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Gorgeous Georgia comes with heaps of hospitality and history

Athens, Georgia
Athens, Georgia

HOSPITALITY doesn’t come more welcoming than in America’s Deep South, and in particular gorgeous Georgia.

My recent whirlwind visit to the state took in the city of Atlanta, the charming country town of Roswell, and Athens – the birthplace of rock band R.E.M.

Our first stop in Atlanta (below) was to the Center for Civil and Human Rights. The city was the birthplace of Martin Luther King and also a focal point for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

The museum explores conflicts from across the world, but glaringly absent for some reason was Northern Ireland.

Next up was lunch in the famous Paschal’s Restaurant, a favourite of Dr King’s, which serves up its signature soul food – fried chicken.

Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola too, and has an informative museum that contains everything you need to know about the world’s most famous soda. There’s also a chance to sample nearly 70 beverages from around the globe.

One of the best ways to discover Atlanta is to board an electric-powered car, which gives an amazing street-level tour of the city and allows you to stop off at various points of interest.

 

Well worth a visit is the CNN Center, which is housed in a huge atrium and allows you to see the giant newsroom of the broadcaster’s global headquarters hard at work. Also be sure to check out the amazing military Hummer, complete with a CNN satellite dish, now retired from duty in the world’s war zones and parked on the building’s ground floor.

A less frenetic building to visit is Margaret Mitchell House, which was once the home of the Gone with the Wind author. There, you can venture inside the writer’s apartment and learn all about her life, which sadly ended when she was just 48, after she was knocked down and killed by a taxi.

Another must-see is The King Center, which sits at the heart of the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. The King Center includes the birth home of MLK and the crypts of Dr King and Mrs King, which are set beautifully in the middle of a water feature, while a museum to the iconic activist is located in his former house.

 

Georgia is known as the Peach State as it grows America’s best peaches, and many of Atlanta’s streets are named after the fruit.

The Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail has transformed 22 miles of historic rail segments into park and cycle ways. Situated on one leg of it is Ponce City Market, home to 9 Mile Station, a wonderful rooftop seafood restaurant.

For a nightcap we sauntered off to a mixture of pubs, including Irish hostelry Meehan’s on Peachtree Street , and Hooters, which is fabulously tacky and serves up finger-lickin’ chicken wings.

The next morning we took off for Roswell, about a 45-minute drive from Atlanta and not to be confused with the New Mexico town of the same name which is associated with UFOs.

Being located in the Bible Belt, it’s not unusual to spot a church at nearly every junction in this quaint, old-fashioned town.

We stopped off at the award-winning Raiford Gallery, where we saw owner Judie make some amazing gold, silver and pearl jewellery.

Charming local tour rep Marsha Shauna took us to the town centre, which is sprinkled with more galleries, boutiques, restaurants and even a vintage record store.

There are several plantation houses located nearby, including the Smith Plantation Home and Bulloch Hall – both of which are steeped in history. It was at Bulloch Hall that we hit the jackpot of our trip, finding a Civil War re-enactment of a Union camp, complete with soldiers in old uniforms, people in period costume, canons and horses (below). 

Roswell was once occupied by the Union, explaining the re-enactment, but we managed to get one of the soldiers to kit out in a Confederate uniform too.

We had dinner at the Table & Main restaurant before rounding off the night with a ghost trip around Roswell’s reputed haunted locations – spookier for some people than others.

Next, we took to the water, visiting the Chattahoochee River area, including the scenic Old Mill Park, by canoe, with myself and another Irishman almost coming a cropper in a ditch.

After that, it was time for a drink to steady the nerves, curiously enough at the Abbey of the Holy Goats Brewery. This was founded by a woman who, after a few years of living as a nun, decided to pursue her passion of producing Belgian-style beer. 

We ended our trip to this lovely town with dinner in The Roswell restaurant, which serves huge portions of everything you can imagine.

 

The next morning we geared up for our trip to Athens. This bustling college town features a huge university, and is where the members of R.E.M. first met. 

So it’s natural that the first stop on our tour there is the University of Georgia, which has a famous arch through which it is said that no student should walk under until they have graduated.

Brunch was served at the funky Heirloom Café, which relies heavily on local farmers’ markets.

Our guides must have known there were Irish folk in town, as we were then taken on tours of not one, but two local craft breweries.

The Terrapin Beer Co. debuted its first beer in 2002, and after a few tasty swifties you get to take away a souvenir glass that has a picture of the animal. Meanwhile, the Southern Brewery has over 20 innovative beers, and counts golfer Lee Westwood as a famous fan.

We were later taken on a wonderful music history walking tour of Athens 
by local musician Paul Buchart, who knew some of the stars that made their name in the town, including the B52s and the aforementioned R.E.M. 

The town also boasts lots of vintage shops, cafés and restaurants – including Weaver D’s, which is said to have inspired the title of the R.E.M. album Automatic for the People.

We also enjoyed dinner and a gig at local venue The Foundry, and got to explore the Georgia Theatre and watch a concert on its rooftop with lively local tour reps Chuck Jones and Jeremiah Cook, who left us so green with envy at those who live in the town that our group would love to visit again. ✚ 

• For further information on Georgia, see www.exploregeorgia.org

Getting there:

Direct return flights to Atlanta from Dublin start at around €700, but there are cheaper indirect options.

We stayed at The Ellis Hotel, Atlanta (www.ellishotel.com), The Holiday Inn, Roswell (www.ihg.com/holidayinn/hotels/gb/en/roswell/atlrs/hoteldetail), and The Graduate, Athens (www.graduateathens.com). 

Tour America offers a seven-day holiday to Georgia from €1,599pp, based on two adults sharing and travelling in October 2017 .

The trip includes direct return flights with Delta Air Lines into Atlanta from Dublin and seven days’ car hire, including standard taxes and insurance (except fuel and additional drivers). The trip also includes six nights’ accommodation on a room-only basis, with two nights at The Ellis Hotel, Atlanta, two nights at the Holiday Inn, Roswell, and two nights at The Graduate, Athens.

To book, or for more details, please visit www.touramerica.ie, call 01 817 3535, or email [email protected]