06 Apr Helen, Georgia – Bavaria on the Appalachian Trail
As long as I’ve lived in Georgia, I’ve been told that I needed to make sure that I visited Helen. Helen who? I asked, facetiously. Helen, Georgia was their quick retort. Well, Es tut mir leid (I’m sorry, in German. If I’m wrong, I’m sure my friend Laurel from My Expat Germany will correct me)! I had never heard of the place. Over time, try as I might, the idea seemed more and more appealing to me.
So I decided to take the plunge two weeks ago to see what all the fuss was about. As it turns out, Helen is a small and lovely town located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 100 miles north of Atlanta. It is located near the beginning or end (depending on your point of view) of the Appalachian Trail and is the site of the country’s first Gold rush in the 1820’s. Helen is a replica of a quaint German Bavarian village and I think the only way to improve upon its enchanting facade would be to visit when the weather’s a bit warmer.
Still, there was something exceptional about our time there. It was cold and rainy which suited me fine since we’d decided to rent the Two Bear Loft cabin and planned to get full use out of the cozy fireplace. Situated at the crest of Tray Mountain, the vistas were superb as we could see 30 to 40 miles into the distance. It was a glorious sight to be surrounded by the night sky with the stars twinkling brightly in such close proximity to us.
Our first order of business was to drive to the center of town and check out the different shops and restaurants. We wanted to try genuine Bavarian meals which we did at Cafe International. I ordered bratwurst, sauerkraut, German potato salad and rye bread. My daughter, Cari ordered a Reuben sandwich with chips. The meals were reasonably priced at 9 bucks each.
I was most excited about our visit to Anna Ruby Falls which is located in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I’ve always loved waterfalls probably b/c it’s a metaphor for unbridled freedom that can’t be caged or stifled. It blends so perfectly with nature as it courses over moss-laden boulders through a frenetic pathway into a larger pool. The falls are fed via two separate bodies of water: Curtis and York Creeks. Curtis Creek drops 153 feet and York Creek 50 feet to form the twin waterfalls which eventually end at the Gulf of Mexico. Ferns, trillium and violets were awake from their winter slumber as they witnessed the aqueous dance. Call me sentimental, but I loved it!
As I was doing my research for this trip, I found out something very interesting. My public library allows you to check out parking passes to Georgia State Parks. This annual pass costs $50.00, but you can have it for a week for free! Additionally, you may check out their annual family pass which gives you free entrance into any Georgia State Park. One caveat, we found out that Anna Ruby Falls is a federal park run by the US Park Service, so we couldn’t use the admission pass. The entry fee was only $2.00 per person, so no big deal.
One of the most down home and novel things that you can experience in a small town is the General Store. It’s a mix of purity, utility, and frugality. We visited Fred’s Famous Peanuts, a General Store (with an actual paddle-wheel attached) which is located on Hwy 356 right past Anna Ruby Falls. The rustic store sold pure honey (with or without the honeycomb), peach and apple cider, boiled peanuts, pecan pralines, peanut brittle and frozen lemonade. The owner had a great sense of humor and seemed to really enjoy his work. I decided to take home large jars of honey and peach cider and of course, the southern delicacy, pralines! One bite of those will give you a bird’s eye view into heaven. YUM!
As I alluded to in a previous post, the north Georgia Mountains is considered wine country and boasts three wineries in Dahlonega, a town located 10 miles from Helen. One of these wineries has a second location in Helen: Habersham Wineries. We decided to go for a taste test because we weren’t totally sold on the idea that our home state could compete with the big boys. You are permitted to taste test four different wines. I ended up purchasing two of them! I was pleasantly surprised that the wines were so crisp, light and flavorful but had a kick to it. I bought white muscadine and scarlet red at $12.00 each. I’m not that much of a drinker so I can’t tell you if that’s a good deal or not, but it seemed fair to me.
Though we’d experienced a particular challenge which I will explore in-depth in my next report, I still think that Helen is definitely a must see if you happen to live in or are visiting Georgia. It’s unique simply because of where it’s located, so you’re certain to get a kick out of it.