In the heart of North Georgia lies a couple’s destination resort that defies comparison. It blends a charming and romantic history with nature, outdoor sports, food, wine, and a healthy dose of pampering. You will not find a comparable southern experience, and it is Georgia’s best kept secret. Sixty miles north of Atlanta, Barnsley Resort should be on the calendar of any couple looking for a unique getaway, with the perfect combination of nature and nurture.
According to Clent Coker, the resort historian, Godfrey Barnsley built the original manor in the 1840s for his life’s love, Julia. He nestled it within 4,000 acres of gardens, and modeled the grounds after the renowned architect Andrew Jackson Downing. The estate suffered greatly over time, from Civil War pillages to acts of Mother Nature. Finally, in the late 1980s it was salvaged by a Bavarian prince, and eventually opened in 1991 as a world-class luxury resort, holding true to its Downing-esque beginnings.
Guests stay in European-like cottages, dotted along tree-lined paths, each unique. We took respite in a one-bedroom suite with pine floors, expansive windows, a wood-burning fireplace, and a claw-foot tub. The resort’s Fairy Godmother ensured we felt welcome and relaxed with her signature touches to our cottage. Yes, I said Fairy Godmother; her job is to make your dreams come true!
Three restaurants at the resort provide dining options for any taste. The Beer Garden (a nod to the estate’s previous German owner) allows guests to indulge in over 30 craft beers, including a Pale Ale exclusive to Barnsley Resort. Woodlands Grill feels like a hunting lodge and offers gorgeous views of the golf course, a billiards room, and full bar. The Rice House, a restored farmhouse from the 1800s, creates southern cuisine from locally raised cattle and produce grown right on the grounds of the estate. Culinary masterpieces vary from grilled quail to buttered lobster and from grass-fed filet to farm-raised duck.
Barnsley Resort hosts a series of Wine Events several times a year. We enjoyed a four-course pairing with Trinchero Family Estates Wines and hosted by the legendary Winemaker Mario Monticelli, as well as the resort’s own professional Wine Snob, Greg Teague, CSW. Candlelight danced on the walls of the Rice House as we sampled scallops and foie gras, pork medallion, and other delicacies kissed with chocolate. Rich wines and gilded commentary from the Wine Snob guarantee an unforgettable event every time.
The Jim Fazio designed golf course meanders through the forests and gardens, and around the pristine lake at Barnsley Resort. Conde Nast Traveler named it #2 of Top Southern Golf Resorts. If you are new to golf, or looking to improve your game, consider an on-site lesson with one of their PGA golf professionals.
For the outdoor sportsman, there are several options. Since ladies are expressly invited, we opted for a private sporting clay lesson with NSCA Level III Instructor Skip Smith. His 15+ years of experience left us, even as seasoned hunters, with new skills and greater precision. The SpringBank Sporting Club is one of the top sporting clay facilities in the Southeast, with a 12-station clay course that includes stops in open-fields, forest canopy, and bauxite mine ponds.
The grounds make a breathtaking backdrop to a series of other activities, including tennis, Frisbee golf, fishing, kayaking or canoeing, horseback riding, hiking and biking, touring the ruins of Barnsley’s estate, or lounging by the pool. Outside not your thing? Hit the spa for a massage, foot reflexology, facial treatments, and more.
While we were touring the ruins of Godfrey Barnsley’s original estate, Woodlands, I considered the special weekend my husband and I enjoyed at the resort. How Godfrey must have ached for the same opportunity with his life’s love, Julia. My husband and I shot clays on the land that made up Godfrey’s original 4,000-acre garden. We held hands here during a romantic wine dinner, and then stayed the night in one of the stately Downing cottages. Godfrey and Julia were never so lucky. She passed while he was away on business, before the estate and gardens were complete.
Barnsley stopped construction for several years, before eventually completing the gardens and manor house in 1848, including modern plumbing, imported marble, and globally collected furnishings. Although she was gone, he completed it for Julia. It is a testament of sacrifice, and a true love story. Go and be a part of it.
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