Things 2 Do

Experience the holidays, history, great food in the north Georgia mountains

RABUN COUNTY, Ga. — It’s that time of the year — time for holiday events, shopping, get-togethers (socially distanced of course) and all that the holidays entail.

But if 2020 has you reexamining a thing or two, here’s a new way to celebrate the holidays. Make a shopping list for those you need to buy for, but make a holiday list for yourself, too; a list that ensures you enjoy the Christmas season.

Rather than spending all day running from mall to mall, store to store, how about shopping for unique gifts, snacking on tasty treats, soaking in a little culture and history and taking the time to slow down a bit, sit by the fire and enjoy yourself and your family? That beats mall traffic, right?

“I’ve heard for the past 45 years, what a great experience it is and how (guests) remember coming here as children, and spending Christmas here and gathering with all of their family members,” Louis Dillard from the Dillard House told WSB-TV’s Nelson Hicks.

Head to Rabun County in the north Georgia mountains. It’s one of the state’s best-kept secrets, though the dining at the Dillard House is no secret. People from hundreds of miles around make the trek to Dillard to experience fried chicken, eight vegetables, homemade breads and more. But during the holidays, the hotel offers even more.

“If you’re here for the holiday season, you’ll see many, many lights and displays seen outside, around the building and around the yards,” Dillard said.

For your holiday list, spend some time relaxing in front of the fireplace at one of the Dillard House’s suites or chalets.

If you want a side of adventure to accompany your dining, head out to the back of the property. There visitors will find horses, a petting farm and the Dillard House Stables. Saddle up, go for a ride and enjoy an unparalleled view of north Georgia atop horseback.

Next up, tackle some shopping. Have an antique lover or collector to buy for? Dillard is home to eight antique malls. The mom-and-pop shops feature everything from furniture to art to fun items from years gone by. Cross several names off your shopping list with gifts you won’t find anywhere else.

Rather than shopping till you drop, take a break and experience some history. Rabun County is home to the Foxfire Museum. Walk back in time and get a hands-on lesson about mountain life. The museum features a family-friendly outdoor village with over 20 historic log buildings. See someone cook on a wood stove and watch craftspeople create. The museum showcases artifacts and stories of life in the mountains from 1820 to 1940.

“We are open to the public seven days a week. You’re welcome to come in for a self-guided tour and explore our open-air museum, which allows plenty of space for social distancing and get into the Christmas spirit and learn about what Christmas was like in Appalachia‚” the Foxfire Museum’s Kami Ahrens said.

No holiday trip is complete without some tasty treats. For that, head down the road to Clayton. That’s where visitors will find White Birch Provisions. Do some shopping for others in between a peppermint latte, gingerbread bar and pumpkin cookie.

“Our most popular are our scones — they are really, really popular and delicious. People come for that. But we have lots of really good bars, like we have fudge oatmeal bars, and big cookies and all sorts of delicious stuff, all made here,” Ivy Millions from White Birch Provisions said.

Now that beats the mall food court. But the day is not done. If you’ve got a few more people on your shopping list, downtown Clayton is the place to go. Butler Galleries features 17 vendors selling everything from antiques to home decorations. Surrounding stores offer clothes, outdoor gear, accessories and toys. And the shopping comes with a great view, to boot.

“When the lights come on at night in Clayton, we have lights all the way up and down the street on the poles, we have the Rock House decorated, Veterans Park is decorated, all of the windows are decorated. The day after Thanksgiving it looks like Christmas town,” Sam Dinos from Butler Galleries said.

Once the day is done, head to the Rabun Manor.

If great food and a bottle of wine are on your to-enjoy-this-holiday-season list, you’re in luck. The estate features 180-degree mountain views, peace and quiet, and a great restaurant and bar. For Thanksgiving, there will be turkey and the traditional Thanksgiving fare along with salmon and filets. Need to call it a night? Rabun Manor is also a bed-and-breakfast that features eight rooms, including three cabins. It has an interesting history, too.

“Rabun Manor was actually built in Whitehall, Georgia, in Athens, back in the 1800s; 1846 actually, and the White family moved from Ireland and bought the house in the 1800s. They had 12 children and outgrew the house, so they built a very large house next to it that would house their whole family properly, and they turned the existing manor into a schoolhouse,” Rabun Manor owner David Okun said.

When the family wanted a mountain house, they disassembled the school-house, moved it via railroad and rebuilt it on the spot where it sits today.

“It’s kind of a very quaint house, a couple really cool sitting rooms; the atmosphere is unbelievable. You walk right in into this beautiful, elegant restaurant and again, the views of the mountains are really what it’s all about, and the charm of the 1846 house,” Okun said.

There’s another reason to schedule a visit to Rabun County this holiday season — the Lakemont historic and arts district.

Kelly Grimsley recently opened Ladybug Landing in the area. During the holidays, the store is offering Christmas gifts and decor. And while she’s new to business ownership in the area, she’s not new to the area itself, an area she encourages people to visit.

“I knew how special it was to just drive through here, but now that my finger is on the pulse of the heartbeat here, it really is an incredibly healing, special place to be,” Grimsly said.

This holiday season start a new tradition — one that includes more time with family, less stress and more fun.

“You could certainly make a weekend out of it,” Berryman said. “Some people make a day trip, others make a weekend or spend the night and have a couple of days.”

This story is sponsored by Rabun County.