By Kathie Farnell
Photos by Jack Purser Jr.
Visitors to southwest Georgia looking to spend a little quality time in the outdoors can choose from a couple of resorts which are close both to nature and to the Atlanta airport.
Historic Banning Mills Country Inn, Executive Retreat and Spa, just 45 minutes southwest of Atlanta, occupies 700 acres of steep wooded hills and rushing streams reminiscent of North Georgia, without the commute. Located just outside the little town of Whitesburg, the resort offers a glimpse of the history of the area. Cascading Snake Creek, which crosses the property, once flowed through a heavily populated settlement of Lower Creek Indians.
Chief William McIntosh, whose father had been a Tory officer during the American Revolution, owned a plantation a few miles from what is now Banning Mills. After he signed an 1825 treaty turning over 20 million acres of Creek land to the United States, he was killed by infuriated Creeks–and the $400,000 he received in gold for signing the treaty was never found. Part of the land McIntosh signed away became Carroll County, Georgia, and the site of textile and paper mills on Snake Creek. The ruins of these mills, the last of which operated until the early 1970s, are scattered throughout the Banning Mills resort property and make for a picturesque hiking destination.
Mike and Donna Holder opened the resort in 2000 and cater to weekenders from Atlanta as well as weddings and groups from 10 to 250 members for retreats and team building activities centering around the ropes challenge course, which includes a 900-foot zipline that delivers a high speed ride over the creek. The resort includes 4800 square feet of dedicated meeting space with retreat and day packages available, including meals.
Accommodations include rooms in the lodge, jacuzzi suites, cabin suites and cottages. Rates start at $99 double and include breakfast, which is served in the lodge’s Tree Terrace, a glass-enclosed room with a panoramic view of the creek. A full-service day spa offers massage, manicures, facials, reflexology and aromatherapy.
The resort is located at 205 Horseshoe Dam Road, Whitesburg, Georgia. From Atlanta, take I-85 south and exit at Newnan, Georgia, to Highway 27. For more information on Historic Banning Mills Country Inn, Executive Retreat and Spa, call 1-866-447-8688 or check the website at www.historicbanningmills.com
A few miles farther west of Atlanta, Callaway Gardens, a 14,000 acre resort at Pine Mountain, Georgia, offers elegant accommodations in a back-to-nature setting that includes a golf course, lakes, hiking and bicycle trails, and mind-boggling floral displays throughout the year.
The John A. Sibley Horticultural Center offers stunning seasonal displays of flowers, all surrounding a 22-foot indoor waterfall. Nearby, the Day Butterfly Center is home to some 50 species of tropical butterflies which flutter gracefully around the visitor along paths through exotic flowers.
Spring is a big deal here: the Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl features more than 3400 hybrid azaleas blooming their heads off in a riot of color. December has its own form of magic in the Fantasy in Lights, featuring more than eight million lights twinkling in larger-than-life scenes of the season.
The Gardens provide a serene experience any time of the year. The Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel, by a shimmering lake, is a popular venue for weddings. Callaway has always been a golf destination; the Mountain View course is ranked among the nation’s best by Golf Digest and Golf magazines. During summer months, the resort’s Robin Lake Beach hosts the Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament in May and the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival each Labor Day.
Accommodations at Callaway include the Mountain Creek Inn, Mountain Creek Villas, and the Southern Pine Cottages. The cottages feature one or two bedrooms, full kitchen, fireplaces, screened porches and open decks with grills, in a complex which includes a heated indoor-outdoor pool.
The resort’s restaurants include the Gardens Restaurant, which overlooks Mountain Creek lake, and the Country Kitchen which serves down home food (including, of course, grits–the speckled heart grits specially milled for Callaway Gardens were designated the Official Grits of the 1996 Olympics).
The 54000 square foot Southern Pine Conference Center, located near the Southern Pine Cottages, incorporates environmentally-friendly features including maximum use of natural daylight for lighting, low-density parking, and use of native plants in landscaping. The conference center’s Piedmont Room offers elegant, sophisticated dining. In fall, 2006, the new 150-room Lodge and Spa will open next to the conference center.
Callaway Gardens is located on Georgia Highway 18 at Pine Mountain, Georgia, about 70 miles west of Atlanta via I-85. For more information, visit the website at www.callawaygardens.com or call 1-800-CALLAWAY.