By Christine Tibbetts www.TibbettsTravel.com
Hot morning tea on the covered porch of a cottage in the forest, watching deer and birds, sensing the changing seasons. Each season. Four of ‘em up here.
Sound good as an antidote to forever busy days?
Since the co-owner of this North Georgia mountain resort called Forrest Hills believes in doing just that himself every morning, he built cottages and lodges into the woods —each one inviting renters and relaxation.
All day relaxation is fine here; David Kraft enjoys visiting with Forrest Hills Mountain Resort guests too much to stay long on his own porch, but says he believes in starting the day with a sense of place.
Believing forms the foundation of everything here — believing as a family they could shape a vision in the woods, and believing in expansion all through the next 35 years. Felt that during my two days in September for sure.
Believing seems to permeate the air.
Kraft was graduating from high school, literally, when his dad surprised the Florida-living family with the sudden purchase of 140 acres in Georgia’s mountains, near Dahlonega.
Pioneers from West Palm apparently since they launched cabin building with hand tools and determination. No electricity. No running water. No heat.
Good cheer too, the way he told the tales to me over breakfast in the Secret Garden Restaurant. I recommend finding David for a chat when you go, and sister Michelle Kraft-DeBlois. They’re partners in this adventure, siblings continuing the dream the family launched in 1977.
Or maybe unraveling a notion since their dad didn’t start with a business plan, just the forest and the family.
“Listening to our guests really spurs us on,” Michelle says, “providing what they want, meeting what they need.”
That translates to one, two and three bedroom cottages plus inns and lodges with eight, 12 and 16 bedroom capacity for family reunions, church retreats and business meetings. Weddings too.
And the relaxation. Dinner is served in the Secret Garden: entry from a patio overlooking the woods.
Tables for two. Period. Two. This is adult dining, couples and friends. Yes you could push two together for double adults.
Just don’t bring the kids to dinner in this dining room. There are other options. Forrest Hills is serious about down time, R&R, conversation, intimacy.
“Such a pleasure it is for us when the couples who stay here tell us they talked to each other, they remembered why they fell in love, they discovered again some pleasures in the calmness,” Kraft smiled.
I didn’t stay long enough to accomplish all that, but I see how it can be so. Plus, I broke the trend Michelle sees in most of their guests.
“People always ask before making reservations what there might be to do in the area,” she said. “We share a long list but then they get here and rarely do any of it.”
I see why the others just stay put, so lovely to be calm – but I forged ahead. Places you know; perhaps some discoveries.
Jarrahdale Blue was new to me. That’s a blue pumpkin and I saw a bunch of them at Burt’s Farm. Proper pumpkin color inside.
White pumpkins too. And a whole field of familiar-looking pumpkins except for their size — 250 pounds.
I learned about a new practical tool too, watching a crew of muscular men using ropes knotted to form handles. Each man slipped that rope under the heavy pumpkin, straightening one after another in perfect rows.
Symmetry and backache. Really — should they go together to create beauty?
The Old Federal Road, a tie to the Cherokee Trail of Tears, lured me on a detour. Sort of matches the approach I recommend to Forrest Hills Mountain Resort.
From South Georgia, or Atlanta, the efficient journey north on Interstate 85, then toll road Georgia 400 is fine, even passes the surprising Kangaroo Conservation Center.
More fun is Talking Rock to Forrest Hills. Much more connection to community, including the Talking Rock murals, and to winding roads and big views, woods and charm.
Try this; it matches the Kraft family concept of relaxing. Interstate 75 north from Atlanta, merge into Georgia 575. Exit at Talking Rock for Highway 136 and wind through woods and neighborhoods until you reach Georgia 52.
That gives you the Forrest Hills driveway, and the calming has commenced.
My cabin on Cupid Lane was more than 1,000 square feet, nestled into the forest. If I wondered about neighbors, I needed to go looking. This is private.
Lie in the king size bed with massive wooden headboard anticipating time in the hot tub through the double glass doors. Inside your room, bubbly warm, music system, three floor to ceiling windows.
Easy up and down shades if you’re shy about the birds and deer while wearing only your birthday suit in the water.
Spacious living room with the kind of soft sofa for stretching out. Flat screen TV with a few channels. Fits the resort mood better to help yourself to some movies in the registration area.
Wooden rockers and a hanging double swing on the back porch, only forest in sight so reading and gazing, dozing and chatting are perfect.
Two miles of walking trails into the woods are easy access, and the paved roads with slight inclines allow hikes all over Forrest Hills too.
I walked the road from my cabin to the spa for a massage with Lavonne Haglund’s healing touch.
Armed with my list of needy body parts, intending to give direction, I neglected the mantra of relaxing until Haglund told me what she sees.
“Most people come here for celebrations, so relaxation is the point of the massage,” she said.
“People are here because they want to have a good time – and that energy they bring is oh so nice.”
I adjusted pronto, far preferring happy-seeking energies to my tight muscle focus.
Traveling partner G. W. Tibbetts took his camera to the Gold City Corral & Carriage Company instead of the massage table for a trail ride.
It’s also possible to arrange a carriage ride instead of the horseback, and a wagon ride with cookout.
That means steaks and chicken off the grill, horse shoe games, ping pong and pool, sand volleyball, darts and a bonfire after the wagon ride.
Food to go, in addition to the Secret Garden couples dining, seems to be a Forrest Hills specialty.
I recommend taking their picnic basket to the Edge of the World. You can get there in 15 minutes.
Our picnic included abundant ham and cheese on a very fresh croissant, pasta salad, chips, just-baked oatmeal raisin cookies. Soft drink or water and big red mountain apples.
Class IV rapids at this Edge of the World, gravel parking lot and ramp for your canoe or kayak if you have one.
ADA access, something all of us should praise and clamor for, caring for people with mobility challenges. Picnic spots too on this Amicalola River Trail.
That’s also the name of the 72-foot waterfall, another walking, gazing and picnicking spot nearby.
Or launch a big deal and head north for 2,184 miles along the Appalachian Trail. Might be easier to relax at Forrest Hills, smug enough having seen the starting point not far from the falls at Springer Mountain.
Dahlonega and Dawsonville are the nearby towns, with eateries, shops, strolling and fine performances at the Holly Theater in Dahlonega.
If you leave the resort that is.
Should you think about the spelling of the place where you are, here’s a perspective: most of us learned to spell the synonym for woods with one letter R.
For Rest is the notion behind the spelling lesson at Forrest Hills Mountain Resort. I’m a bit curious too how many babies might be named Forrest.