When I was a child my family spent summer weeks in the Appalachians hiking, fishing and just laying back. The world seemed to move slower back then with days spent on simple pleasures. Rocking on the porch in the evening. Taking a bike ride along a wooded trail. Canoeing across a mountain lake. Wouldn’t it be nice to return to those days if only for a short time? A few years back our family discovered how.
Welcome to Callaway Gardens. Located seventy miles southwest of Atlanta in Pine Mountain, Georgia, it is a delightful throwback to an age that seems to have all but disappeared. While the Gardens still draw crowds to special events like a hot air balloon event every Labor Day, a steeplechase and a national water skiing competition there is plenty to recommend this attraction all year round.
The Gardens include miles of hiking and bicycling trails thru a number of habitats. A butterfly center where typically 1,000 or more butterflies flutter freely about in one of North America’s largest tropical butterfly conservatories. Several lakes for fishing, boating and water sports including Robin Lake beach with a recreation area, snack bar and weekend concerts in the summer. There are also a number of good restaurants associated with the property..
Accommodations at the Gardens include The Lodge and Spa, The Mountain Creek Inn along with rental cottages and villas. There are a number of activity programs like Family Adventure, several championship golf courses and shows like Birds of Prey. At Christmas the Gardens attracts crowds to Fantasy in Lights, one of the countries highest rated light displays.
Two special times at the Garden are Spring when the Azaleas are in bloom and Fall around late October and early November when the leaves are changing.
If Charleston is a Southern Belle than Savannah is the South’s Grande Dame. The city is built close upon the deltas of the Wilmington and Savannah Rivers at the confluence of the Savannah River and Little Back River. Traditionally, the culture of Savannah is rooted in the coastal “low country” just like its’ sister city of Charleston a hundred miles to the north.
The city of Savannah, Georgia was laid out by James Oglethorpe in 1733 around four open squares. Each square was surrounded by four residential (“tything”) blocks and four civic (“trust”) blocks. Once the four wards were developed in the mid-1730s, two additional wards were laid out and the city grew out from this plan. Almost three hundred years later it is those squares (http://www.savannah.com/savannahs-historic-squares/) that make Savannah so unique and attractive.
James Oglethorpe was a British soldier, Member of Parliament, and philanthropist, as well as the founder of the colony of Georgia. As a social reformer, he hoped to resettle Britain’s poor in the New World. Savannah was the beginning of his Georgia colony. The charter allocated each family a city plot to build a house on along with a larger garden plot outside the settlement proper and an additional large farm plot farther out into the countryside. The inner city design was originally intended to allow for defense from the Spanish to the south and the native tribes around the area.
Today it doesn’t matter if the plan was a result of genius or luck or centuries of dedication, Savannah is one of the world’s most beautiful, walkable and livable cities. It is home to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) which is a dominant force in the culture of the city. Be sure to make time to visit their gallery and museum and ShopSCAD .
Savannah is also one of America’s most historic cities having played major roles in the colonization of America, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It is also known for food, ghosts (there are dozens of haunting legends as well as tours) and a vibrant lifestyle. When people think of this city they usually think of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the birdgirl statue, cemeteries and grand steepled churches.
The last time we visited Savannah was a year ago in August, during the heat of summer. We came back in November and the weather and temperatures were glorious. We spent most of our time touring on foot, taking time for frequent stops to shop and snack. While walking along the river late one afternoon we decided, for old times sake, to stop into The Charte House for happy hour. In addition to good happy hour drink prices and snacks we were pleasantly surprised with an order of fried green tomatoes, some of the best we have ever had.
While strolling around the outskirts of the historic district we stopped for lunch at Crystal Beer Parlor, a local treasure on West Jones Street. Located in a former grocery store the “Crystal” is Savannah’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1933. Its’ menu features solid American fare and an extensive beer list including a nice selection of local brews.
On a previous visit to Savannah we took a walking “Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour” which was the most fun we’d had for lunch in a long time. We started at Smith Brothers Butcher Shop and visited a half dozen spots for everything from tea and sweets to gyros. One of the stops was at Angel’s Barbeque, which had garnered a reputation for some of the best barbecue and homemade sauces in Savannah. We enjoyed delicious pulled pork sandwiches. I’m glad we stopped at that time as the owners, Andrew and Alieen Trice, have now sold the building and retired. To some this amounts to a tragedy.
If you are spending a day doing a walking tour of the city, a popular lunch idea is to stop by Smith Brothers Butcher Shop and order a sandwich to-go or pick up some items for a picnic in one of Savannah’s many squares.
For an introduction to the flavors of the city one should consider a number of dishes that the city is known for like low country boil, Shrimp and grits, Crab Savannah, oyster roast, crab cakes, beans n rice or red beans, fried green tomatoes and for dessert look for Georgia Peach Pie or cobbler, pecan pie and pralines or gophers.