A journey of
a thousand miles
begins with a single step
When you think of wine, you must think of Napa like the rest of us. But did you know there are so many other little wine regions scattered all over the state of California and beyond that, in the country? Nothing with the notoriety of Napa/Sonoma with their miles of vineyards sprawled out next to each other, but still very accessible - and some in your own back yard.
We discovered those of Northern Georgia and Western Virginia this fall (with some North Carolina sprinkled in). But before we get there, let's preface all this with how this trip came to be.
We love a good anniversary trip! And we highly recommend it to any couple looking for the perfect gift - there is nothing more important and coveted then one-on-one time, and nothing more suitable than taking time off together to reconnect and make memories. For us, it was one of the reasons we chose the wedding date we did - we figured we could always back up a couple's getaway into the long Thanksgiving weekend and a way to unwind before the holiday rush.
So this year, we had big plans to go to Napa. Those plans also made on a whim, as we closely watched the wildfires in the region and knew that a decision wouldn't be made until that storm settled. Once it did, and in the separate of keeping our travel stateside, we didn't think there was a better way to support a region that was hurting than visiting it.
But then our plans go scrapped, so we had to once again make another plan on a few days' notice. We had wanted to ride the whole Blue Ridge Parkway up together as a family this fall but we just weren't able to squeeze it in. So when Napa got put on hold and in a last ditch effort, we made this agenda come to life, but this time as a much needed anniversary getaway!
So with a solid plan B, we loaded up the car and spent some great one-on-one time together on our own self created “wine trail” (venturing across 3 states)!
Our itinerary brought us from Central Florida up north, but can easily be written around from the opposite direction, or any other.
We try not to drive more than 8 hours, as we know that it can be too much on us and takes the enjoyment out of a drive. So we highly recommend that if its going to take you any longer than this, to make a stop somewhere in between to make your trip worthwhile!
Day 1 - Orlando, Florida to Dahlonega, Georgia (8 hours)
Day 2 - Dahlonega/Helen area to Asheville, North Carolina (8 hours)
Day 3 - Asheville up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the north entrance in Afton, VA (13 hours)
Day 4 - Charlottesville, Virginia (30 minutes from Afton)
Day 5 - Charlottesville to Savannah, GA (7 hours)
Day 6 - Savannah to Orlando
Our first top took us to Dahlonega, Georgia where they have the most perfect wine region with mountains mixed in to feel like we escaped. The drive from Central Florida (our starting point) is roughly 8 hours, but be warned - you'll hit Atlanta traffic if you like it or not, so plan accordingly! We made an early morning start of it and arrived right in early afternoon - enough time to get a few wineries in.
If you want to experience the true charm of Dahlonega, consider a Bed & Breakfast in the city, or what we fell in love with Dahlonega Resort and Vineyard. This resort offers private rooms or cabins on a sprawling hillside, tucked right in the middle of their wine country. This will give you a true opportunity to unplug and relax, and enjoy the coveted alone time you two came out for.
If you want a little more to do, consider a stop in Helen, Georgia for the night instead. This Alpine Village themed town makes you feel like you've traveled to another part of the world. Come during the holidays and you can take in the sights and sounds of Christmas as they ring in the season.
Hofer's is a charming German Bakery right in the middle of Helen! If you plan to eat here, come early as you will have to wait. Otherwise you can stop in for a treat to go as you take in the sights of Helen!
Feeling like a German feast? It doesn't get closer than at Bodensee in Helen!
Other Things to Do
Babyland General Hospital (for the Cabbage Patch fans)
Georgia Mountain Coaster
Tubing down the Chattahoochee
Anna Ruby Falls
Asheville, North Carolina
Where do we start with Asheville? There's so much to say that we have recapped all you can do on Asheville in a post all its on.
But for us, we had two goals in mind by coming here this time -
1. We wanted to jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway to attempt our full drive from here
2. Mainly, we wanted to spend Christmas at the Biltmore!
Wineries to Visit
With you daytime admission to the Biltmore, you'll also be able to access the Biltmore Winery for a free tasting.
But if you're looking for more to do here, head over to Hendersonville and taste at Burntshirt Vineyards for some great wines!
... or if beer is your thing, make a point to visit the staple breweries this city is known for as something to sample! We got a taste of Ginger's Revenge Fall Harvest and can't wait to come back to get some more!
Grand Bohemian Asheville is right in Biltmore Village - a short drive to the entrance to then take the long drive to through the estate!
If you plan to exclusively visit the Biltmore during your stay, consider staying on site at either the Village Hotel or the Inn right in the hear of Antler Hill.
I felt like this deserves a side note all its on, just to truly appreciate the visit, whether coming for Christmas like we did or any time of the year.
We hadn’t quite made it to see the Biltmore last year, so we were in for a surprise either way. We’re so glad we chose to see it at Christmas and opted to see it at night by candlelight, which was an experience all its own!
With the nighttime visit, you still have full day access to the grounds - to enjoy all the same inclusions a day ticket will grant you! But you also get to see America's largest home in a different light, all decked out for the holidays - and we all know decor looks better at night.
So if opting to do this, I highly recommend a full day visit - to catch glimpses of the exterior of the mansion during the day, enjoy hikes around the property, visit Antler Hill Village - to shop and eat, and then partake in the wine tasting before heading to your own unique tour of the home.
Blue Ridge Parkway
We drove up a good portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway taking in the last bit of leaves before they fall for the season. The whole parkway start to finish would take about 13 hours, without stops, but with shorter days we knew we didn’t have enough daylight. So we took it as far north before getting off at Blowing Rock as we could before reaching our next destination!
If you are opting to do the drive though, there are recommended stops along the course, with places to stay to break up the drive. It would be best to start early, with the sunrise (though be careful with the fog) and take it slow so you can stop for some hikes or take in the peaceful scenic views.
Also, beware of the time of year that you opt to go - though best enjoy from spring to early fall, you can still drive parts of the road during winter. But chances are greater that you'll have closers along the way thanks to snowfall!
If you complete the Parkway drive, you'll end up in Afton, Virginia - which is gateway to Shenandoah National Park as well. So if National Park visits are your goal, you can get two here!
The nearest "big" city to these stops is Charlottesville, Virginia, home to the University of Virginia - so we chose to make this our home base for two nights.
Omni Charlottesville is right on the downtown mall, where you'll find plenty of places to eat and drink down a quaint street dated back in time!
Public Fish & Oyster
We ended our trip with a pit stop in Savannah, which helped to break the 12 hour car ride down to 7! We have been here a handful of times before, but each time we get a taste of something new. And we love that it’s only a short 5 hour trip from us to get to go back to again!
Hyatt Savannah is right on the river and accessible from Bay Street as well, so in prime real estate! It's surrounded by equally wonderful hotels, but being that we have stayed here a few times, we enjoy the ambiance of the hotel and appreciate the brand overall!
The Old Pink House
Moon River Brewing Company
Vic's on the River
Rocks on the Roof
Jen's and Friends
Lulu's Chocolate Bar
Better than Sex
Things to Do
Savannah is a must walk city, as you'll truly get to experience all the hidden corners that give this city a charm. But if you'd like to view in other ways consider a tour of the city!
It was a whirlwind trip - and yes, we got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time.
So who's ready to go next?
We took too much time to recap our trip to New Orleans, but no time like the present right? Espeically since fond memories of our adult getaway were rehashed when we brought the kids back in this summer.
They were two completely different experiences, even more watered down because of the circumstances that surrounded our latest trip. But nonetheless, we were reminded why we fell in love with this city of old meets new! And how it uniquely adapted its story to make it a vibrant city worth visiting - for any and all!
Beignet, Done That!
You can't come to New Orleans without trying some of their world famous beignets! There are so many places you can find a variation of this sugar laden pastry on their menu but you can't visit without trying one of the top stops.
Cafe du Monde is synonymous with New Orleans so it goes without being said you have to pay a visit to see what its all about. The French Market location right by Jackson Square usually has a line down the block, to order and be seated, so come prepared! But if you don't mind a to-go option, swing around with cash to their outdoor window and you can significantly reduce your wait time.
Still undecided? We recommend stopping at both and trying them out for yourself - and don't forget to order the Café Au Lait alongside!
Come Ready to Eat Even More!
This city is truly a foodies dream! From traditional Cajun vibes to top rated restaurants with vibrant menus, there's so many great staples to try here, it's difficult to say where to start. Here were a few of our top favorite eats, all which came recommended to us, and now we pass on the recommendation.
•Arnaud's - The Jazz Brunch! This was our one must do before we left - have a long brunch with lively music and truly feel that New Orleans' vibe. We opted to try Arnaud's, though there are plenty of options in the city that all rank with the same kind of enthusiasm. Offered on Sunday, the brunch is also dress code strict with a business casual recommendation - collared shirts for gentlemen, no t-shirts, shorts or athletic wear.
The menu is a prix-fixed 3 course meal with plenty of options to choose from. The price of the brunch varies based off your entree option, but you can pair it with your liking of appetizer and dessert. We went for the Crepes Suzette to get the table side flambé experience again!
If you've made room for more, we recommend a drinking tour of NOLA. Whether self-guided or on a formal tour with wealth of information, make sure that you get to try the following. We had a great time experiencing the best of what NOLA's bars had to offer -
Time to Play!
•Visit the neighborhoods of NoLA - Garden District, Magazine Street, Jackson Square, French Quarter
•Lafeyette Cemetery No. 1 - one of the oldest in the city
•Legendary ghost and voodoo tour of city haunts
•Sail down the Mississippi on the Natchez
•Ride a Street Car
•Harrah's Casino - Feeling lucky?
•Swamp Boat Tour
•Mardi Gras Tour
... and so much more!
So you’ve decided to scrap the toy gifts and gift an experience ... but now, where do you start?
There’s really not a right or wrong to what to get, but you have to make sure that the gift is genuine and coming from YOU! Make sure that the gift of choice is something you’re willing to carve out the time to do, and that its the perfect gift for the child receiving.
Consider these points when making a gift choice -
1. Make it reasonable. Shopping for a toddler is very different than for an older kid, so make sure the experience is appropriate for the child of choice. There are places some kids can't enjoy because they don’t meet the age or height requirements, or it’s just no longer a right fit. Make sure whatever you’re planning on doing, it something the receiver would enjoy doing too!
2. Cost doesn’t matter! And by this, we don’t mean you have to splurge to make it special. The gift could easily be FREE! Bottom line, there isn’t a minimum or maximum to spend to make it the best gift ever! It’s the experience, not the price – DO NOT break the bank trying to get the right gift. Make it right for them and you!
There’s also an unspoken pact that you’re also picking up the child’s gift only. So if your child still needs parent accompaniment, don’t worry about picking up the parent or other siblings’ cost (unless you feel called to). There’s an understanding that sometimes we just need to be there but it’s not for us, it’s for them.
3. Make it memorable. Most of all, make sure that it’s something that will last forever. There should be no burden in the gift, only happy memories! And memories that fit the children at play.
Here are some of our favorite ideas that have either been given or received that we can recommend as a great starting point when shopping! I’ve outlined activities by price categories and at prices (current as of May 2019). The cost is for a single pass for the gift receiver (or a promo deal when noted), so remember the cost of your own and your child’s ticket too. And that all these can change - visit each particular companies website for current pricing.
Never underestimate the benefits you’re already paying for! Most annual passes have some kind of complimentary pass program, where a few will be handed out for use throughout the year. Use those perks to gift a priceless experience, especially for a child that doesn’t get to experience it!
And these are just a handful of what there is out there! Orlando has a lot more to offer that is popping up and can make an amazing experience gift (for adults too). We've only been able to get so far, but plan to keep searching for more one-of-a-kind dates!
Any big ideas we missed? Let us know so we can add to our list of gifts to give someone that wonderful experience!