Though the holidays are only recently behind us, vacation season seems so far away. Money is in short supply. The days sink into darkness by 4:30pm. This is a time of year that feels much like the leisure desert. How could you escape the everyday mentally and do it economically?
A three-day weekend in the Bavarian Blue Ridge town of Helen, of course. Below, we’ll sketch out a typical three-day weekend that won’t have you needing another few days to recover.
Day 1, Friday (Guten Tag!)
First of all, you’ll want to make reservations somewhere in the two-square-mile downtown so you can walk to bars, shops, and restaurants, relegating your driving to nature destinations.
Helen is known for its German facades, multi-gabled roofs and exposed beams that almost look like gingerbread houses. You might as well stay in a themed hotel of your price range. Here are various options:
● Bavarian Brook
● Helendorf River Inn
● Heidi Motel
● Hofbrau Riverfront Hotel
● Castle Inn
After check-in, stretch your legs by walking around downtown to scout shop windows for interesting places you will want to look at in depth on days two and three.
Start off your German getaway with authentic cuisine. A great spot for your introduction to Bavaria is the Bodensee Café. If you are striving for diverse flavor and authenticity, Chef Aurel Prodan is your best bet. Try the wurst sampler platter: knockwurst, homemade garlicwurst and Weisswurst served with Sauerkraut and German Potato Salad. Knockwurst is mildest and made of pork and beef; the garlicwurst is a house recipe; and the Weisswurst is a famous recipe made with fatback pork (bacon) and veal—flavored with parsley, lemon, and mace. There are more complex menu items too, but if you haven’t tried these German staples you owe it to yourself.
The Chattahoochee River and Blue Ridge Mountains are key to Helen’s identity. Have yourself a nightcap in walking distance of your hotel. Paul’s Margarita Deck is known for the largest patio in town, overlooking the river. Check the calendar to see if you can see live music here as well.
Day 2, Saturday (Countryside)
Wouldn’t it be great to do something exhilarating before breakfast? How about a waterfall? Anna Ruby Falls, of the most popular of dozens of waterfalls in our area is around five miles from downtown and just a short one-mile hike on a paved path. It is a rare double waterfall viewable from two observation decks.
Go back to town an easy and iconic Helen breakfast at Hofers of Helen. You can order from the menu for traditional breakfast food and/or get a German pastry from the counter—this is truly authentic German baking on imported equipment.
An afternoon in Sautee Nacoochee will show you a different side of our area, the rural community roots. Visit Hardman Farm to tour a historic Italianate farmhouse built in 1870 and see an iconic Native American mound that represents a culture which occupied the area around 700 years ago through the colonial era. Speaking of those days gone by, did you know face jugs were a folk art made famous by a family from White County? You can learn more about pottery methods of our region at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia.
To extend our agrarian country theme, have some of the best barbeque in Georgia on your way back into town courtesy North Georgia Barbeque Company. Perfectly smoky and savory with the kind of sides like only a storied, Deep Southerner could make, this is a must while you’re in our neck of the woods.
But the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Georgia is so much more than great ‘cue and epic views. The steep slopes, well-drained soil, and mild climate has made our area an up-and-coming wine country. While you may not have time for tours of all our vineyards on a three-day weekend, you can definitely stop into the Habersham Winery tasting room, just a half-mile from downtown. They are open for daily tastings with a side of vino knowledge.
Time to think about your next taste of the alps. Try The Heidelberg for a beautiful setting and a thorough schnitzel menu. You ended last night over the water, this time try it under a bridge at the Troll Tavern. Most visitors can’t get enough of the soothing flow of the Chattahoochee. This puts you on the banks. Choose from among 14 craft beers to bolster the rustic vibe.
Day 3, Sunday (Shop, Auf Wiedersehen)
To fuel up for your final day, check Cimmis Cafe for hearty American breakfast options: blueberry pancakes, huge, fluffy biscuits and gravy, salty country ham, and breakfast burritos in a cozy atmosphere.
We highly recommend you experience something of nature every day in Helen. To close your adventure, rent a canoe at Unicoi State Park. Peaceful water and sweeping scenery will put you in a relaxed frame of mind for your return journey later. If it’s too cold to paddle, you’ll find an excellent trail loop around the 53-acre lake.
Now it’s time to visit those shops you’ve been eyeing. Helen is great for gifts, unique items, and keepsakes. Have you ever seen a traditional glass blower work? Scott Warner at the Glassblowing Shop is a fourth generation glass master. Would someone in your family appreciate hand-made wooden toys? Tim of Tim’s Wooden Toys has been woodworking for 30 years—you can even drop in and watch him tinker away. Gifts to bring a bit of Germany back home? Try Lindenhaus Imports for clocks, steins, nesting dolls, and a variety of genuine keepsakes. In a matter of a couple of hours you can browse the whole town, all the while taking in a few more moments of Helen’s countryside charm. Click here for a comprehensive list of shops.
After this three-day experience, you know what Helen has in store. Experience Bavarian wonders coupled with Deep South hospitality in our unforgettable corner of the world.