Head for the Hills
What a difference a day’s drive makes when Floridians find themselves in the mountains of Blue Ridge, Georgia.
Midway through a sweltering Florida summer, a high-altitude getaway can remarkably revive your attitude. The transformation begins as the Georgia landscape magically morphs from Piedmont into blue-green hills extending for miles into the horizon.
A day’s drive from Orlando, the Appalachian Mountains around Blue Ridge welcome travelers with cooler air and a retreat from the rush of city life. Embraced by the ancient Appalachians, Blue Ridge balances small-town charm with big-city amenities. Visitors can hike in the morning, peruse art in the afternoon and dine on cuisine prepared by a James Beard-recognized chef at night. An evening’s entertainment may include toe-tapping fiddlers or cicadas singing outside your cabin window.
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Blue Ridge attracts visitors with unique shops, restaurants and the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, the town’s signature attraction.
With woods, water and wide-open spaces, the Blue Ridge countryside offers outdoor enthusiasts plenty of places to play. Rocky rivers and streams run through the Chattahoochee National Forest and the Cohutta Wilderness. Downtown is just minutes from nearly 150,000 acres of protected land. And sparkling in the midst of these mountains is beautiful Lake Blue Ridge, 3,290 acres of freshwater fun.
Cherokee Indians lived here long before settlers arrived in the 1800s. Timber and railroad companies followed, and Blue Ridge was incorporated in 1887. By the 1960s, the town hit a lull that lasted until the early 2000s. That’s when entrepreneurs began revitalizing the historic downtown. Once boarded up, Blue Ridge is now a lively destination with chic shops, galleries, wine bars, microbreweries and restaurants.
With old-fashioned storefronts, a 1937 courthouse and Pullman rail cars stationed downtown, Blue Ridge has a Mayberry mood. Don’t be fooled. This is a modern Mayberry, where diners can choose sweet tea or Pinot, fried chicken or duck breast à l’orange. For every shopkeeper selling traditional crafts and country antiques, there’s another offering epicurean olive oil or contemporary art. Blue Ridge is full of surprises, so dedicate a day to discovering downtown.
To experience the region’s natural beauty, visit the hiking or mountain biking trails — there are dozens to explore. Adventurous hikers enjoy the Benton MacKaye Trail, where the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi spans the Toccoa River. Or leave the hoofing to someone else and saddle up with Adventure Trail Rides. Blue Ridge is one of the few places in the world where riders can hunt for “fairy crosses” on horseback. According to local lore, these small, cross-like rock formations are considered good luck.
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Tubing down clear, cold rivers is a popular pastime.
In a region famous for fly fishing, it’s easy to find a guide, but how many serve a riverside lunch? Natalie Sharp, owner of Sharper Bites, has a knack for putting novices at ease and pleasing gourmet palates. The former Floridian and lifetime angler now leads fly-fishing expeditions on the Toccoa River and Noontootla Creek, which conclude with a gourmet meal alfresco.
Later, pay homage to the holy grail of outfitters. Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods in downtown Blue Ridge attracts fishermen from around the globe who appreciate Bill Oyster’s exquisite craftsmanship.
Floridians who can’t imagine a lake without gators will appreciate Lake Blue Ridge. The clear waters are a favorite of boaters, water skiers and swimmers, as well as fishermen hoping to hook bass, bluegill and walleye.
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Hiking trails make it easy to enjoy the
If extreme sports enthusiasts relish blasting down the region’s rugged bike trails and strong-arming through local whitewater, families enjoy its kinder, gentler attractions. For starters, sample Mercier Orchards’ seasonal U-Pick produce or jump on a hayride April through November. Feeling nostalgic? One of Georgia’s three remaining drive-in theaters is in Blue Ridge. Swan Drive-In’s first-run double features are the best bargain in town. Or devote half a day to Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, a leisurely ride aboard vintage rail cars. The round-trip excursion travels from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, Georgia/Copperhill, Tennessee, where it stops for lunch, shopping and a chance to stand in two states at the same time.
Travelers who spell relief from regular life “l-a-z-y” may prefer the simple satisfaction of a cabin retreat. Nothing says “mountain getaway” like a hot tub, rocking chair porch and fire pit. Stargazing and fireside chats may not be nightly rituals back home, but in Blue Ridge, dazzling stars and crisp nights encourage simple forms of entertainment. Just don’t be surprised if the idea of a return trip comes up in conversation. blueridgemountains.com or 800-899-6867
Mountain scenery, a pleasant climate and activities for every age and inclination make Blue Ridge a great getaway.
Located near the Tennessee/North Carolina border, Blue Ridge is 90 minutes north of Atlanta, via I-575 and Highway 515.
WHEN TO GO
Blue Ridge is a town for all seasons. Throughout the year, the vistas and valleys captivate visitors with ever-changing views, and special events enliven the historic downtown.
WHERE TO STAY
Among local vacation cabin rental companies, Escape to Blue Ridge sets the standard for cleanliness and comfort. All of their cabins are fully equipped and feature free Wi-Fi, luxury linens, spa-quality toiletries and regional guidebooks. Properties include rambling riverside retreats and cozy two-bedroom cabins to family-friendly lake lodges and an 8,000-square-foot mountaintop estate with a helipad, infinity pool and 40-mile views. escapetoblueridge.com or 866-618-2521.