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'Twas the Month Before Christmas...

‘Twas the month before Christmas, and deep in the hills;

I was looking for places to shake off the chills;

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Quick plans were made and the bags were brought down,

In hopes that we soon would go out of town;

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The puppies were nestled all snug in the plane,

While visions of merriment danced in their brains,

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We were loaded and ready, flying into the sun,

Headed east to the mountains for some quick winter fun-

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We landed in Flat Rock, delighted to see,

A cute little cabin, for Matt and for me.

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I barely had settled and took off my coat,

When what did I see? Well it was a goat!

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We rode into town filled with glorious stores,

And found Renzo’s Ristorante with pasta galore;

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And, what might be a perfect end to this day?

Why a twinkle of lights and great Christmas play.

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The next morning we woke and jumped in the car,

We headed to Asheville to pedal a bar.

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We sipped and we pedaled, we pedaled and sipped,

Then off for some shopping, we dashed and we skipped.

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“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donner and Blitzen;

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We heard someone shout and we just had to see,

Why, it wasn’t a reindeer, it only was ME!

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As our tummies grew empty, to Limones we ran,

For mussels, ceviche, and caipirinhas in hand;

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But so much fun had made our feet ache,

So we soaked our poor feet with massages at Wake.

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And then in a twinkling, we headed next door,

Where old books were waiting and champagne was poured.

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The next morning the fog was swirling ‘round slow,

As we headed for breakfast at nearby HenDough.

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The chicken was hot and the doughnuts were sweet,

And I ate and I ate, ‘til I just couldn’t eat.

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Then it was down to Georgia, for Christmas again,

At Barnsley Resort, with some of our friends;

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The place was glittering with Christmas decor,

We grabbed up the pups and went to explore;

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There was so much to do, that much did transpire,

We walked, and we shot, we drank wine by the fire.

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The light of the day passed into dim glow of night,

And we walked through the ruins with bright Christmas lights.

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With dinner in my belly and drinks in my hand,

And I couldn’t help but think, “My, this is grand;”

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The next day brought spa dates and pretzels and fun,

And long walks and donkeys, and little dog runs.

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And soon it was time to get dressed up, you see,

For a Christmas party that was so filled with glee.

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And before I knew it, it was already time,

For a final HUGE breakfast that was truly sublime.

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Then we sprung to the plane, it was time to go home,

And bring Christmas to our house, no more to roam.

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Then with my home in sight, I giggled with glee,

It was time to go looking for our Christmas tree.

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And I say to you all, it’s time for happy and bright,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:41 Archived in USA Tagged christmas georgia asheville barnsley_resort pubcycle hendersonville flat_rock Comments (1)

Going Out on a Limb - Taking Our Anniversary to New Heights

Matt and I have made it a tradition to go somewhere unique for our anniversary.

Some years, it’s somewhere tropical like Jost Van Dyke.

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Other years, we stick to romantic places like Savannah or the Banner Elk Winery in Blowing Rock.

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And don’t forget the time I made him go “glamping” in the woods.

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Last year’s glamping experience was so enjoyable, I decided to take it to an entirely new level, and by new level, I mean about 20 feet up.

This year I found the ultimate anniversary getaway.

The day I ran across an Airbnb ad for this treehouse in the middle of Atlanta, GA…I knew I needed this treehouse in my life:

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Maybe I read Swiss Family Robinson too many times as a child, but sleeping in a tree that had all the comforts of home seemed like the ultimate romantic getaway to me.

I will admit I worried a little. I have read some Airbnb horror stories like the one about the guy that rented a house only to have some huge Russian show up in the middle of the night asking him what the hell he was doing in his house and threatening to crush him. Seriously, that’s not only a good way to ruin a weekend, it’s a good way to ruin a perfectly good pair of underpants.

While reasonably confident that this was, indeed, a romantic, lovely treehouse in Atlanta, there was a small, secret part of me that worried it was actually nothing more than an oddly elevated shed that looked out over some guy’s lawn and his kid’s trampoline.

Those twinkling fairy lights had me, though. I was willing to chance it. If the treehouse was even half as adorable in reality as it was in those photos, it was going to be worth it.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon and we found ourselves travelling down busy Howell Mill Rd. in Buckhead. The GPS said our destination was less than a mile away.

Could this be right?

The treehouses looked like they were in the middle of nowhere in the photos, and here we were in the middle of Friday afternoon rush hour in Atlanta.

As we passed a strip mall with a PetCo and a Chipotle, the GPS said we were only .5 mile away.

Seriously?

Had I made a mistake?

Was our magical treehouse adventure going to be nothing more than a garden shed on stilts overlooking I-75?

Suddenly, we found ourselves turning into a beautiful, residential neighborhood, one filled with huge trees and lush green lawns. We crept through the quiet streets and came to a long driveway that took us back into the woods.

Within seconds, we were literally transported from the hustle and bustle of Buckhead to the quiet of an urban forest.

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It was extraordinary.

It was as though Peter and Katie Bahouth had created a portal to another dimension rather than simply build a treehouse in the woods surrounding their Buckhead home. A dimension that was darkly lush and green and filled with the sounds of a hundred birds.

The treehouse was nestled in the woods in the heart of Buckhead, but it was as removed from the City as a country retreat would have been. It was made up of three different structures connected by swinging rope bridges and decorated with dainty white lights.

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The first structure was a living room complete with a chandelier and 80 year old windows with pressed butterflies and a balcony overlooking the forest. A basket had been left for us filled with chilled water, snacks, and wine.

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The middle structure was an uber romantic bedroom with gauzy white curtains and a super soft double bed that could be rolled out onto a platform to sleep under the stars. It was like walking into an Anthropologie catalog.

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The third structure was a deck that wrapped around the “Old Man,” an 80+ year old massive pine tree. There was even a hammock for afternoon naps.

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I was instantly enchanted.

I couldn’t believe all of this was ours for the weekend.

We immediately popped open the wine and celebrated our good fortune.

“To 16 years!” We shouted, the Old Man nodding approval from above.

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We had late dinner reservations at The Local Three. Who could resist a restaurant with the following philosophy:

“People Matter Most, Local Is Priority, Seasonal Makes Sense, Authenticity Rules, Quality Governs, Delicious Trumps, Pretense Stinks, Comfort Feels Good, Appreciation Tastes Better, Prudence Sustains It All.”

I knew that Local Three was located in an office building, so I wasn't expecting the location to be very dazzling. What they failed to mention was that it was a gorgeous Tuscan inspired office building, complete with manicured lawns and a giant villa towering in the background.

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We ran around for a moment, doing our best Taylor Swift video impression. What I really needed was a vintage convertible and a golf club.

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We had reserved the Chef’s Table. Not your standard Chef’s Table, the Local Three puts a private table right in the kitchen, where you can be front and center to all of the action. We were shown to our table, decorated romantically with mason jar candles and a special menu that was a tribute to the late Prince, who had died just the day before.

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Their goal is to provide you food and wine pairings until you cry “Mercy!”

I knew it was going to be good when the first question our server asked us was, “Do you have someone who can drive you home? If not, I can get you the number for a taxi before we get started.”

Mercy!

The evening began with a toast with some bubbly, Le Dolci Collini Prosecco.

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Then the onslaught began.

The first course was “OOH, THIS YOU NEED.” I did need it. It was the “O.G.” Truffle Parmesan Popcorn. I was pretty sure “O.G.” stood for “Oh, goodness….” Because that’s what I kept saying as I ate it.

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The popcorn course (I think all meals should have a popcorn course, frankly) was followed by the “RASPBERRY BERET.” This was a beautiful salad of Atlanta Harvest greens topped with radish and basil and the most tender, salty slivers of country ham imaginable. This was paired with a Beckstoffer “Hogwash” Rose.

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Next up was “IF I LOVE U 2 NITE.” This was ahi tuna with papaya, avocado, coconut, macadamia, and sesame paired with Gianni Gagliardo Fallegro Favorita.

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And the dishes kept coming.

So did the wine.

The fourth course was “HOT THING,” grilled asparagus with parmesan, chopped egg, and sourdough paired with a William Fevre Champs Royaux Chardonnay.

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Because Matt is not a huge fan of bubbly, rose, or white wines, I had been finishing his as well as mine, and I had been significantly overserved by this point.

I had no intention of crying “Mercy!” Mercy is for wimps.

I powered on.

The fifth course, “TILEFISH & COFFEE,” was a delicious serving of fish with fingerling potatoes flavored with fennel, kale, and sour cherry paired with an Andre Dupuis Bourgogne Pinot Noir.

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Still not ready to throw in the towel, we dove into the sixth course, “LITTLE RED CUTLET,” a rare prime strip with spring onions, barley, carrots and peppercorn, paired with a Justin Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Course seven (YES….SEVEN!!!) was “CREAM,” a cheese plate that included 4 delightful selections along with flatbread, jam, and honey. This was paired with Turley “Juvenile” Zinfindel.

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Just as we were about to cry, “MERCY!” they brought out the “CHOCOLATE INVASION,” so instead, we cried “Merci!” and gobbled down the sweet, creamy torte that came with a shot of Buffalo Trace bourbon cream.

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I wasn’t crying mercy, but I was crying, “Lord have Mercy,” which in southern speak is the phrase you use when something is just so unbelievable that there are simply no other words that will do. It is also important to note that one must always shake her head 'No' while saying it in order to get the full effect.

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Because I drank all of my wine and half of Matt’s, we did not need help driving back to the treehouse, but Matt might have needed help getting me up across that rope ladder.

It was a cool April night and the cozy bed was heated, so we snuggled in, wondering what sleeping in a treehouse would be like.

I’ll tell you what it was like. Instead of being in a hotel trying repeatedly to get the curtains to shut all the way so the lights from outside didn’t seep in while we slept and listening to the guy in the next room flush his toilet, we were in a quiet forest, cocooned in a canopy of green with nothing to disturb the silence other than the occasional frog down by the babbling creek below.

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Yeah, it was good.

We woke up the next morning and found it hard to get out of bed. No, that wasn’t the wine talking, it was just that cozy. The bed was crazy soft and warm (can you say "heated mattress pad?)," like a little nest. We could hear the birds softly twittering in the trees. I never wanted to move.

At least until I heard Peter’s little bell. That meant coffee! I'll move for coffee. Hell, I would have jumped up and swung through the trees Tarzan-style for coffee.

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I fetched our little basket and it was filled with a thermos of hot coffee for me, sugar, cream, and a thermos of hot water with cocoa for Matt.

We could have eaten one of the nice granola bars that Peter had left for us in our snack box from the day before, but, thanks to my wine stupor the night before, I had forgotten to latch them in the plastic bin, as Peter suggested. I found them hidden under the sofa with suspicious chew marks on them and decided they were best left for the squirrels.

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No matter. We had breakfast plans that included a significant tally of fat and carbohydrates, so I really didn’t want to ruin my appetite with a granola bar anyway.

After a peaceful morning in the treehouse, we made our way into the bustle of the City and headed straight for Buttermilk Kitchen. Open only for breakfast and lunch, Buttermilk Kitchen is the vision of Suzanne Vizethann whose mission is to nurture people through food using sustainable, local ingredients. Almost everything in her kitchen is made in-house from scratch and it shows.

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Matt must have been hungry. This is all his: caramelized banana oatmeal, grits topped with over easy eggs, and just in case that wasn’t enough, a side of bacon.

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I simply went for the fried chicken biscuit with cheese grits and a tasty little side of bread and butter pickles.

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We spent the day shopping our way through Buckhead, which was super awesome, except for the 45 minutes I was tortured inside The Fish Hawk, a giant fishing store that made me feel like I was trapped in a Turkish prison with no chance of escape unless I could figure out how to hang myself with some fishing line.

I suppose Matt can only do so much shoe shopping.

When the hungries hit, we made our way to Antico Pizza Napoletana in Atlanta. This place was nothing to look at, but it is known as the best pizza in Atlanta. We entered the spartan, warehouse-like building and found ourselves ordering at the counter, being given a number, and then wandering to the back, which was filled with family-style picnic tables that overlooked the pizza making operation. Stacks of San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes, bags of 00 flour, and pizza boxes rising to the ceiling flanked the walls. A wood fired oven glowed in the back, while several men tossed pizza crusts in the air.

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We watched as our pizza was tossed, spread, sprinkled, and baked. The finished product was shuffled from the oven onto an aluminum cookie sheet lined with paper and placed rather unceremoniously in front of us with a roll of rough brown paper towels.

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How was the pizza?

Transcendent.

The crust was crisp and blistered from a mere two minutes in the oven. A zesty sauce was scantily smeared on and topped with gooey fresh buffalo mozzarella. A few leaves of basil and a little drizzle of olive oil transformed it into perfection.

We took our pizza bellies back to the treehouse for a nap under the rustling leaves.

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We had dinner plans that evening with friends who live in Atlanta, so we dragged ourselves out of the cushy bed and spruced up a little.

NOTE: Stilettos and rope ladders do not mix.

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Our friends took us to Cape Dutch, a newer restaurant on the Atlanta dining scene with an South African flair and warmly sophisticated décor.

The “thing to order,” I was told, was the braai, a South African grill.

After an appetizer of tuna that was as beautiful as it was delicious, I dove into the braai filet mignon and a side of crispy perfect fries.

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Then it was back to the treehouse for another peaceful night.

We rolled the bed out on the platform so that we could sleep under the stars.

Pure magic.

After sleeping in as long as we possibly could, we enjoyed another coffee basket and said our goodbyes to the treehouse.

We waved “farewell” to the Old Man as we headed to West Egg to grab some breakfast.

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Apparently, everyone else headed to West Egg at the same time, so there was a bit of a wait.

Waiting makes us hungry, so we felt justified when we ordered 3 breakfasts for 2 people:

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A stack of sour cream pancakes with spiced honey butter to share as well as the eggs benedict for Matt and the Peachtree Plate for me. The Peachtree Plate was loaded with eggs, a biscuit, bacon, cheese grits, and fried green tomatoes.

We remembered what our moms told us about starving children and made sure we ate every single bite.

We spent another day shopping before heading to Alpharetta for the night.

Why Alpharetta?

Aside from the fact that I GREW UP THERE, we had concert tickets for Van Morrison that night.

Sure, Alpharetta is all “big city” now and is simply considered an extension of Atlanta, but I remember it “back in the day” when the only place to eat out was the Dixie Diner and we were super excited to get our first fast food place, nearly going out of our minds when we got a Hardee’s.

Alpharetta may have on her city slicker pants these days, but to me, she’s still just a simple girl in overalls.

I made Matt do the obligatory “drive by my old house” before we made our way to Pure Tacqueria, our favorite place to grab dinner before a show at the amphitheater.

Housed in what’s left of an abandoned 1920’s Pure Fuel Oil Station, this little restaurant serves up strong margaritas and stellar tacos.

After a fantastic meal (and that’s not just the tequila talking!), we headed to the amphitheater.

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Matt, a man who has never been able to properly keep his personal taste within his own age demographic, LOVES Van Morrison. Since the early 60s, Van Morrison has been churning out music that could be called anything from soulful to jazzy to blues-rock to folk music.

If you don’t think you know Van Morrison’s music, you do. Think Brown Eyed Girl, Dancing in the Moonlight, and Crazy Love. Try watching a movie and not hearing at least one Van Morrison song on the soundtrack.

With “Van the Man” being 70 years old and doing very limited performances in the US, I knew this might be Matt’s one and only chance to see him live, so I had gotten him 4th row center tickets for our anniversary.

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I think it was everything he hoped it would be.

After a final breakfast at our old standby, The Flying Biscuit (yes, I ate everything in that picture), it was time to head home.

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We have 16 years under our belt. I hope the next 16 are as amazing as these have been.

Here’s to us!

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Posted by vicki_h 05:59 Archived in USA Tagged georgia atlanta treehouse buckhead Comments (3)

It’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas

A pre-holiday weekend at Barnsley Resort

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Wine Snob.

It sounded so intimidating.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THE S’MORES?????

No matter, it was time for dinner.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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For dessert, we both ordered the Georgia pecan pie with bourbon-soaked pecans, sea salt, and dulce de leche gelato.

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We made the leisurely walk back to our cottage, drinking in the beautiful Christmas lights along the way.

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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.

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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.

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The next hour was spent at the spa getting a wonderfully relaxing massage.

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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.

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Great.

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’.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I’d love to tell you all about it but,

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Well, almost.

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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.

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We took a final stroll through the property.

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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!

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Next Stop? A return to the Christmas Cabin in Sapphire, NC....

Posted by vicki_h 09:39 Archived in USA Tagged georgia ga adairsville barnsley_gardens barnsley_resort Comments (2)

Almost Roughing it in Ellijay, GA

A glamping anniversary

Have you ever thought about camping but decided that a weekend in the woods in a leaky tent that smells like plastic and mildew with absolutely no creature comforts and just the clothes on your back does not sound like a good time? Maybe you’re not really into eating just what you can carry on your back, hunt, or catch? Foraging for food and clean water, building a fire from twigs and rocks, and finding your way with a compass does not sound appealing? And you definitely draw the line at pooping behind a tree?

Do you crave a oneness with nature but are too afraid of literally becoming “one with nature” (as in becoming bear poop and decomposing under a pine tree) that you just take a pass?

Is this how you feel about camping?

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Well, I have found the answer.

It's called "glamping."

Yes. You read that right: GLAMPING. As in Glamourous Camping.

Gone are the days where a campsite is simply a place to pitch a tent and dig a hole to poop in. These days, camping can mean plush bedding and gourmet food.

Glamping is not for the die-hard, freeze dried food eating, REI shopping, ultralight backpacking group of outdoors-people. No, glamping is for those of us who love nature, but do not love sleeping on the ground and trying to pee while holding oneself upright with a tree branch and praying you don’t dribble on your pants leg.

I have paid my dues. I have hiked 15 miles into the wild with a pack loaded with crap on my back in the snow with wet feet and blisters only to sleep on the ground with one eye open all night wondering if a bear was going to smell the cherry chapstick I forgot to take out of my pocket.

I learned the hard way that a two man pup tent does not come with two men. Or any puppies.

THIS is not fun:

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Neither is this:

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Nor this:

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Okay, this is a little fun, but not when you are doing it because you are in so much pain that you decide 6 miles of drunk hiking is worth the risk:

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I was ready for a different kind of camping experience.

Sleeping bags and granola bars are so 20th century.

Glamping is nature served on a silver platter.

Pack the fur throw and champagne, friends…..we’re going glamping!

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For as long as I can remember, the Resort at Paws Up just east of Missoula, MT has been on my wish list. A ridiculously indulgent blend of unsurpassed luxury and pristine wilderness, this glamping resort offers guests a stay in a posh safari-style tent with jaw dropping views and a plethora of wilderness experiences, not to mention a private chef and butler to draw your bath in your outdoor copper bathtub and lay out the s’mores while they pour your wine.

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Stolen Shamelessly from the Paws Up website

However, the $1800 a night price tag is likely to keep it on the wish list for a while.

Like, forever.

So, imagine my delight when I discovered a glamping resort just 93 miles (as the crow flies) from home, thanks to JoAnn Antonelli and Rick Lucas, who have created a whimsical retreat in the north Georgia mountains called the Martyn House.

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The Martyn House was born when JoAnn and Rick first stepped foot onto the 18 acre property in Ellijay, GA in 2007. The 1930’s farmhouse became their home. Later came Rick’s photography studio. Later came JoAnn’s art studio, lovingly built from the old barn that was in the final stages of collapse.

A trip to India provided the final inspiration, as Rick and JoAnn decided to bring their experience with the luxurious sleeping tents they stayed in in southern Rajistan to Georgia. Their bohemian chic tents are made from intricate Indian fabrics, with details like hand sewn mirrors and meticulous embroidery. The colors are bright and festive, giving an air of magic to each unique tent. Each tent is complete with antique furniture, cozy linens, working lights, bathrooms with on-demand hot showers and running water, a propane heater for extra cold nights, an in-room French press along with a supply of coffee and tea products, wine glasses and JoAnn’s handmade pottery mugs, and soaps that JoAnn makes herself. Each tent also has a covered front porch with twinkling string lights, perfect for curling up with a glass of wine at night or a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning.

Rick and JoAnn are also amazing cooks and make incredible meals for guests, using many of the ingredients from their own garden.

I ran across the Martyn House totally by accident in my never ending search for “someplace new” on the interwebs. As soon as I saw the fairytale destination that Rick and JoAnn had created, I knew it was the perfect place to spend our 15th anniversary.

“We’re going GLAMPING!” I shouted enthusiastically at Matt as he came home one evening.

“For our anniversary. GLAMPING!”

He stared at me, obviously not comprehending how stupendously awesome this decision was.

I heard crickets.

“GLAMPING!” I said again, arms wide and waving with all the enthusiasm I was trying to shove from my brain into his brain.

“Huh?”

He blinked.

It was like I was speaking Chinese.

“Fancy camping. We’re going fancy camping.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said as he went back to checking the mail.

Okay, so maybe he wasn’t as inspired as I was, but that was just because he didn’t know yet.

Martyn House was going to be perfect.

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The first thing I saw as we pulled down the driveway was the lion that was charging our vehicle.

“OH MY GOD!” I shouted to Matt. “Roll up the window!”

It was too late. Within minutes, I saw nothing but giant golden paws and fur and teeth mauling my husband of 15 years.

As I looked over at Matt’s grin, I remembered we were not, in fact, on our way to our Abercrombie & Kent campsite in the Serengeti, but were in Ellijay, GA and this was not a lion, but the biggest golden retriever in the universe with his wiggly body halfway inside our rental car while giving Matt a tongue bath.

We had just met Hank, the 91 lb. baby of the Martyn House family.

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Just behind Hank were Maya, the yellow lab, and Grace, the black lab…just as wiggly and welcoming.

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Off to the side, a flash of yellow caught my eye. No, not a tiger, but I don’t think he knows that.

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Milo the cat was hiding in the grass watching from a distance.

Otis, the other cat, was not as shy and immediately came to say “hello.”

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Throw in some heirloom chickens, one giant rooster, and a couple of unconventional artists and you have the wonderful cast that makes up the Martyn House.

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It was the opening weekend of their glamping season and we were the only guests. We had the entire place to ourselves.

As Rick gave us the grand tour, a parade of dogs and cats trailing behind us….I knew this was going to be a wonderful weekend.

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On the way to our tent, we stopped at Rick’s studio where he had Matt sample his new beer making project. As Matt two fisted some craft beer, I knew Matt thought this was going to be a wonderful weekend too.

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Rick also gave us a tour of JoAnn's studio, where she makes pottery and handmade bath products, or whatever suits her creative fancy. The studio was warm and inviting. As it turns out, guests can even stay in the studio.

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We also visited the chicken coop and the outdoor tent where JoAnn and Rick have created an amazing outdoor living space. They host many of their group dinners here. It had an outdoor bar, a dining area, a cozy hammock, and a living area with vintage pillows and throws. Next to it was a colorful fire pit for chilly nights.

Seriously, could this place be any more awesome?

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Even the port-a-potties were cute. I never thought I'd find myself thinking the words, "I can't wait to use that outdoor toilet."

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As we wandered down the wooded path away from the main house, I could see 4 tents scattered at a distance from each other in the woods. Each one was placed to allow it ample privacy from the others.

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I immediately fell in love with our tent: Ridge Roost.

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The gorgeous black and white striped tent stood in fanciful contrast to the early-April forest around it.

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With a cozy porch, a king sized bed covered with beautiful linens, a free cat, a full bathroom with running water and a hot shower, and a jovial guard dog to keep the raccoons at bay…what more could we want?

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How about an outdoor bathtub?

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The spell was complete. We were enchanted. Even Matt was excited. Probably because he realized at some point I was going to take off my clothes and get in a bathtub in the woods…but whatever. He was excited.

Unable to tear ourselves away from our glampsite, we did nothing but chill out in our tent for a while.

No TV. No internet. No sound but the wind in the trees and an occasional bird.

It was perfect.

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We were having dinner at the Martyn House that night, so we decided to grab lunch in the nearby town of Blue Ridge. We have eaten at Harvest on Main, a wonderful little restaurant there, on several occasions and always try to stop in when we are anywhere nearby.

Blue Ridge is a charming little mountain town. It’s adorable streets are lined with quaint shops, art galleries, and cafes.

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Harvest on Main is a cozy, rustic restaurant that reminds me of something we’d find in Montana, not in north Georgia. The first things you smell when you walk inside are their house smoked meats. The scent mingles with the smell of fresh baked bread and creates the most welcoming atmosphere you can imagine.

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We started off with their baked brie, blue crab, and cilantro casserole served with warm corn chips.

Just as we were licking the last of the warm, creamy melted sour cream, cream cheese, and brie from the dish, we were brought two house salads with their delightful pickled green beans.

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For entrees, I had the amberjack over their house chickpea stew topped with sauteed spinach, and Matt had the local trout served on top of their house-made corned beef hash (house-smoked corned beef, sweet potatoes, & onions) and topped with lemon-pickled onions and arugula.

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Just to make sure we didn’t leave before eating everything on the menu, we had the chocolate pudding cake with vanilla ice cream. The moist cake was layered with what tasted like a hazelnut cream cheese filling and topped with caramel drizzle and pecans.

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Because a day of sloth and gluttony is best enjoyed with a glass of wine, we headed back to the Martyn House and took a take a pre-dinner walk down to Grace’s pond with a bottle of wine to find the “outdoor living room” Rick had told us about.

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Rick and JoAnn have taken “creative loafing spaces” to an entirely new level. In every nook and cranny of their property, there is another cozy place to curl up with a glass of wine, a good book, or a wet dog as the case may be.

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Maya was obviously embarrassed by her overly exuberant leap into the pond, so she put herself in time out in the corner until she was dry. Sweet Maya.

We had opted for a private dinner on the farm that night, but the weather forecast was calling for storms and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d get rained out. We pulled on the wellies, grabbed the umbrella, and hoped for the best.

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We shouldn’t have worried. Rick and JoAnn had us set up in the dry on their porch, complete with vintage linens, a glowing chandelier, and the romantic flicker of candles.

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The rain held off as we enjoyed a starter of roasted red eggplant with feta cheese. The eggplant was perfectly charred on the edge, soft in the center, and topped with savory cheese.

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This was followed by what Matt referred to as “the best salad I’ve ever had.” The salad had pickled garlic, local smoked bacon, olives, goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and fresh green beans.

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This is Matt’s “stop taking pictures of me while I eat” face:

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For our main dish, Rick brought us a deliciously fried chicken breast on top of rustic mashed potatoes with roasted broccoli and cherry tomatoes.

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Dessert? Of course we did. A raspberry sorbet with chocolate.

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As we scooped the last of the sorbet from our dishes, Rick was lighting a fire for us where we enjoyed champagne and roasted marshmallows as we watched the distant lightening grow closer and closer.

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We ran back to the tent when the thunder started, wondering if we’d make it back before the storms. The tent looked even prettier at night.

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We turned on our electric candles (because real candles and cotton tents go together like Kanye West and Taylor Swift) and climbed into the big, cozy bed. The sheets were soft and smelled like fresh laundry. The down pillows were perfectly plush. The tent had flaps that could be lowered with ropes and secured for windows and a door if we wanted the tent secured, but we wanted to feel the cool night air so we left them open, leaving a secure mesh screen to keep the bugs out.

When the rain started, I worried we might get blown away. This was no 10 minute rain shower. This was a full-on, raining-like-there-was-no-tomorrow downpour that lasted for hours with wind and thunder and lightning. We couldn’t have ordered a more magical experience if we’d had the weather gods on speed dial.

It was remarkable. The sound of the rain pounding on the roof of our tent and the fresh-electric smell of the storm outside while we were cozy and warm under piles of soft blankets was simply mind blowing.

The best part of glamping vs. camping in a rainstorm? The story doesn’t end with ….”and then the tent blew away.”

We were snug as two bugs in a rug.

We fell asleep to the sound of the rain beating rhythmically on the roof.

It was around 2:00 a.m. when I was awakened by a sound under the bed. My first thought was, “Rooby and Bella might need to go outside,” and then I remembered I wasn’t at home.

I was in a tent.

In the woods.

And something was thumping around under my bed.

It’s all fun and glamping until you wake up with a possum under your bed.

I did what any strong, modern, capable woman would do.

I woke Matt up.

“There is something under the bed,” I hissed, shoving the flashlight from my nightstand at him.

“What do you want ME to do about it?” he hissed back.

“Get it OUT,” I whispered.

As I sat holding my electric candle, prepared to beat something off his face should he come back up with fangs and claws attached to his skull, Matt peered cautiously over the edge of the bed.

And laughed.

“It’s Hank,” he said. “He must have snuck in after we went to sleep.”

I never thought I’d be happy to have a 91 lb. dog under my bed. At least I didn’t have to worry about possums.

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The next morning was a chilly 48 degrees. We had slept with the windows open so that we could enjoy the cozy bed and the storm. The morning air was crisp and cool, so Matt fired up the heater. The tent was warm in minutes.

Our tent had an electric pot for heating water and a French press with coffee, hot teas, sugar, and creamer. We had coffee and cocoa on the front porch watching the sun peek out through the trees.

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Breakfast is provided by Rick and JoAnn every morning, so we made our way to the farmhouse around 8:30. Because it was only the two of us, Rick served us breakfast on the cozy porch again.

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He started us off with homemade smoothies and fresh fruit.

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Then it was hot coffee and toasted English muffins with jam and butter.

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Finally, he brought omelets made with cheddar cheese, spinach, and mushrooms and a platter of local bacon. There is no picture of the bacon because I ate it all.

I really like bacon.

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We didn’t have a very ambitious itinerary, which was good because I was lethargic from all the bacon.

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We strolled around the quaint town of Ellijay, checking out its cute shops.

There are a lot of things to do near Ellijay – countless wineries, farms, orchards, and scenic drives….but we managed not to do ANY of those things because we really just wanted to get back to the Martyn House.

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There was an outdoor bathtub with my name on it.

But not before we had lunch. What? Do you think we are CRAZY?

We stopped in at 1907 for a wine-fueled lunch of smoked trout dip, a fried green tomato burger with bacon and pimento cheese, and apple crumble with salted caramel sauce. No, that was not shared. That was just MY meal.

Matt had some more trout. I was starting to think he had a trout problem.

When in north GA.....have the trout?

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This is the owner, Wayne Sloop. He came out to pose for a very enthusiastic photo.

Whew.

I was worried that he knew I had stolen 10 of those delicious burgers and had them in my pocket.

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Oh wait. That was only in my head. Kind of like when someone runs over you in the grocery store aisle and you cuss them out in your head but in reality you find yourself apologizing to them for being made of actual matter and for not being able to read their mind so that you wouldn't be standing where they wanted to walk without looking first.

All I really had in my pocket was my lens cap. Darn it.

When we got back to the Martyn House, the sun was shining on a beautiful 80 degree afternoon. We took advantage of the beautiful weather and just enjoyed our surroundings.

With wine.

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And then there was that bathtub.

I could not pass up the opportunity to take a bath in the woods.

Bathtub in the woods + bubble bath + champagne = best bath EVER

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Seriously one of my favorite life experiences of all time. It was like skinny dipping, but with bubble bath and warm water. And without my irrational fear of leeches.

A couple of years ago, Rick and JoAnn bought an old building in downtown Ellijay that became one part coffee shop, one part art gallery, and one part live music venue. On Saturday nights, they host live music and dinner in their “listening room.” We had decided to have dinner there that night because it gave me a reason to pack boots with 4 inch heels on a camping trip.

Seriously, what's the point of glamping if you can't pack heels?????

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In Towne, their coffee shop and bistro, was as charming and visually appealing as the Martyn House. Each space was unique and eclectic, filled with original art, their own special style, and a sprinkle of sunshine.

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On Saturday nights, they offer a small menu for dinner to be served while you listen to a 2 hour live music show. It’s BYOB, so we were able to take our own wine for a modest $5 corking fee. We ordered at the counter in the coffee shop, dropped off our bottles of wine, grabbed some lemon infused water in colorful mason jars, and found our way to the cozy listening room. When we ordered, we were given a table number. The tables were covered in brown butcher paper with the numbers on top and warm, inviting candles beckoning us inside.

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Still pretty full from that mammoth burger at 1907, I thought I was “ordering light” (yes, I know – Vicki Ordering Light is as much an oxymoron as Vegetarian McDonald’s) when I asked for the “fish stew.”

The hearty stew had 3 giant fillets of meaty fish in it and was topped off with a crazy good slab of buttery toasted bread.

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That's when I remembered that eating light is for wimps.

So I ordered dessert.

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Matt had the trout and double chocolate cake, but I didn’t get a picture because because all the trout was getting weird (and maybe because I had whipped cream all over my hands).

Nate Currin, the artist of the night, entertained us for two hours with his warm stories and wonderful music. Maybe it was the second bottle of wine talking, but we thought he was pretty darn good.

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When we cozied in for the night in our tent, we decided to close the windows and zip the door because it was going down to 32 degrees. While we liked sleeping in the cool air, 32 degrees crossed the line from “cozy” to “crazy,” so we turned the heater on low enough to keep it cool, but ensure we didn’t wake up with icicles in our noses.

The zipped door kept Hank out, but it didn’t keep Otis out. Otis made it immediately clear that he'd be sleeping with us thankyouverymuch.

I guess he doesn’t like icicles in his nose either.

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We woke to another perfectly beautiful day. Our days had been warm and sunny, our nights cold and crisp, perfect glamping weather!

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Rick had breakfast waiting for us on the porch again.

More homemade smoothies:

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Then it was stoneground grits, local sausage, focaccia bread, and scrambled eggs with avocados.

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Martyn House had been everything I hoped for. It has been magical, fanciful, and enchanting. It had been luxurious and indulgent. It was romantic and private. We ate meals on a fantasy porch, we sipped wine in fairy tale tents, we snuggled under fur blankets while listening to the sound of the wind and rain whipping through the trees, we woke to the sounds of birds and had coffee with the forest, we followed paths to secret corners with tree stump tables and crystal chandeliers, we found our way home at night guided by twinkling string lights and the full moon.

I ate slowly, not wanting to break the spell.

It was almost midnight and my carriage was about to turn back into a pumpkin. A quick flight home would bring work and deadlines, a house that needed to be cleaned, and groceries to buy.

But it was still morning, and I was still Cinderella and I was going to live like there was no midnight.

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Posted by vicki_h 13:00 Archived in USA Tagged camping georgia glamping blue_ridge ellijay martyn_house Comments (3)

Dahlonega by Numbers

An iPhone day trip in Georgia's wine country

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The number of musicians I would go all the way to Dahlonega, GA to see. When we saw one of our favorite local artists was going to be playing a small venue in Dahlonega, GA we thought, “Why not?” It would be a nice overnight getaway, and it would be great to see one of our favorite musicians in a room with about 70 seats instead of a concert hall with about a thousand seats.

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The mpg of the new Fiat 500. This was the excellent rental car that we lucked into at the Gainesville, GA airport. Granted, it would fit in the trunk of my Land Rover, but it also got about 3x the gas mileage. WOW! Was it a fun little ride.

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The number of pennies it takes to buy this incredible breakfast at the Longstreet Café in Gainesville, GA. Not only was I instantly smitten by the old-school cafeteria line waiting for me once I stepped inside, but who can’t love a place where you can get tater tots AND fried chicken for breakfast along with a cat’s head biscuit, eggs, grits, and a hot cup of coffee for less than the price of a Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte with an extra shot of espresso (and it sure left me a lot less jittery).

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The number of hours I was able to shop at the North Georgia Premium Outlets before Matt dragged me out by my hair.

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The number of wineries scattered about the beautiful Dahlonega countryside. Georgia may be the peach state, but grapes are Dahlonega’s passion. A person could spend all afternoon going from one to another, sipping and tasting, until she is quite giddy. Not that I did that.

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Number of bites these persistent dogs at Frogtown Cellars wheedled out of our lunch with their sorrowful faces. We are suckers for dogs. But don’t let that Bassett Hound fool you….she is actually smiling. Really. That’s her smile. No really. She's smiling.

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The number of rooms at the Top of the Square Bed and Breakfast. There are two huge suites at the top of this three story historic building in Dahlonega’s town square. The bottom floor houses a unique gallery and tasting room where they let you do another wine tasting as you arrive to check into your room (as you attempt to hide the fact that you have, indeed, already done about 4 wine tastings that afternoon for fear that they will not give you the free bottle of wine that comes with your room out of some silly obligation not to overintoxicate the guests….). The second floor houses a great restaurant, the Bourbon Street Grille. The third floor houses two of the comfiest rooms to be had in downtown Dahlonega…and you can walk to everything.

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The number of steps from our the front door of our bed and breakfast to the Crimson Moon Café. I love Dahlonega’s town square. It is filled with boutiques and eateries, barber shops and candy stores, pizza joints and fine dining. It is also home to the Crimson Moon Café, a cozy music venue with great artists and equally good soul food and wine that you can enjoy during your show.

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The number of tables in the Crimson Moon Café….and all are within spitting distance of the stage. I mean, if you wanted to spit. Or in my case, close enough for Erick Baker to see that you are actually crying when he sings the song about a fictional old man taking plastic flowers to his dead wife. Seriously people…that song is SO SAD.

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The number of times I cry during the average Erick Baker show.

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The number of minutes I think it took me to fall asleep after a long day of shopping, eating, wine tasting, and a great late night show.

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The number of stairs between me and a breakfast that would make New Orleans proud. Not only did the B&B room come with a wine tasting and a free bottle of wine, not to mention a great room within walking distance of the Crimson Moon Café and all that Dahlonega Square has to offer, it also came with a free breakfast at the Bourbon Street Grille located downstairs.

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The number of seconds it took me to eat the only beignet that I have ever had outside Café du Monde that was absolutely as good as one INSIDE Café du Monde. The blackberry french toast and the crab cakes benedict weren’t too shabby either.

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The number of minutes it would take to drive from Dahlonega, GA back to East TN…if you had to drive.

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The number of minutes it takes to fly back to Knoxville after a fantastic Saturday in Dahlonega.

Posted by vicki_h 09:40 Archived in USA Tagged georgia dahlonega Comments (2)

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