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Fall Travel

Dahlonega, Ga.

A great long weekend: Grapes, gold, and a taste of Europe

By Ellen Albanese
September 12, 2010

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A couple days of wine tasting in this corner of the South can take the edge off the most stressful workweek. Add good food, live music, and a spa treatment or two, and by Monday you’ll swear you spent the weekend in Bordeaux instead of Georgia.

Getting there: Most of Georgia’s wineries are clustered in the state’s northeast corner. Catch a direct flight from Boston to Atlanta on Delta (800-221-1212; http://www.delta.com) or AirTran (800-247-8726; http://www.airtran.com) – round-trip rates start around $230 – and rent a car. Depending on where you stay, it’s a little less or a little more than an hour’s drive.

Friday: Stay at a French chateau set on the state’s largest winery. The resort Chateau Elan (800-233-9463; http://www.chateauelan.com), which looks like a mirage from the highway, is in nearby Braselton and includes a spa. Rates start around $220 a night, but ask about specials. For other lodging options (including eco-friendly yurts), go to http://www.dahlonega.org. Catch the 3 p.m. wine tour on-site, where you’ll learn the finer points of tasting. It’s a good way to prep for Saturday. Then dine at one of Chateau Elan’s seven restaurants, ranging from the upscale French cuisine of LeClos to Paddy’s Irish Pub. And if you want a Sunday morning spa treatment, book it before turning in.

Saturday: Start with a hike to majestic Amicalola Falls (706-265-4703; http://www.gastateparks.org/amicalola) in Dawsonville, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. One scenic trail is as short as 0.3 miles. Then it’s on to Dahlonega, site of the first US gold rush in 1828 and home to several family-run wineries that are set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Northeast Georgia enjoys steep slopes, good drainage, and a moderate climate, but its greatest asset, according to David Harris, owner of BlackStock Vineyards and Winery (706-219-2789; http://www.bsvw.com), is the red clay soil. BlackStock, which produces primarily dry reds, features a massive tasting room and a wraparound porch with wooden rockers. On fall weekends, musicians perform, and there’s often a “Grill & Chill” lunch outside or a wine dinner with tours of the barrel room. Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery (706-867-9862; http://www.wolfmountainvineyards.com), which has a European ambience, produces red and white blends along with three sparkling wines. Three Sisters Vineyards (706-865-9463; http://www.threesistersvineyards.com) takes its name from the three mountains visible from the fields. Small and laid-back, it produces a dozen wines, including Fat Boy Red, described as a “fine swine wine,” and Dahlonega Gold, a sweet ice wine. Half the fun of visiting Frogtown Cellars (706-865-0687; http://www.frogtownwine.com), which also has great mountain views, is reading the bottle labels: Audacity, Inclination, and Shotgun First Reload. Frogtown produces 19 wines, including its best-selling Thirteenth Colony Testimony, a blend of estate-grown red grapes. You can visit all four wineries in an afternoon, but if you’re not an oenophile, hit two, then check out the gold-rush-themed attractions downtown. On October 16 and 17, some 300 arts and craft exhibitors will set up in the square for Gold Rush Days.

Sunday: Sticking with the wine vibe, try a grape-seed-based exfoliating spa treatment at Chateau Elan. If spas aren’t your thing, pick up some wine and crackers from the resort’s wine market and hike or bike the trails of the 3,500-acre property (bike rentals are $20). If you have a late return flight, sample another slice of Europe with a drive northeast of Dahlonega to Alpine Helen (http://www.helenga.org), a re-creation of an Alpine village, complete with Bavarian architecture and cobblestone alleys. Its Oktoberfest, which began last week, runs through Halloween and offers traditional German beers, food, and music in a local hall. On Monday morning, when that alarm clock blares, look on the bright side: Bordeaux, Bavaria, and no jet lag.

For more great long weekend travel ideas, please visit boston.com/magazine