By Doc Lawrence –
BLAIRSVILLE, Georgia-The ancient mountains are the oldest on earth. It’s still home to the “Little People,” part of Cherokee lore that remains after the tribe’s unconscionable removal from this land. The Little People live here and are generally good-natured except when visitors do bad things. A trained ear powered by an open mind can hear them beating drums and laughing at night. According to Cherokee sages, they teach lessons about living in harmony with nature and with others.
A meaningful getaway includes natural beauty, outdoor recreation, good food and if you’re lucky, some enlightenment. Search for this and Blairsville emerges. Eager to fly fish for trout, to eat food that actually is local and not a marketing blather and realizing that I had been gone way too long, I made the uphill journey choosing the long way from Atlanta on the steep, curved mountain roads that still make one marvel at what engineers can do. It’s a path less traveled with breathtaking scenery as a bonus for the investment of extra time The places to stop and eat along the way are exceptional.
A friendly small town like Blairsville allows a newcomer the opportunity to meet real people and enjoy cultural connections. The majestic Union County Courthouse in the center of Blairsville has a museum that takes up two stories featuring a dollhouse collection that will leave you breathless. Many exhibits confirm that the mountain communities were sharply divided during the Civil War with men fighting for the Union and the Confederacy.
Native trout thrive in clear waters, bear and deer roam freely, accents are still linked to earliest European settlers and traces of the Cherokee are still around. Nearby Blood and Springer Mountains are at the southern end of Appalachian Trail and a few miles away on an old homestead on the banks of the scenic Nottely River sits Logan Turnpike Mill, perhaps the most heralded grits producer in the South. More than a few well-known chefs are regular customers.
Paradise Hills is a resort, spa and winery owned and operated by Robert and Ilke Lander, a Hollywood handsome couple originally from Northern Maine and Ghent, Belgium, respectively who transplanted to Blairsville. This is a small Inn-type experience featuring privacy and accessibility to the natural wonders of the unspoiled area. Spanning over 35 acres of beautiful mountains with well-constructed cabins, it is a European styled resort with spa amenities, the ingredients for a relaxing vacation.
Recently, the Landers planted two vineyards, growing four varietals of grapes: Chardonnel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Traminette and Sangiovese. After licensing and certification, Paradise Hills, the first winery in Blairsville and Union County, is selling and pouring wines here with expansion plans for the near future. The micro-winery includes a tasting room in the lodge. After a session of tasting wines and spirited conversation with Bob Landers, I became a fan. The rosé,
appropriately named “Sunset,” impressed me as a great addition for the tailgating weekends about to kick off the new football season. This off-dry wine served chilled is a delicious champion that blends easily with smoke, spice and Asian flavors.
Larry Culpepper and Carter Morris are top guides for trout adventures. Here that means fly-fishing. Picturesque Noontootla Creek Farms extends over 1,500 acres and offers a small stream fly-fishing experience unique to the North Georgia. Noontootla Creek, which, says Mr. Morris, “normally runs gin clear,” provides two miles of wadeable water consisting of four separate sections, about a half-mile each, which have both trophy and stream-bred Brown and Rainbow trout.
“Fly fishing involves patience and practice and is a fun sport for women,” Culpepper observes. “Fly-fishing clubs exclusively for women book weekends, staying at the lodge. We provide lessons, then wade in the creek and catch trout.”
Hiking trails range from moderate to challenging, and often include views of the many magnificent waterfalls near Blairsville. Some of the more popular ones are Wolf Creek Falls at Vogel State Park, Desoto Falls and Dukes Creek Falls. Several hiking trails are near the Appalachian Trail and its worth a day’s hike on a Blood Mountain trail just to enjoy the Native American legends attached to the Mountain. Freeman Trail, Dockery Lake Trail and Slaughter Creek Trail are worthy selections. Locals will tell you they don’t call it Blood Mountain for nothing.
The most enjoyable and memorable meal for me was the early mountain-style breakfast. The late Henry Dillard, part of North Georgia’s legendary hospitality family, long ago taught me the taste benefits of cathead biscuits, Logan Turnpike grits, country ham (the real thing is difficult to find, but worth the effort) and fertile eggs cooked sunnyside up. The cool fresh air and higher elevations stimulate the appetite and generous servings fill a hungry fisherman. No need for lunch…
The city will wear down the joy of living and working. Back home late at night, I sometimes hear the sounds of distant drums, and I know I will return soon to the mountains.