The clip-clop of horse hooves on the trail sounds sprightlier in the wintertime. Clinking champagne glasses in a bubbling hot tub feels decidedly more decadent when the temps head south for the winter. And a candlelit dinner served with a smooth, claret wine at a place called The Secret Garden tastes all the more delicious when Jack Frost blows into town.
Winter in the mountains conjures up visions of romance and adventure and both are possible at Forrest Hills Mountain Resort, a 140-acre piece of paradise surrounded by the layered peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains and sitting at the first steps of the Appalachian Trail. With temperatures hovering in the 50s during the day and dipping into the 30s in the evening, it is a resort made for lazy afternoons before the fireplace and unhurried evenings talking over dinner at a table for two.
This winter, the resort is offering a "Wrap up in Romance" package that includes accommodations for two nights in a luxury cabin, dinners by candlelight, breakfast daily for two, a bottle of champagne (or sparkling cider), a welcome snack pack of cutting board with cheese ball, summer sausage and crackers, and a carriage ride that picks you up right at your front door. The packages also includes his and hers winterizing spa treatments to moisten skin dried and chapped by the cold: A green tea or Dead Sea mud wrap for her and a one-hour hot stone massage for him.
The luxury cabins at Forrest Hill are each uniquely decorated and outfitted with cushy Amish-made sofas and oversized ottomans, custom mattresses, all-season fireplaces and flat-screen TVs. A private en suite hot tub, softly illuminated and surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooks a winterscape of dense hardwood stands greened up with white pines and holly bushes and bustling with the movements of passing foxes, raccoons, deer-even bears.
"We have the entire food chain here," said David Kraft, general partner at the resort. "We have fish, turtles, birds, bird dogs and cats, including one that thinks she's a tiger-the list goes on and on."
Forrest Hills, whose name means "for rest," lives up to its promise of R and R. In the winter, the resort quiets down, but still offers plenty of activities, many of them focused on "winterizing" guests' skin with a variety of spa treatments like hot stone massages and paraffin facials at the new 7,000-square foot environmentally friendly Anidawehi Plantation Wellness Centre. Here, guests may experience a variety of treatments in beautiful rooms scented lightly with almond, jojoba and coconut oils and spiced with the magical sounds of Native American flutes.
Therapists also make cabin calls, bringing their tables and aromatherapy oils for one-hour, in-room massages. With soothing music playing in the background, the two masseuses, who can be scheduled as late as 8 p.m., will massage away tension, loosen tight muscles, smooth the skin and energize the body.
With its emphasis on health, hearth and healing, the Center fits in perfectly with the family-owned resort that was created to feel like home.
"It's not just a place; it's a feeling," said Michele Kraft-DeBlois, Mr. Kraft's sister and also a general partner at Forrest Hills. "It's a world that's been developed by our hopes and dreams and the hopes and dreams of our guests."
Wintertime visitors enjoy snuggling beneath blankets for a horse-drawn carriage ride, visiting the gift shop to borrow a few movies for a night in front of the fireplace and booking an in-room couples' massage. There is a brand new fitness facility with weight and cardio machines and aerobics and yoga classes and two miles of gentle walking trails to hike hand in hand to work up an appetite for the favorite evening activity: dinner in The Secret Garden, a cozy tables-for-two nook trimmed with white lights where couples can take their time enjoying wine, dinner and each other's company as evening deepens in the mountains.
Menus emphasize made-from-scratch cooking with authentic Appalachian-style cuisine given gourmet flair. Some wintertime favorites are slow-roasted prime rib, the resort's signature sweet potato soufflé and, for dessert, bread pudding with warm caramel glaze. The resort's policy is to prepare everything from scratch (including cutting and peeling by hand), to use local farm-raised, organic food whenever possible and to meet their guests' special requests and dietary needs.
For those wanting to venture out from their snug cabin, there is the lure of shopping on Dahlonega's old-fashioned Public Square, just a 20 minute drive away. Lining the square are artisan galleries that highlight Georgia artists, including the esteemed primitive folk art painter known as Cornbread. Boutiques stock regional arts and crafts, made-in-Georgia gifts and collectibles and a hodgepodge of take-home-worthy merchandise.
Restaurants like The Smith House, known far and wide for its fried chicken and smorgasbord of Southern sides, and coastal North Carolina-inspired Back Porch Oyster Bar offer unique dining experiences, as does the old-fashioned Connie's Ice Cream & Sandwich Shop. Charming cafés like the Crimson Moon showcase acoustic performances almost every night from a variety of music genres, including bluegrass, Celtic, blues, jazz and folk.
Dahlonega is the heart of Georgia's wine country, with five distinctly unique wineries, including Frogtown Cellars, Blackstock Vineyards and Winery, Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery and the new Montaluce Vineyards and Estates, each affording sweeping mountain views from tasting rooms that vary, respectively, from timber-framed informality and rustic lodge coziness to European-style urbanity and centuries-old Tuscan temperament. Sitting in the shadow of the peaks for which it is named, the Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery presents a valley vista and breezy, drop-by-anytime attitude.
Other activities in Dahlonega, site of America's first gold rush in 1828, include panning for gold at Crisson Gold Mine and Consolidated Gold Mines.
Winter in the mountains is for snuggling beneath blankets, in a thickly swaddled bed and in a horse-drawn carriage, for long conversations before the fire in a luxury cabin or over a bottle of finely crafted Georgia wine in a couples-only restaurant, and for de-stressing with a soothing herbal wrap or massage in the pampered privacy of a mountain resort.
The family-owned Forrest Hills Mountain Resort, founded in 1978 in Dahlonega, Ga., has been rated as one of the top 100 privately-owned resorts for 10 of its 30 years by Lodging and Hospitality Magazine. The resort offers a variety of come-hither accommodations, including 32 private cabins, each with hot tub and fireplace.
The resort's wintertime "Wrap up in Romance" package includes accommodations for two nights in a luxury cabin, dinners by candlelight, breakfast daily for two, a bottle of champagne (or sparkling cider), a welcome snack pack of cutting board with cheese ball, summer sausage and crackers, and a horse-drawn carriage ride. The package also includes his and hers winterizing spa treatments: A green tea or Dead Sea mud wrap for her and a one-hour hot stone massage for him. Price: $798/weekend; $758/weekdays, plus tax.
For more information, contact Forrest Hills Mountain Resort, 800 654-6313, 706 864-6456 (Atlanta area), 770 534-3244, www.foresths.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.