A pre-holiday weekend at Barnsley Resort
04.12.2015 - 06.12.2015
Nothing gets you in the mood for Christmas like a quaint English village festively decorated with an extraordinary number of Christmas trees, countless twinkling lights, and a firepit on every corner. That’s exactly what we found at Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, GA when we were invited to spend a weekend just weeks before Christmas.
The history of the property was a story in itself. A story of love, despair, restoration and hope, it read like something from a historical romance novel.
The original Barnsley Estate was a dazzling mansion named Woodland, built by Godfrey Barnsley, an extremely wealthy cotton broker, for his true love, Julia. Godfrey ignored the Indian legend that said the land was cursed and he began construction on the graceful Italianate villa and its elaborate gardens in the mid 1800’s, only to have Julia fall ill and die before the home was ever finished. In his grief, Godfrey ceased work on the grand manor house.
He resumed construction when Julia visited him in a dream and told him to finish the home for their children. The house was completed and Godfrey lived there with the children but a series of calamities befell them. First, his infant son died, followed by his daughter. Chinese pirates killed another son. The house was then severely damaged during the Civil War. Finally, Godfrey left the estate for New Orleans, to try to rebuild his ruined fortune (he never did). His daughter, Julia, remained at the house. Her husband was crushed by a falling tree. Julia's daughter, Adelaide married and returned to the house, but her husband died shortly thereafter.
In 1906, a tornado damaged the lovely house, ripping away the roof, forcing Miss Addie to move into the kitchen wing with her sons as the house fell into ruin around her. One of her sons, Preston, grew to be a prize fighter, but sustained a serious head injury and was institutionalized. He escaped from the institution, returned to the cursed estate, and gunned down his brother, who died in Miss Addie's arms.
Miss Addie lost her love of the estate and let it fall into neglect. When she died in 1942, the house was roofless and crumbling, it's once beautiful walls now buried in vines and kudzu.
The estate was auctioned off and the land was used for farming for several decades as what remained of the manor house crumbled, and the beautiful gardens grew wild.
The gardens and manor house proceeded to fall into disrepair. In 1988, a Bavarian prince purchased the dilapidated estate and its 4,000 acres and asked the Cherokee Indians to bless the land and remove the curse. He then revived and expanded the gardens and salvaged the ruins of the once beautiful home. Over time, it has been developed into a beautiful resort, built to resemble a quaint English village, with a central Town Hall and adorable cottages that house the resort’s cozy guest suites.
With no idea what to expect, we were absolutely enchanted when we pulled onto the property. “Quaint” is simply inadequate. Barnsley’s charms were immediate. We were assaulted by a tasteful display of extraordinary Christmas décor, delightful cottages that looked like something from a fairy tale, and an enormous suite in a cottage that would have put a smile on even the Grinch’s face.
The property was opulent, without being overdone. It felt genteel, elegant, and genuine. Nothing felt contrived or counterfeit. It was truly like stepping into another time and place, a place where Christmas reigned supreme.
We got settled and set off to find the Wine Snob’s social hour. The Wine Snob is the gentleman's actual job title at Barnsley. His only purpose is to ensure you enjoy your wine while you are there. On Friday evenings, he hosts a complimentary social hour where he selects a few choice wines that he offers with fruit and cheese for your sampling pleasure.
Wine tastings make me a little nervous. I was afraid it was going to be like our experience with the sommelier at Blackberry Farm, who was so offended by our cheap wine choice (at $95 I didn’t really consider it cheap….) that he refused to even pour it himself and sent the waiter over to do the dirty work.
I was worried I wouldn’t sniff it properly or that my pre-sip swirl would lack the verve with which a true wine connoisseur would approach it.
Even if I managed to sniff, swirl, swoosh, and sip properly, what if he asked me for commentary? What would I say?????
I could just hear myself, “It has hints of frankenberry and bitter clown tears. I think it would pair nicely with a mild bout of depression.”
Would he be able to look into my eyes and know there was a time when the only wine I would drink came in a plastic bottle with a screw top?
It sounded so intimidating.
I am happy to report that the Wine Snob was anything BUT a snob. He was the sweetest man EVER. He didn’t mind that we were not sophisticated wine drinkers and proceeded to provide us with a stellar tasting of two very unique wines, despite the fact that it was pretty obvious our taste currently resides in the $12 range.
With time to kill before dinner, we walked the grounds and marveled at the old world ambience and how simply gorgeous everything was.
We found ourselves at K.O. Dugan’s Tavern, a rustic bar named after prizefighter K.O. Dugan, the great-grandson of Godfrey Barnsley (yes, the one that shot his brother). Filled with leather club chairs and a stone fireplace, it also sported an excellent selection of fine scotch and bourbon.
We spent too much time at Dugan’s getting holly jolly, and missed the evening s’mores. Yes, in the evening, the resort sets out complimentary s’mores makings at the fire pits.
HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THE S’MORES?????
No matter, it was time for dinner.
Dinner was at the Rice House, the resort’s fine dining restaurant located in one of the historic homes on the property. The white glove treatment that we had been enjoying so far throughout Barnsley Resort continued as we were seated before a roaring fireplace.
We opted for the prix-fixe four course menu, and as we typically do, we chose almost the same four courses, deviating only on the main entrée.
We both started with the apple cider brined plantation quail served over course ground grits with a fall vegetable “nest,”, sorghum-jalapeno, and quail jus.
For seconds, we both had the vanilla poached Maine lobster with cheese, local apple, garden herb wafers, grapes, corn salad, Woodford sea salt, and truffle aioli.
For our main, Matt had the bison ribeye, while I had the nightly special which was an extraordinary pork loin. We both agreed that, while both were excellent, mine was the winner.
For dessert, we both ordered the Georgia pecan pie with bourbon-soaked pecans, sea salt, and dulce de leche gelato.
We made the leisurely walk back to our cottage, drinking in the beautiful Christmas lights along the way.
The next morning, we slept in. We had a 10:00 spa appointment, so there was no reason to be in a hurry.
We grabbed breakfast at the casual Woodlands Grill before heading to the spa. Like everything else at the resort, it was draped in garland, lights, and wreaths, making us feel like we were part of a Christmas parade, everywhere we went.
They had an ENORMOUS breakfast buffet, but I didn’t want to eat that much food before a massage. Eat a bunch of food and then have someone push around on you? No thanks. That’s an awkward moment just waiting to happen.
It didn’t stop Matt.
The next hour was spent at the spa getting a wonderfully relaxing massage.
Because he was willing to go to the spa with me, I had agreed to go sport shooting with Matt. Barnsley is well-renowned for their gentlemen’s shooting club. It offers sporting clays as well as a variety of wildlife hunts in the nearby woods.
Matt was doing the 100 clay shooting course, which was set up on 15 stations throughout the forest. It was a gorgeous day, so I asked if I could tag along.
Each station had two clay throwers and included 6 – 8 shots using a Caesar Guerini over and under shotgun.
Matt finally talked me into trying to shoot one clay. The 12-gauge shotgun only weighed 8 lbs. but it could have weighed 40, for all I could do to lift it. Despite the number of times I assured Matt and our guide that this wasn’t a good idea, they insisted I try to hit a target.
Can you believe I hit it? I couldn’t. I know they couldn’t.
I immediately retired from my brief clay shooting career while my record was 100%.
It was such a gorgeous and unseasonably warm day, that we wanted to stay outdoors as long as possible. We decided to visit the Barnsley equestrian center. Matt had never ridden a horse.
No, riding a pony at the county fair does not count.
As they saddled up a couple of horses, we visited with the other guests of the barn.
There was an adorably fat goat, a miniature white donkey and horse who were obviously inseparable, and a little pig that was so fast, it’s picture was nothing more than a pink blur.
I’m happy to report that Matt’s first trail ride went extremely well. Thankfully, I was paired with the “lively” horse who preferred to drop far behind the other two before taking off at a spirited gallop until he caught back up. “If you don’t watch him,” the guide said, “He’ll bite the other horse in the butt when he catches back up. That’s just what he likes to do.”
He also liked to rub his body all over the hay bales in the field, like an oversized cat with a scratching post.
“Just lift your feet up on top of the saddle until he’s done,” our guide kept telling me, “Or he’ll get hay all over ya’.”
I left a little stiffer and a lot smellier than I arrived.
After our ride, we took a walk through the remains of the estate house and the gardens. The house had lovely decorations inside and it gave it a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. Julia never saw her house, but they put a tree up in her parlor every year.
We grabbed a late bite at the Beer Garden, Barnsley’s choice for casual al-fresco dining. It was the place for craft brews, giant pretzels, bratwurst, and fresh grilled burgers covered with gooey cheese.
We lounged in the afternoon sunshine until it was time to get ready for the Christmas party. Our weekend invitation to Barnsley was a gift from one of Matt’s generous charter clients and it included an invitation to their formal Christmas party.
I’d love to tell you all about it but,
Sunday morning came too soon, mainly because we’d been dancing until the wee hours of the morning with our good friends Jose and Jack, but also because we were loath to leave this beautiful property.
With no spa appointment or tight dress to squeeze into later, I dove headfirst into the breakfast buffet.
We took a final stroll through the property.
There was nothing left to do but head home. Goodbye giant Santa and his rabbit! Farewell huge Christmas tree! Au Revoir Wine Snob and fat goat!
You threw me all the Christmas spirit you had and now I’m ready for old Kris Kringle, goodwill towards mankind, and all things merry and bright!