Fall is Prime Time to go to Blue Ridge



Guest Blog by Blake Guthrie as written for the AJC (Atlanta Journal & Constitution).

The Cabin

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Cloud Nine. It’s the type of name one would expect for a mountain vacation rental home. It’s one of those places that if you try and follow GPS directions you’ll get lost. The rental agency sent a confirmation that stressed the importance of following the turn-by-turn directions provided in the email, including detail you wouldn’t get from a GPS such as “go right when you see a bunch of mailboxes.”

The Approach

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

What it didn’t mention was the very steep and winding one-lane road. After putting my Honda into its lowest gear for the first time ever and having to navigate past an approaching vehicle, I came to the crest of Sunrock Mountain four miles west of Blue Ridge. I saw that Cloud Nine was the type of place I might want to hole-up for a while, but, having never been to Blue Ridge or nearby Ellijay before, I came to do some exploring, to find the most beautiful scenery and the best outdoor spots to experience the autumnal ambiance.

The Train

Photo courtesy of @chusion

It turned out the back porch of the cabin was one of those places. In the morning I could see how the cabin got its name. It was literally in the clouds, the surrounding mountain peaks sticking up through a thick white blanket covering the valleys below. Still, I had to venture out. First on my itinerary was the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The major attraction in town, the railway has been in operation as a sightseeing excursion train since 1998 along tracks that have a history going back as far as 1886. The tracks follow the route of the winding Toccoa River through the Chattahoochee National Forest to the twin towns of McCaysville and Copperhill, Tennessee. They’re essentially the same town with the state line running through the middle. Like a running joke, the line is demarcated by a blue stripe painted on sidewalks, roadways and running through the middle of businesses.

The train rolls at a leisurely pace and the open-air windows are large, making it a prime fall sightseeing adventure with a good dose of history thrown in. Along the way, you’ll see a Native American fish trap in the middle of the river that experts believe is 500 years old, and the old telegraph poles that used to be the fastest form of communication in a bygone era. The trip takes four hours, with two spent in McCaysville/Copperhill for exploring the towns.

McCaysville

If hunger strikes, Burra Burra on the River in McCaysville is near the train station and serves pub fare and local brews. Be sure to ask for outside seating, weather permitting. The real selling point here is the covered deck that overlooks the clear waters of the Toccoa River flowing past the state line where it becomes the Ocoee River after crossing into Tennessee.

Piano Bar

Photo Courtesy of The Black Sheep

Back in Blue Ridge, the largest patio bar in town can be found at Black Sheep Restaurant, where the seasonal menu leans heavily on seafood. Housed in a historic home shaded by a 200-year-old oak tree, the patio overlooks the center of town. It’s a popular place, so make reservations for dinner. Or just have a drink at the bar.

Breweries

The craft beer scene is surprisingly good in Blue Ridge for such a small town that was dry not too long ago. Two breweries — Fannin Brewing Company and Grumpy Old Men Brewing — both have large, inviting outdoor beer gardens where you can play cornhole, meet the locals and catch some live music. Wine drinkers have no shortage of options either, as wineries have been opening at a fast clip in this area over the last few years.

Photo Courtesy of Bear Claw Vineyards

Near Ellijay, Chateau Meichtry (pronounced “my-tree”) stands out not only for its wine but also its patio outside the barn tasting room where the rolling vineyards reveal a long-range view of the mountains to the north.At Bear Claw Vineyards visitors can spend the night in the Blue Ridge Treehouse, featured on the DIY Network show “The Treehouse Guys.” The treehouse overlooks the vineyards and contains all the amenities one would expect when staying in a hotel.

Apple Country

Photo Courtesy of Mercier Orchards

No trip to the North Georgia mountains during the fall harvest season would be complete without taking advantage of apple country. The pull of a roadside farm store backed by endless acres of fruit orchards is undeniable. Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge and R&A Orchards outside Ellijay both have roadside markets selling freshly picked apples and other fruits, fresh-baked goods, local foodstuffs and offer pick-your-own days as well as plenty of free samples.

Welcome to the Mountains!

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Lake Blue Ridge is the centerpiece of a scenic drive worth exploring. Stop at the Blue Ridge Welcome Center to pick up a detailed map. Ringed by mountains, the lake has clear, emerald-hued water and a pristine, forested shoreline. The route also runs alongside the tumbling rapids of the Toccoa River, rolling farmland, historic houses, and has many side hikes to cascading waterfalls and other pastoral pleasures. Bring comfortable hiking shoes and make an afternoon of it if you plan to visit all the stops listed on the map. On my last morning at Cloud Nine, I got up early enough to see the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains and stayed on the porch until checkout. Sometimes where you are is the best place to be.

If You Go

Blue Ridge is 92 miles north of Atlanta.

What to see

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. $35 and up. 241 Depot St., Blue Ridge. 877-413-8724, brscenic.com

R&A Orchards. 5505 Hwy. 52 East, Ellijay. 706-273-3821, www.randaorchards.com

Where to stay

Escape to Blue Ridge. Cabins $140-$1,800 per night. 866-618-2521, www.escapetoblueridge.com.

Blue Ridge Treehouse. $234 and up. 2555 Tennis Court Road, Blue Ridge. 706-223-3750, blueridgetreehouse.com.

Where to Eat

Burra Burra on the River. $11 and up. 100 Blue Ridge Drive, McCaysville. 706-400-6660, www.burraburraontheriver.com.

Black Sheep Restaurant. $20 and up. 480 W. Main St., Blue Ridge 706-946-3663, www.blacksheepblueridge.com.

Visitor Info

Blue Ridge Welcome Center. 152 Orvin Lance Drive. 800-899-6867, www.blueridgemountains.com.

Ellijay Welcome Center. 10 Broad St. 706-635-7400, www.gilmerchamber.com.

Shining the Spotlight on Mercier Orchards



Farmers in the state of Georgia produce more than 26 million pounds of apples annually with nearly all the orchards concentrated in the North Georgia Mountains. Distinguishing oneself from the other apple orchards might be a large task for some. But Adele Mercier was never easily daunted by the business challenges of competition presented to her and her husband Bill and their 27-acre family orchard they started together in 1943. She had big plans for this little orchard in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Little did she know that it would take her to the dawn of the next century to execute her plan.

In 1999, Adele presented her vision for the Mercier Orchards to the regional tourism association. She shared with them her dream that Mercier’s was going to become an international tourist attraction, right along with her friends from the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway who had just started running scenic excursions to McCaysville and back. That afternoon, the tourism professionals chuckled at the naiveté of this eighty-year-old with such outlandish pipe dreams. Over the past two decades since, many of those in attendance that day have eaten their fair share of humble pie (or maybe apple fried pies?).

Mercier Orchards has grown ten times its original size, with 300 acres of apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries. The farm market that once boasted just bins of apples from July till December is now open seven days a week from 7 am till 6 pm, 361 days a year.  The Market Store has enlarged to several thousand square feet with outstanding food products, fresh, frozen and canned, with the majority locally sourced. If you are planning on preparing meals during your cabin stay with us, you must visit Merciers. Don’t bother with a shopping list. Every item will take you on a new culinary journey.

The Market has also grown to include a bakery boasting several varieties of fried pies, as well as apple cider donuts, and a large variety of bread, cookies and many other delectable baked goods.  The bakery also supplies the recently enlarged Market Café (open 7am-6pm daily) with award-winning biscuits, bread and rolls served at breakfast each day till 11 am. Breakfast buffet on Saturdays and Sundays is a great place to gather with family and friends, with buffet hours extended to noon.  After a morning in the orchards, picking your own fruit, lunch at the Market is the best place to hydrate, chill and nourish.

Yes, part of Adele’s dream was to bring multi-generational families in to enjoy the seasonal harvests of the orchards. Adults of all ages will enjoy the memories of their childhood days while picking apples, and the children will enjoy every moment, from the wagon ride out to the u-pick them area to delighting as they fill their buckets with berries, peaches or over 30 varieties of apples. U-Pick is subject to availability and the weather. For current picking dates, click here.

Maybe choosing your fruit at the Market is more to your liking than picking your own in the field. That doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the Orchard experience. From 10 am till 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, indulge yourself with a $5 tractor ride and tour of the 300-acre orchard. The Mercier family loves to share all there is to see and know about their orchard with their guests.

The fruits of the orchard are best enjoyed fresh, but for some, pressed and fermented fruit has as much allure. Mercier’s knows this first hand and would like to invite you to their Tasting Room at the Market. A variety of delicious hard ciders and wines, made with all “Georgia Grown” fruits can be sampled and purchased. “We are currently the only apple orchard in Georgia that can say they grow, press, ferment, and bottle their own product.” avowals their website.

As for Adele’s vision? Late last November, this writer visited the orchard with a friend to purchase a couple of bags of apples. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, three weeks past the high volume tourist season and we expected to be able to run in and out with our fruit purchase. We found the enormous parking lot to be nearly full. Walking into the Market, we discovered every cash register manned and customers were five plus deep waiting in those lines. My friend and I counted six different languages being spoken around us while we patiently waited our turn to pay for our purchases.

Adele Mercier passed away in 2013, leaving her internationally known Market in the very capable hands of second, third and fourth generations of the Mercier Family. They strive to bring to every visitor an experience that they will soon not forget. To learn more about Mercier Orchards and to see their event calendar, visit them at www.mercier-orchards.com.

Learning and Leisure



Some of us just don’t “vacation” well. Swinging in a hammock, listening to the birdies go “tweet, tweet, tweet” is a might too boring. Nor does the quest to hike to the top of a waterfall hold any allure. We need a more constructive reason to leave home and head to the mountains. For those who need an educational prospect before booking a cabin, here are some awesome Blue Ridge conferences, workshops, and day trips available this spring. 

From Shabby To Chic

Outlaws Workshop – Stay with us while you venture into town for this 3-day hands-on workshop being offered by an incredibly talented group of home décor specialists. This workshop focuses on refurbishing that old piece of furniture and painting it with the latest techniques. This would be a great Mother-Daughter Weekend retreat – an early celebration of Mother’s Day. May 3-5, 2019

The Center

The 22nd Annual Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference – For more than two decades this writer’s conference has brought together would be authors with leaders in the publishing industry, offering instruction on both sides of the trade. This is a jam-packed conference in an amazingly comfortable atmosphere, aiding in the fostering of new friendships and maximizing business networking. April 5 and 6, 2019.

Leather Working Workshop – The Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Center is the regions premier facility for arts education. Have you wanted a taste of leatherworking without investing lots of time and money? During this one day class students will make something beautiful and learn a new skill.  Each student will take home their creative leather bag including a strap and tassel. April 16, 2019

Rock On!

Chimps Rock – This is the perfect event for kids and kids at heart. Project Chimps provides lifelong care to former research chimpanzees at its 236-acre forested sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is an opportunity to visit the sanctuary, receive a guided walking tour, see chimps behind glass and even participate in a Chimp Rock painting craft project. April 26 and April 27, 2019

Rock the Dome – The O. Wayne Rollins Planetarium at Young Harris College features more than 30 Friday-evening public shows. Guests are encouraged to arrive early for the best seats. No late seating is permitted. These public planetarium shows include a live-narrated “seasonal stargazing” segment in addition to the featured full-dome program. If you love classic rock, don’t miss the performances in late April/early May which will have that Dome rocking to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Peter Frampton, to name a few. April 26, 2019, May 3, 2019

An Apple A Day

Mercier’s Blossom Tours – Visitors from all over the world flock to Mercier Orchards every year to purchase goods produced from the fruits of the orchards. Few know that in the spring, they can take advantage of guided tours during the blossom season, learning about the cultivation of the many varieties of fruit the Orchard harvests each year. Bring your camera on these tours, because the visual spectacle of the blossoms is almost as captivating as the marvelous fragrant bouquets. Because Mother Nature doesn’t care to keep a tight schedule, you can call the Orchard at 800-361-7731 to find out when the blossom tours will be offered this Spring.

Blue Ridge Bucket List



Top 10 Things To Do In Blue Ridge For 2019

As we ring in the New Year, 365 opportunities await you to get out and explore the beautiful North Georgia Mountains. Here are a few of our favorite ideas to enjoy your 2019 Escape to Blue Ridge!

1. Eat Collard Greens & Black-Eyed Peas

After all, it’s a southern tradition. Eat these as your first meal for the New Year and you will increase your luck and prosperity for the year ahead. The Village Restaurant will be open and ready to serve you the very best in Southern Cuisine

2. Experience the Lake Life

Beautiful Lake Blue Ridge offers 3,290-acres of crystal-clear water to explore. Bring your own water craft, rent a pontoon boat, or take a guided tour with Capt’n Joe. Whether you are kayaking, tubing, fishing, or just floating along, there is no prettier place in the world than where the mountains meet the water.

3. Take in a Festival or 5

There is always something happening in these here mountains. Festival season begins in February and ends in October, plus holiday activities are abundant in November and December. You will be blown away with the ice sculpting that takes place at the annual Fire and Ice Chili Cookoff. If music is more your style, you can shake your groove thing at both the Blue Ridge Wine & Jazz Festival and Blue Ridge Blues & Barbeque Festival. Blue Ridge festivals are family friendly, pet friendly, and extraordinarily fun!

4. Fly fish in the Trout Capital of Georgia

Brown trout, rainbow trout, and native trout are abundant in our freshwater mountain streams. Stop by and see Will Taylor at the Fly Shop Co. for some flies and a pole. Then head out to the headwaters of the Toccoa River, Noontootla Creek, or Rock Creek for premier trout fishing.

5. Wine, Beer and Hard Cider, Oh My!

You can’t visit the mountains without trying the refreshing flavors of Hard Cider at Mercier Orchards. While you are there, pick up a peck of apples and some of their fruit infused wines as well. If you are more of a purist, both Bear Claw Vineyards and Serenberry Vineyards have classic Chardonnays, Sauvignons, and more. If Craft beer is more your style, don’t fret, there are many options to choose from like Grumpy Old Men Brewing and Fannin Brewing Company.

6. Jump on the Swinging Bridge

Pack up a picnic and hit either the Benton MacKaye Trail or the Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail to the Swinging Bridge. This 270-foot-long suspension bridge is the longest swinging bride east of the Mississippi River! If you do decide to jump in the middle, make sure you are faster than your travel buddies or you might get thrown off!

7. Get wet at Fall Branch Falls

A short, family friendly hike makes Fall Branch Falls a must do activity for the young and young at heart. Explore both the upper and lower area of the falls and take time to relax on the rocks and enjoy the views. Don’t forget to bring your best friend. Dogs will enjoy the trail as much as their humans.

8. Come on Ride That Train

The iconic Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is a must do when in town. Enjoy the scenery every season of the year as the train departs from Downtown Blue Ridge and travels the countryside to the revitalized towns of Copperhill, TN and McCaysville, GA

9. Find a Fairy Cross

Legend has is that as the Native Americans embarked on the Trail of Tears, they shed tears of sorrow that fell to the ground and formed tiny crosses of stone. Commonly known as staurolite crystals, these minerals are abundant in Fannin County.

10. Book an Escape to Blue Ridge

There is just something about these mountains that is so good for the soul. Whether you want to come for a romantic getaway, to reconnect with friends and family, or to enjoy the abundant outdoor adventures, we have the perfect cabin for you!

We wish each of you and yours a prosperous year ahead filled with lots of love, exciting adventures, and many opportunities to make heartfelt memories. Happy New Year!