks or a crazy good bison burger. Gluten-free options are also on the menu. Choose a craft brew, your favorite wine or have the bartender mix up a premium cocktail. www.helenga.org
Blue Ridge/Fannin County
Just 90 minutes north of Atlanta off Interstate-575, Blue Ridge is at once outdoorsy, earthy, upscale, contemporary and historic. Centered around the Blue Ridge Depot, downtown’s restored buildings blend perfectly with modern industrial and mountain architecture, showcasing the arts, galleries, antiques, unique shopping and dining. It’s no wonder that Blue Ridge has been named one of the Top Ten Towns for Craft Lovers in the country. Yet 40 percent of the county is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest, sweeping visitors a million miles away. Photo-ops are all around. Trek across the 270 foot-long Toccoa River Swinging Bridge, the longest east of the Mississippi. Hikes to five refreshing waterfalls range from just .1 mile to 9.5 miles. Two bucket-list hiking adventures, the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail begin in southern Fannin County at Springer Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Intown, secluded overnight options are possible, ranging from chic lofts overlooking the town to an 1890’s B&B or in the new lodge-like Hampton Inn Blue Ridge featuring balcony rooms and the city’s only rooftop bar/restaurant, Hook & Eye. In surrounding Fannin County choices include lodging with stunning mountain views, creekside retreats, riverfront lodges, cabins on the lake and much more. 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. Serenity in the Mountains offers spa and suite packages that include a 90-minute couples massage and much more. To search for the perfect in-town hideaway or mountain retreat, go to https://www.blueridgemountains.com/where-to-stay.
For dinner, romantic options abound. Intown, perhaps the most picturesque is Black Sheep, featuring a 200-year-old oak tree and patio fronting the historic residence once visited by Southern writer Margaret Mitchell. The locally-sourced, chef-inspired New Americana menu and Wine Spectator-recognized wine list are complemented with cocktails featuring house-produced moonshine. Masseria Kitchen & Bar embodies a Mediterranean concept with a nod toward Southern Appalachian ingredients. The menu includes fresh vegetables, roasted chicken and seafood, handmade pasta and pizza, along with cocktails featuring crafted syrups. Take a scenic, forested mountain drive just 15 minutes southeast of Blue Ridge to Toccoa Riverside Restaurant in the Aska Road Adventure area. Choose from 12 appetizers, a respectable beer and wine menu and plenty of entrees and desserts. Don’t pass up the specialty: North Georgia trout, served many ways, including smoked and crab-stuffed.
Blue Ridge is also known for its appealing wineries, breweries brewpubs and taverns. Create your own wine trail or pub crawl using the route on the Fannin County Chamber’s digital Blue Ridge Brews and Wineries map. www.blueridgemountains.com
Spectacular hikes laced with waterfalls in the North Georgia mountains are just one of the ways to escape in Ellijay and Gilmer County, 80 miles north of Atlanta and 65 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Outdoor adventure, unique lodging options, farm-to-table dining, bountiful orchards and vineyards, spas and small-town charm all await. For heart-pumping excitement, more than 100 miles of nationally recognized single-track trails have earned Gilmer County the official designation as “Georgia’s Mountain Biking Capital.” Explore 59 mountain bike trails, 11 mountain hiking trails and some of the best trout waters in the Southeast. At Fort Mountain State Park hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders will discover a mysterious indigenous Indian rock wall with a stone heart inlay, a stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Cool Springs Overlook with a view of the Cohutta Wilderness area. Downtown Ellijay offers a real general store and a storied bike shop, dining, antiques and unique and affordable art.
Ellijay is also wine country, thanks to the perfect soil and climate conditions of the Southern Appalachians. Here are just three. Ott Farms and Vineyard Mike Ott started his own with his wife Lee after serving as horticulturist/viticulturist to several area vineyards. By spring of 2021, French-American hybrid grapes will be producing Seyval Blac, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Lenoire and Cabernet Franc. With 180-degree mountain views, it’s a perfect place to propose year-round. Chateau Meichtry This three-generation winemaking tradition began when Swiss immigrant Stephan Meichtry grew grapes on his roof in Queens, New York, during the Great Depression. The chateau-style tasting room and winery offer with panoramic views and a luxurious villa accommodate overnight guests. Buckley Vineyards offers romantic and chill vibes, with its beautiful Turkey Creek setting and mountain views. The tasting room offers plenty of space to spread out, along with plenty of seating at the bar and a patio heated by a huge fireplace.
Romantic Stays and Dining: One of the sweetest bed and breakfast accommodations is situated in a magical riverside setting in the downtown area, Ellijay River House Bed and Breakfast. A small luxurious inn, willing to accommodate elopements and small weddings, Ellijay River House offers charming rooms with private baths, Southern breakfasts to die for and lounging spaces on expansive verandas and decks. Short strolls lead to shopping, bars, restaurants, spas and more. The Roof Ellijay is a Southern rooftop kitchen and bar with an elevator, outdoor heated seating and beautiful views. Their philosophy is to provide quality, creativity, and fun approaches to amazing food, supporting local farmers and businesses when possible. www.gilmerchamber.com/explore-the-ellijays