We were lucky to spend last Thursday through Saturday in Georgia's scenic Lake Country as part of Travel Media Marketplace. Located southeast of Atlanta and a little over an hour's drive from the city, Lake Oconee and its surrounding small towns are a wonderful getaway. Cuscowilla Golf Resort on the lake hosted our group of travel writers for two nights. Pontoon boat rides of the lake preceded the property's Shuck & Jive cocktail hour with fresh oysters, wine and the bluegrassy tunes of local band Pullin' Strings. We then headed inside Waterside Restaurant for a three-course dinner from Chef Gerald Schmidt. His local presentation of charcuterie, which included fresh "fromage de tete" (what we call head cheese here in South Louisiana), galantine of Greensboro quail and pecan-crusted smoked Carolina mountain trout, made for a delicious and adventurous start to the meal. Seared loin of veal with Louisiana crawfish and lowcountry crab and Athens, Georgia's own stone ground Red Mule Grits were even better, with sweet endings coming from white chocolate and currant bread pudding, a pecan chocolate truffle and fun strawberry mint julep shooter.
Full and a bit tipsy, the drive back to our cottages in golf carts was another adventure, but it was time to rest up since a pilgrimage to Flannery O'Connor's Andalusia was on the itinerary Friday morning. Located in Milledgeville, a short drive from Cuscowilla, Andalusia is O'Connor's family farm where she wrote nearly all of her work. She lived there with her mother after developing lupus and it was here that she developed her love for domestic birds. Only two peacocks are left on the property now, but a loud call greeted us as we prepared to enter the house. Executive Director Craig Amason talked about the sheer variety of fans who come to visit the farm and says O'Connor is more popular than she's ever been. Out back, that peacock strutted and put on quite a show before it was time to board the bus and move on to the Old Governor's Mansion.
Originally appearing a pink color because of red clay used in the stucco, the Old Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville is now painted a soft shade of peach. It's hard to miss from the street not just because of its color, but also its size. Home to eight of the state's governor's, the mansion is the finest example of Greek Revival architecture in the Southeast. All three levels of the house are open for tours and even though it was once used as dormitory space for Georgia College, which is across the street, 99 percent of the original glass remains on the windows.
It's tough to find a bad meal in Georgia, and lunch on the grounds of The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation was no exception. The stunning resort overlooking Lake Oconee is surrounded by water on three sides and includes an infinity edge pool, manmade beach, kayaks, jet skis and everything else needed to relax for a weekend on the water. Lunch was set up on the back lawn with the pool on one side and lake on the other and included fresh salads, wraps, sandwiches and sweet tea of course.
Needless to say, it was tough to leave the Ritz, but Greensboro and some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet awaited us. We were given a list of suggested places to pop into downtown, like Hunter's Drugstore, the courthouse, Yesterday Cafe, Potted Geranium and The Herald Journal. Storytellers were waiting to tell us a few tall tales, like the one about a dead man who was embalmed and then put on display for 25 years at the drugstore. More storytelling followed at Festival Hall, where we got a sneak peek of the Greene County Players' new show, "The Red Velvet Cake War." We also got a taste of Yesterday Cafe's famous buttermilk pie, a reason to visit Greensboro in itself.
It's not like we were hungry when we rolled into downtown Madison, but wine and artisanal cheese from Greendale Farm awaited at Heritage Hall. A carriage ride (in a surrey with the fringe on top!) is the perfect way to see the gorgeous historic homes in the town's historic district, which is the second largest in the state. It was important to work up an appetite, because dinner was a sampling of the area's FARMeander tour, modeled after one in South Africa that showcases the bounty of small farms. There were grits and greens, grilled turnips, onions and baby carrots, a beet salad, beef sliders with pimento cheese, deviled eggs and biscuits to taste, not to mention strawberry shortcake in Mason jars and Georgia pecan bars for dessert.
Another restful evening at Cuscowilla led to more farm-fresh food the next morning for breakfast at Crooked Pines Farm. Scrambled eggs from Rusty Plow Farms, biscuits and gravy, a pancake station and bacon, sausage and ham fueled us for our visit to Eatonton and the Uncle Remus Museum. Located in Turner Park, part of the original homestead of Joseph Sidney Turner, the "little boy" in the Uncle Remus tales, the museum is dedicated to hometown boy Joel Chandler Harris and the stories he recorded while living at Turnwold Plantation. You'll want "Miss Georgia" as your tour guide so she can tell you a Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox tale before leaving you to examine the shadowboxes that illustrate 12 of Harris's best known stories.
Eatonton is also home to Alice Walker, and both she and Harris are remembered at the Plaza Arts Center and Eatonton-Putman County Library. The original 1916 Eatonton School, the arts center includes a history museum, theater box seats named after the two hometown authors and a replica of an old classroom. Right next door, the library (a Carnegie one) has displays on both authors in addition to Flannery O'Connor and Brer Rabbit artwork throughout. In fact, rabbits can be found all over Eatonton, from front porches to garden beds and banners hanging from street poles.
Our time in Lake Country ended with the marketplace at the arts center, which offers the opportunity to sit down with tourism representatives from around the state and hear about what's new in their region. From distilleries and breweries popping up to a Savannah Food Tour, development in downtown Atlanta, an update on Georgia Olive Oil, a new poetry center in the Northeast Georgia mountains and movie scoop on "The Hunger Games," we've got plenty of stories to tell.
Stay tuned for more on our travels through Georgia Lake Country throughout the year!