Fall in Love With Nature at This North Georgia Treasure
You’ve probably had your share of weekend getaways to a nearby beach or theme park. But many Tallahasseans have yet to take advantage of the beauty of Callaway Gardens. Looking for something within a day’s drive that would leave time for relaxing and exploring nature, my family and I headed north to Pine Mountain, Ga., to experience the beauty of our neighbor to the north’s great outdoors.
Callaway Gardens, a sprawling piece of the beautiful Georgia countryside in the Appalachian Mountains, is home to the world’s largest azalea display, one of North America’s biggest butterfly conservatories and the vegetable garden where PBS’ “The Victory Garden” is filmed. This Georgia retreat is the perfect place to celebrate spring.
Within the 13,000 acres of world-famous Callaway Gardens, you can bike along 10 miles of tree-canopied nature trails in the Discovery Bicycle Trail (bring your own bikes or rent them onsite), examine a thousand delicate, winged beauties in the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, plant one of the 700 varieties of crops harvested in Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden and relax among 3,400 hybrid azaleas in the 40-acre Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl (April is prime time for the azalea bloom). Learn about owls, bald eagles, falcons and hawks in the hands-on Birds of Prey show, and explore five acres of exotic and indigenous plants in the John A. Sibley Horticulture Center.
Also inside Callaway Gardens is the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center. Usually the first stop for guests, the center features an overview of all there is to see and do in Callaway Gardens and houses an education wing, museum and exhibit hall, and gift shop.
A short walk away is the Tree-Top Adventure, a ropes course offering a chance to take your love of nature to new heights with ziplines and other aerial challenges. A little farther is the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. Reminiscent of a 16th Century Gothic chapel, it is constructed of fieldstone quartz and features stained glass windows depicting the various seasons of a Southern forest, as well as a custom-built pipe organ. If you get lucky, the organist may be there and play tranquil tunes as you meditate or pray in the rustic chapel.
We stayed at the beautiful Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, part of the Autograph Collection by Marriott. With its soft brown and green hues, The Lodge and Spa is the only four-diamond, upscale accommodation in Callaway Gardens. It offers guests a unique experience, along with Marriott reward perks.
The Lodge and Spa’s 150 LEED-certified guest rooms and suites feature four-fixture bathrooms with all-natural spa products, a mini fridge, a work station, complimentary wireless Internet and a balcony overlooking gorgeous landscapes. The resort is environmentally friendly, with shampoo, conditioner and body wash in pumps installed in the shower stall — saving 120,000 of those tiny bottles per year.
The Lodge was designed to keep in harmony with nature, blending the exquisite beauty of nature with good ’ole Southern hospitality. The lobby, with a cozy fireplace and Craftsman-style exposed beams, fieldstone accents and hardwood floors, offers an elegant interpretation of a traditional mountain lodge in the Appalachian foothills. And the heated pool maintains a warm temperature all year long. The stellar staff is friendly and accommodating; we never even had to open a door.
The Lodge and Spa’s Piedmont Grille is designed with earth tones and massive windows to create a dine-with-nature experience. The menu changes seasonally, offering a seafood buffet one night and farm-to-fork meals another.
I took a couple of hours off from family time by visiting The Lodge’s Spa Prunifolia. I was in heaven after my Swedish massage, the spa’s 80-minute signature treatment combining therapeutic Swedish massage with the benefits of natural herbs. It also offers its guests complimentary access to the oversized fitness center, but with all the hiking we’d been doing, I figured I’d gotten in a good workout already.
If you’re a golfer, check out Twin Oaks Golf Practice Facility, one of the nation’s top-rated courses by Golf Digest, with meticulously maintained holes and more than 26 acres of play space.
Offsite, the Country Kitchen at Callaway Gardens, a restaurant overlooking a spectacular view of mountains miles away, is a great place to enjoy some good country cooking, including fresh-baked cornbread and biscuits, and sweet iced tea served in mason jars. At the country store within the restaurant, we picked up a few jelly jars to bring home as gifts.
Though spring is ideal for a visit to Callaway Gardens, you’ll want to come back at Christmastime to see the Fantasy in Lights. Voted one of the “Top 10 Places to see Holiday Lights” by National Geographic, this light display is a cheerful collection of dazzling lights and holiday music to tell the enchanted stories of “The 12 Days of Christmas” and “Swan Lake,” among others.
Be sure to stop by Roosevelt’s Little White House State Historical Site — it’s about a 20-minute drive from Callaway — where the president enjoyed many a summer at his quaint home with modest furnishings. He died of a stroke while having his portrait painted in his den. One mile away is the Roosevelt Warm Springs self-guided tour and Historic Pools Museum, where Roosevelt and others stricken with polio would rehabilitate in the natural 88-degree waters that originate 3,800 feet below the earth’s surface and were thought to cure a number of illnesses.
There are plenty of quaint shops and boutiques in nearby Warm Springs Village, offering shoppers antiques, crafts, collectibles, homemade jarred foods and more.