Hey Helen! I absolutely love taking unique and somewhat weird road trips, so when my friends Adikus Sulpizi and David Chase suggested we go to this hidden Bavarian alpine village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, I said “Hell yeah, sign me up!” And so our adventure to Helen, Georgia, began.
As most adventures go, we loaded up the rental car with snacks, beverages (both alcoholic and non), lots of reading material and headed on our way. And like many trips, we had a hiccup at the very beginning when we had issues with our rental car and had to change it out in Mobile, which is no easy feat over the 4th of July weekend.
After getting back on track, we were off, but we did make one big pit stop at the fabulous Buc-ee’s in Auburn, Alabama. I have heard so much about this place but never had been to one, so you can imagine, I was like a kid in a candy store, literally.
I have to admit that I did support the local Alabama economy quite a lot by buying souvenirs, Beaver Nuggets, beef jerky, and various & sundry other gifts. And their tagline about having the cleanest bathrooms is not a lie, they absolutely do. Best place to do your business on a road trip, hands down!
Once we got back on the road, we were soon in Helen, which is about an hour out of Atlanta. Helen is this quirky town reminiscent of Germany’s famed Bamberg or Lindau (well, more like a Reader’s Digest version of those places). It’s campy, corny, and I fell in love with the place immediately. We had rented a three story cabin right up the mountain from the Main Street with a great view of downtown and the mountains. The cabin had a great, rustic atmosphere (lots of bear motifs) and a hot tub on one of the balconies overlooking everything.
Once we got settled, we walked down the mountain road and we were in town. We were not that high up on the mountain, maybe about four stories on a steep incline.
In town, we had our first meal at Bigg Daddy’s. It is a bar/restaurant with live music and a pretty impressive menu. The food was good and filling without breaking the bank. After a full day of driving, I was exhausted and went back up the mountain to the chalet (love saying that, makes me feel fancy). Going back up a four-story mountain is literally hell on earth and almost killed me; it was the last time we walked down the mountain into town. From that point on, one of us would be designated driver and we drove everywhere. Word of advice, get into shape before tackling mountains.
The following day was spent shopping and exploring, but not before having coffee in the hot tub and enjoying the morning view.
We began our day in town with breakfast at Hofer’s of Helen. Hofer’s Bakery was started by Horst & Gerda Hofer who came from Schwabach, Germany, to the U.S. in the late 1950’s. They worked for other companies until 1973 when they opened their own bakery. 18 years later, after having become one of the most recognized and award-winning retail bakeries in the U.S., the Hofers decided to open a second location in Helen.
Hofer’s in downtown Helen is housed in the former home of the 1st National Bank of White County. After extensive remodeling, a real Bavarian Konditorei & Cafe was created with a stone hearth oven. Their food was delicious and the aromas were mesmerizing.
Shopping was next on our agenda. In case you don’t know it, I view shopping like an Olympic sport and Helen did not disappoint. There were so many souvenir shops and unique boutiques with all kinds of items from toys and clothes to German gifts. Some people do squats for their workout, I do shopping.
Lunch was at one of the best German restaurants in town, The Heidelberg. The Heidelberg is a three-floor German restaurant, pub and music hall. After a rough day of shopping, we treated ourselves to a few cocktails (and shots) in their first floor Pub before going upstairs to dine on some deliciously authentic German fare. The food was great and the atmosphere & service were topnotch; I highly recommend this place.
After lunch, we had our own adventure in Cleveland, Georgia, which is right next to Helen. I am talking about Babyland, the home of the Cabbage Patch Doll. Located in a large, plantation-style home on several acres of manicured land, Babyland is one of those must-see tourist attractions and, if you must know, yes, I left with my own little adopted Mai Lee Leggio Cabbage Patch Kid. And yes, you have to adopt your doll, like meet with the staff and go through all the adoption paperwork.
Speaking of the staff, the entire staff are dressed like doctors and nurses because you are in one big hospital. Mother Cabbage is always on display beneath the branches of the Magic Crystal Tree. Pollinated by fanciful Bunnybees, their magical Cabbage Patch is tended by Licensed Patch Doctors and Nurses. Babyland General Hospital is the only place in the world where you can witness the birth of a hand-sculpted Cabbage Patch Kid. I mean this is some Wickerman/Midsommar stuff. But it is campy fun and, what the hell, I love my Cabbage Patch Kid.
After Babyland, I needed some adult time, so we went to the Habersham Winery for a tasting. We went to a few other wineries in the area, and, for the most part, the wines around there were too sweet for my taste. I managed to find a few, however, that were real good.
We also did some antique shopping. The antique stores in this area are pretty fantastic with some great finds. For dinner that night, we went to another one of the many bar/restaurants in Helen called The Troll Tavern. They served a mean martini and had decent pub fare with a great view of the river.
On Sunday, we went to brunch at this great place located in Cleveland, called Clyde’s Table & Tavern. This was definitely my favorite meal of the trip. Opened in 2018, Clyde’s is warm and inviting with a delicious menu and some amazing craft cocktails. My Bloody Mary was excellent, topped with fried chicken and bacon. What’s not to love about that?
The service was excellent and the owner even came by to talk to us. But the biggest takeaway was the three cheese grits which is their own recipe and in my opinion, the best grits I have ever consumed.
Next we went to the historic Sautee Nacoochee Valley which boasts shops, history, art, music, a winery, restaurants, B&B Inns, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. We went to this great little area in the mountains with lots of shops, anchored by the Old Sautee General Store which has been serving the public since 1872. It’s the oldest general store in Georgia and once supplied the Sautee Valley community with staples such as seed, eggs, flour, hardware, animal feed, and butter. Now, it carries gifts such as homemade peach preserves, pickled garlic, old time soda, fresh bread, candy and cheese. In the front of the store, you’ll find a small museum with all different types of antiques. The place was very cool, as were all the shops around it.
We drove down the winding road to the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia at the Sautee Nacoochee Center which is a wonderful modern arts building that includes an art gallery, a local history museum, and a theater. The Folk Pottery Museum showcases the skills of one of the South’s premier art forms, and explores the historical importance & changing role of folk pottery in Southern life.
After the museum, we went to more antique shops before returning back to the cabin to get ready for a 4th of July party later that night.
That evening, we were invited to a private 4th of July party literally atop a mountain in Clarkesville, Georgia right outside Helen. This was one of the reasons we went on the trip also. Two lovely ladies MK and Lisa who split their time between NOLA and their mountain retreat hosted a party in their gorgeous three story home overlooking the mountain vistas on all sides. We drove the mountain road which I have to admit was very scary for flat land people like us New Orleanians.
Once we arrived, we were greeted by a wonderful group of people who were artists, writers, architects and even a person who builds hot air balloons. It was an eclectic and interesting mix of people and so enjoyable to hang out with locals, They barbecued quite a feast for their guests and their home was so warm and inviting. There was even a small storm that passed through while we were there. It is so cool to see that kind of weather from atop a mountain in a home surrounded by glass. One of my favorite aspects about traveling is meeting new people and getting a glimpse into their lives in other parts of this country (and the world).
Our last day in Helen was full starting with tubing down the mountain. We signed up for the two our Cool River Tubing excursion down the mountain in the Chattahoochee River. You go to their ticket booth which is the area where the tube excursion ends. There they give you a large wooden stick, which I thought why would weneed this (more to come on that) and then you hop one a school bus that takes you up the mountain to the starting point, which there are two (one hour and two hour). Since we were brave or stupid however you look at it, we chose two hours. They let you off and you get in the cold water and you are start your way down the winding river. David and I hooked our tubes together which I highly recommend, because their are safety in numbers.
The river is filled with rapids and lots of rocks which you can get stuck on like some sort of beached whale. The stick is to pry yourself off the rocks or in many cases, you get knocked off the rocks by other tubers who slam into you. Every part of your body hits rocks during this ride especially in the areas that the river is very shallow, I am talking a few inches of water. It is quite a workout and you are exhausted b the time you finish. Also, the river winds through town so you get to be seen struggling to get off the rocks by all the people at the many bars and restaurants watching you go by. We did it ourselves the previous day at a bar called Paul’s Margarita Deck so I knew to be aware of how I looked when I was in the town section of the river. All in all, the tubing was lots of fun and it was not all rapids, there were some areas where you could relax and just float along. Definitely do this when you go to Helen.
Next we went to and did some more antique shopping and went to the famous chocolatier in the city Hansel & Gretel. We also went to Nora Mill Granary which was established in 1876. It is an operational gristmill sitting alongside the Chattahoochee River. At Nora Mill, they utilize the original 1,500-pound French Burr Mill Stones powered by the Chattahoochee River to grind and produce corn and wheat-based products such as stone ground grits, cornmeal, pancake & waffle mixes, flours, biscuit & bread mixes, and pioneer’s porridge. After that I needed a drink so we went to Jumping Goat Coffee House & Winery where we had a few glasses of wine overlooking the mountain. Good times. We ended our day with dinner in town at Cowboys & Angels which had quite ann extensive gourmet burger and steak menu. It was the perfect way to end the trip on a delectable high note.
The next day, we were up early and on the road back home. We had our stop for gas and snacks at Buc-ee’s and then a late lunch at this fabulous cafe in Mobile called Time To Eat Cafe. David and Adikus love finding these hidden gem cafes and this one was wonderful. It had a large menu filled with Southern favorites and the place was decorated with all types of clocks. It so offbeat, yet fun and definitely worth checking out.
So, if you are looking for your next unusual travel destination, give Helen Georgia a try, you will not be disappointed.