Question-What town in Georgia is the third most visited behind Savannah and Atlanta? The answer is the tiny hamlet of Helen with a population of about 600 residents that once was home to the Cherokee, then European settlers who came for the gold and timber, and today has transformed itself into a little taste of Germany in the Appalachians instead of the Alps. The Mayor, Helen Wilkins, says, “It’s a lot of fun being mayor of Georgia’s Bavarian Village. We’re only 2 square miles, but we draw more then two million visitors a year.”
I visited Alpine Helen the week of the Solar Eclipse and enjoyed some German delicacies and beer at one of the many restaurants that sit on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, where folks leisurely tube through the town. For dessert, we strolled over to Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe where we indulged in some fresh baked poppy-seed hamentashen and delectable apple fritters. The entire town of Helen is decorated in Bavarian style architecture and is really a great place to visit and enjoy the many offerings of things to do. There is hiking, fishing, Unicoi State Park, great back roads for motorcycles, vineyards, shopping, art galleries and antique stores. This fall they are celebrating their 47th Oktoberfest through 10/31. Visit HelenGa.org for more information.
If you want to enjoy the fall happenings in Helen, I would definitely recommend staying at one of the hotels along Route 75 (Helen’s Main Street) for easy access to the shoppes and restaurants. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, the newest addition to the accommodation choices in town. The 86 well appointed rooms come with mini fridges, in room coffee, free wifi, microwaves and large bathrooms. In the morning you can refuel with a hearty breakfast free to the guests. There is business center and lovely indoor pool for year round comfort. The Hotel has plenty of free parking and just a short walk to the tubing area, and Bavarian Festhalle for some lively alpine music. If you need a recommendation for dinner or other points of interest in White County, look no further than the Holiday Inn’s front desk ladies to steer you in the right direction. We stayed three nights and really enjoyed the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Helen.
The Innsbruck Resort & Golf Club in Helen is one of the most challenging and scenic golf courses in Georgia. If you never played a mountain golf course, you are in for a real treat at the 6500 yard, par 72, 18 hole Bill Watts 1985 design. It was originally laid out as a championship golf course on a 140 acre tract of land that borders the Chattahoochee River and backs up to Unicoi State Park. Each hole offers bermuda fairways and perfect bent grass greens with a lot of climbs and descents. The fairways are laid out in a figure-eight design. teeing off at each hole is truly an adventure as your ball sails down a hill and your eyes feast on the spectacular mountain views. The course has a slope of 135 and rating of 72.7.
The picturesque par 4, 9th needs to have an accurate line off the tee directed at Mount Yonah, the centerpiece of the Chattahoochee National Forest in the distance. The ideal landing area is either the center or left half of the fairway in order to keep the pond that encroaches from the right out of play. From the fairway it is important to check the wind and your yardage, because the approach shot to a shallow green needs to be precise. Favor the right side because the lake comes into play on the left and the green is protected in left front by a wide bunker. Take a moment and check out the view of the delightful Bavarian style clubhouse that overlooks both closing holes. Another Kodak moment is when you step on the tee at the 178 yard par 3, 15th, Innsbruck’s signature hole. You play to a small green almost straight downhill with little room for mistake. if you don’t score well, try and remember the view. Innsbruck Golf Club is part of the Georgia Golf Trail, presented by Bridgestone.
PGA Professional Mike McCall has been at Innsbruck over twenty years, and he and his staff provide a warm and friendly atmosphere for the members, guests and visiting golfers at Innsbruck. There is an inside hitting bay to utilize and Mike provides excellent instruction to those wanting to improve their game. Check it out at InnsbruckGolfClub.com
After an enjoyable morning round of golf with my wife Carol and Georgia Golf Trail Founder, Doug Hollandsworth, we chose to dine at the Caledonia Room in the newest addition to the Innsbruck community, the Valhalla Resort Hotel. Overlooking the Innsbruck clubhouse and the rolling hills of the golf course, Valhalla is surrounded by breathtaking scenic mountain views as far as the eye can see. This Regal Retreat just for Adults has an elegant ambiance reminiscent of an Old World Scottish Castle. After lunch we enjoyed the Solar Eclipse from the Hotel’s rooftop Sky Bar along with other patrons and owners Gayle and Jerry Murdock. The all suite rooms are beautifully appointed with a fireplace and balconies, and other amenities include the Solasta Spa, steamroom, gym, Twigs gift shop with crafts and artwork from locals, and a pool with a cabana bar. Please check out ‘where old world charm meets southern hospitality’ at ValhallaResortHotel.com.