INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS enjoy food, shopping and scenery of other countries, but international travel often includes a high price tag and complicated logistics. Airport TSA lines, language barriers and pandemic restrictions can diminish the appeal of a global adventure. North Georgia, however, offers a sampling of several foreign countries without these hassles.
In a 25-mile circle that encompasses the towns of Helen, Young Harris and Blairsville, you can experience some of the delights and delicacies of 10 different countries. Shops with international goods and restaurants serving food, wine and beer from around the world are scattered throughout this area.
WILLKOMMEN TO YOUR ADVENTURE
Your tour begins in a replica of a small Bavarian VillageHelen, Georgia. The town of Helen, which was incorporated in 1913, grew up around the north Georgia lumber business and was named for the daughter of one of the lumber officials. In the 1970s, three men had the idea of rebuilding this small town to look like a German village. Today, when traveling down Main Street, you will see many shops and restaurants housed in colorful, gingerbread-trimmed, stucco buildings with A-line roofs and balconied windows.
Located just off Main Street is Bodensee, a German restaurant and one of the top-rated eating establishments in Helen. Owned and operated by a Romanian family, this restaurant serves authentic German food and beverages. Their lengthy menu includes schnitzels, spaetzle, bratwurst, and an array of German beers. Here you can enjoy indoor and outdoor seating and traditional live music on the weekends and every day in October.
Once you’ve had your fill at Bodensee, walk just a short block to Windmill Dutch Imports. This glimpse of the Netherlands includes authentic wooden clogs in an array of colors and sizes along with blue and white Delft porcelain cups, plates, tiles and figurines.
Just across Main Street is Lindenhaus Imports, a quaint shop filled with items from Germany, Scandinavia, Ireland and Poland. German cuckoo clocks hang on the walls while the shelves are filled with beer steins, wooden nesting dolls, and authentic Alpine hats and pins. Your thoughts may turn to the holiday season when you see the hand-carved Christmas ornaments, multi-tiered Christmas windmills, and nutcrackers.
For the next phase of the journey, travel the scenic Unicoi Turnpike to the town of Young Harris. Located in the valley just south of Hiawassee, this small town of about 1,000 people is home to Young Harris College, a private Methodist college whose alumni include comic actor Oliver Hardy, singer/songwriter Trisha Yearwood, and former governor Zell Miller.
Traveling west from Young Harris, you will come to a vineyard reminiscent of Provence, France. Crane Creek Vineyards sits on 20 rolling acres and grows various grapes, including Cabernet Franc, Villard Noir, and Vidal Blanc. On the patio of their Stone House tasting room overlooking the vineyard, sample the fine wines, cheeses, and other snacks.
Just a short drive to the other side of the vineyard in Paris and Co., a perfect location for lunch or dinner. You can choose inside or outside seating at this older farmhouse with a picturesque view across the vineyards towards the tasting room. Lunch includes a variety of traditional French delicacies such as buttery croissant sandwiches, quiche and, of course, French Onion soup. In the evening, the fine dining menu offers items including Duck a L’Orange, pasta, escargot, and vegetarian and vegan options. Cheesecake, tres leches cake, and crème brulée are some of the tempting delights on the dessert menu. On Friday nights during warmer months, patrons can enjoy music on the vineyard deck at the Farmhouse Market just next door. Paris and Co. is open Thursday through Sunday and reservations are highly recommended for evenings and Sunday brunch.
The last town on this international tour, Blairsville, Georgia, is just eight miles down the road from Young Harris. Sitting on the 6,500-square-mile Nottely Lake and the Nottely River, Blairsville grew up around the discovery of gold in the 1800s. It’s moderate temperatures and access to the water make it a popular tourist area.
In Blairsville, you can experience the aroma and fare of Italy at Michaelee’s Italian Life Caffe. Located on the square in Blairsville, this restaurant’s menu includes a variety of dishes such as chicken piccata, tortelloni primavera, and a delicious seafood Newburg. A chocolate chicken salad is one of the more unique items on their menu. Traditional tiramisu and several other desserts complete this delicious meal. Michaelee’s is open for dinner and reservations are required.
The final leg of our international journey brings us to the offerings of Cuba, Spain, and the Caribbean. Lala’s Kitchen in the Mountains, a casual dining establishment, is located just a block off the square in Blairsville. Lissy, the owner, will make you feel like a part of the family while her husband, a New York-trained chef, creates a variety of delicious and unique dishes. Cuban sandwiches, Mojo shrimp and chicken and Ropa Vieja are just a few of the many choices. Each weekend, their menu includes specials such as seafood paella, lamb shanks and penne pasta with Burrata cheese and pesto sauce.
Your journey is complete! In this 25-mile circle, you’ve had opportunities to experience a touch of Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Cuba, Spain, the Caribbean, Scandinavia, Ireland, and Poland—no passport or airplane required.