A Gathering Place

You’ve been saying for quite some time that you’d like to plan a retreat with your friends, your two sisters and their husbands, or your old fraternity brothers. Well, bring everyone together for a great weekend at The Lodge at Smithgall Woods in Helen, Georgia.

Photos courtesy of the Lodge at Smithgall Woods 



The Lodge at Smithgall Woods
Helen, GA

The Lodge at Smithgall Woods Helen, GA

Formerly a private estate, Smithgall sits on 5,600 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia. Five beautiful guesthouses, overlooking nature trails and streams, offer a total of fourteen rooms. With its antique furniture and stone fireplaces, the country-cottage feel of the house made me want to stay indoors, but I chose to get out and become one with nature.


If you and your friends book at least ten rooms, the staff at Smithgall will cater to your every need, including creating an itinerary of activities and crafting a diverse menu that even a less-than-adventurous eater like myself could enjoy. Exclusive-use rates for ten or more rooms start at $189 per night per bedroom, which includes all meals and on-site activities such as fly fishing, bicycling, and evening bonfires.

Staff members gladly drove us around to tour the picturesque property, and led us on a hike to Duke’s Creek Falls. After working up an appetite, we got cozy in Smithgall Cottage while Chef Mac Parks served up the Coastal Georgia white shrimp and grits appetizer (I loved it, and I don’t even like shrimp). Parks then prepared the black Angus smoked beef tenderloin with Vidalia onion confit and grilled vegetables, paired with an excellent wine. —Jarvis Holliday
61 Tsalaki Trail, Helen, Ga., 800-318-5248, www.smithgallwoods.com

Sip It

BlackStock Vineyards
Wine tastings led by owner David Harris allow you to sample about ten of the vineyard’s wines. Check out the gift shop, which offers amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains—there’s even a pair of binoculars resting on the windowsill for you to get a closer look.
706-219-2789, www.bsvw.com

Frogtown Cellars
With thirteen wines to sample, Frogtown Cellars’ options will satisfy any wine lover’s palate. From red to white to one crisp rosé with strawberry, papaya, and lime flavors, this thirty-two-acre vineyard among rolling hills and a mountain backdrop is a perfect day trip. 706-865-0687, www.frogtownwine.com

Habersham Vineyards & Winery
Habersham Vineyards & Winery is one vineyard you can’t miss. Divided into two vineyards, the oldest, Stonepile Vineyard, has plantings that date back to 1980. The other, smaller Mossy Creek Vineyard provides younger wines such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and chardonnay. 706-878-9463, www.habershamwinery.com

Tucked Away

In the heart of the north Georgia mountains sits the pristine Brasstown Valley resort (6321 U.S. Highway 76, Young Harris, 800-201-3205, www.brasstownvalley.com ). With a massive stone fireplace, oak vaulted ceilings (pictured), and elegant windows overlooking an eighteen-hole championship golf course, this recently renovated getaway offers a mix of rusticity with elegance—something you might not expect to find in the mountains. Rooms start at $119 per night, including breakfast, which is served in the lodgelike dining room, where you can feast on your fare fireside or out on the veranda overlooking the mountains. But if the grounds of the resort or the five-mile horseback riding trails aren’t enough to suit your style, take a lake cruise on the serene 9,000-acre Lake Chatuge, just two miles north of the resort (starts at $45 per person, 828-389-2255, www.romanticlakecruises.com ) or taste a handful of regional wines at Crane Creek Vineyards (706-379-1236, www.cranecreekvineyards.com ), just three miles away. – Leah Konen