Nestled at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, lies the town of Helen, a German-ish village with burgeoning vineyards against a Bavarian backdrop. This family-friendly destination is only two hours from Simpsonville and offers activities for everyone. From wine-tasting for the adults to seeing where Cabbage Patch dolls are born for the kids.
Historic Nacoochee Village
Just before you get into the town of Helen is Nacoochee Village. Anchored by the Habersham Winery, this collection of shops and restaurants was created by owner Tom Slick to be a destination all to itself.
While at the village be sure to stop at the Nora Mill Granary. Built in 1876, this grist mill still operates today using water for power and the original mill grinding stones to grind corn and wheat. The store sells everything from pioneer porridge to grits to pancake mixes. Chefs from all over the country order their famous white speckled grits, nicknamed Georgia’s ice cream. Nora’s offers free samples so you can sample their products before making your purchase.
Next door to Nora’s is the Jumpin Goat Coffee Roasters where they serve fresh coffee that is locally roasted using only 100% Arabica coffees. The owner, Forrest Graves, is a self-described coffee aficionado and started out roasting beans in his backyard shed when he was laid off from his corporate job in 2008. Today it’s a thriving business using only the highest quality beans and has some of the best tasting coffee around.
Across the street is Habersham Winery, considered to be the oldest and biggest winery in the state of Georgia. Habersham has been making wine for over 23 years and have been in their current location since 1998. They’ve won several regional and national awards for their wine and have two vineyards in the area, producing white wines such as a Signet, Chardonnay and Riesling and reds such as Scarlett, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They offer free wine tastings and, depending on the season, they have live music.
Stop in for lunch or dinner at the Nacoochee Grill. Located in an old farmhouse from the 1900’s, it’s touted as a true live fire grill fueled with seasoned North Georgia hardwood. They offer wines from Habersham winery, great steaks, seafood and burgers.
Also located in the Nacoochee village is The Willow Pottery. This is both an art gallery and a working pottery studio. You can paint your own pottery or watch local artists, Betsy Ledbetter and Emily Sheppard throwing on the wheel. Next door is The Red Door, a great shop featuring jewelry, home accessories and furniture.
Even if you’re not a model train enthusiastic, check out Charlemagne’s Kingdom. In business since 1996, this is one of the few places that have received a 4 star rating from Walt Disney for its detail. Willi Lindhorst, a native of Oldenburg, Germany and a direct descendant of Emperor Charlemagne, and his wife, Judi, have recreated the sights and sounds of Germany with their model railway and authentic Alpine architecture and seaports. Their exhibit includes a 22 foot high mountain, an Alpine village with moving cable cars, hot air balloons, an Oktoberfest celebration with motorized carnival rides and thousands of hand-painted figures and lighted buildings. Even the sound effects are authentic, all recorded in Germany. Also, don’t miss the Glockenspiel that Willi created at the Gingerbread House. It features six 4 foot tall wood carved German dancers in colorful custom dress dancing to German music 3 times a day (Noon, 3pm and 6pm).
There are plenty of places to shop in downtown Helen. Don’t miss the Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen which has a huge selection of handmade candies and fudge. The Windmill Dutch Imports shop features housewares and assorted Dutch food imported from Holland and Lindenhaus Imports carries a large selection of cuckoo clocks, beer steins and German nesting dolls.
Another must stop is Hofer’s Restaurant for breakfast, lunch or just to pick up some authentic German pastries and breads. Ralph Hofer took over from his father and has been in business for 20 years. It’s located in the old People’s Bank building and the gift shop area is where the bank’s vault used to be. Hofer’s food is about as authentic as you can get outside of Germany. They have all European bakery equipment and get their meats from a German butcher. Family recipes comes from Grandma and feature dishes such as Bauern Fruhstuck and Apfelkuechie . The baked good are so popular that they’ve featured on the Food Network.
After stopping at Hofer’s you might be wondering how to work off all of those delicious pastries you just ate. Just two miles from downtown Helen, lies Unicoi State Park in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The park is considered to be one of Georgia’s most beloved state parks and it’s easy to see why. Take a hike to Anna Ruby Falls, named after the daughter of Colonel John Nichols, a Colonel in the Civil War who purchased the land after the war. To get to the falls it’s a .4 mile hike. It’s a little steep but the path is paved and there are several benches along the way to stop and rest.
Sautee Valley and the Surrounding Area
Once you’ve explored Helen, head just a few miles down the road to the Sautee Valley, Clarkesville and Cleveland. Visit the Old Sautee Store, an old-time general store that has been in business since 1872. It’s got a little bit of everything including some wonderful cheeses, apparel, regional books and cookbooks.
Mark of the Potter is about 13 miles from Helen and definitely worth the trip. It’s considered to be Georgia’s oldest craft shop and was built in 1931. Situated on the Soque River at Grandpa Watts Mill in Clarkesville, this shop offers a great selection of pottery and contemporary crafts. There’s also a nice waterfall that you can view from their balcony and underneath the mill.
Remember the Cabbage Patch Kids craze in the 1980’s? It’s still alive and well in Cleveland, just 7 miles south of Helen. The kids (and kids at heart) will love Babyland General Hospital. While at the “hospital” you can experience a “live” birth of a cabbage patch baby. Mama Cabbage gives birth and Nurses are on hand to assist. There are even adoption offices onsite to assist with adoption paperwork so you can take home a Cabbage Patch baby of your own. “We add a little humor into this sometimes very serious world” says Margaret McLean. Babyland has been voted as one of the top ten toylands by the travel channel.
Stop in for lunch or dinner at Bernie’s Nachochee Valley Guest House. Bernie has been serving people for over 24 years, is a wonderful chef and offers amazing fine dining at her restaurant/bed and breakfast. Food is local and Bernie grows her own herbs and the decorative flowers on each table. “It’s about quality, not quantity”, says Bernie. Her menu features continental cuisine with a French flair and includes dishes such as steak au poivre and fresh fish.
Dining:Hofer’s of Helen 8758 North Main Street Helen, GA 30545 706-878-8200 www.hofers.com Nacoochee Grill 7277 South Main Street Helen, GA 30545 706-878-8020 www.nacoocheegrill.com Bernies Restaurant 2220 Georgia 17 Helen, GA 30571 (706) 878-3830 letsgotobernies.com
Shopping:Mark of the Potter 9982 State Hwy 197N Clarksville, GA 30523 706-947-3440 www.markofthepotter.com Old Sautee Store Hwy 17 and 255 Sautee, GA 30571 888-463-9853 www.oldsauteestore.com The Red Door 7275 South Main Street Helen, GA 30545 706-878-9957 www.villagereddoor.com Babyland General Hospital 300 N.O.K. Drive Cleveland, GA 30528 706-865-2171 www.cabbagepatchkids.com
Unicoi Park Lodge offers rooms, camping and cabin rentals at reasonable prices. Ask for the barrel cabins (they look like huge barrels on their side) or if you like camping, the squirrels nest is a open shelter where you just bring your sleeping bag.Unicoi State Park and Lodge 1788 Hwy 356 Helen, GA 30545 706-878-2201 www.unicoilodge.com Best Western Riverpark Inn 8220 South Main Street Helen, GA 30545 706-878-2111 www.helen-georgia-hotels.com
Recreation and Vineyards:Anna Ruby Falls 3455 Anna Ruby Falls Road Helen, GA 30545 706-878-1448 www.georgiastateparks.org Note: there is a $2.00 per person charge (ages 12 and up) to visit the Falls. Habersham Vineyards and Winery 7025 S. Main Street Helen, GA 30545 706-878-WINE www.habershamwinery.com Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards Tasting Room 98 Nacoochee Way Sautee Nacoochee, GA 30571 706-878-1056 www.sauteenacoocheevineyards.com Yonah Mountain Vineyards Tasting Room 2454B Hwy 17 Sautee Nacoochee, GA 30571 706-878-5522 www.yonahmountainvineyards.com