Helen Village in North Georgia
Lederhosen and dirndls are always in style in quaint Helen, tucked alongside the Chattahoochee River in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia.
With its cobblestone alleys, old-world architecture and wonderful gemutlichkeit ("good life"), Helen provides an unexpected touch of genuine Bavaria--with no passport required!
This charming village's transformation into a German village began in 1969. Now it hosts the longest-running Oktoberfest in the South--and possibly the United States. It runs on weekends beginning in mid-September and then is held daily throughout October to the first week in November.
My husband, Jim, and I visited Helen for a couple weekdays at the end of October. Although the streets were bustling, it was not overcrowded. The only place we had to stand in line for anything was at Hofers Bakery and Cafe. But believe me, the apple bread was worth the wait!
The main attraction here during evenings is the Oktoberfest Hall, which offers food, Bavarian bands and polka dancing, if you feel like kicking up your heels.
We had a good meal at the Troll Tavern, located in the Castle Inn (1-877-878-3140).
Horse-drawn carriage rides are available in town, and the Black Forest Bear Park and the Alpine Antique Auto and Buggy Museum are interesting places to visit, not to mention Charlemagne's Kingdom, an amazing model railroad that replicates the German countryside in great detail.
There are plenty of other things to do and see around Helen, too. The Georgia gold rush occurred in this area in the late 1820s, and you can relive those days by panning for gold or sluicing for semi-precious stones at one of the local mines. I recommend Gold 'n Gem Grubbin' (1-706-865-5454) in Cleveland, about 7 miles south of Helen.
The Babyland General Hospital, where Cabbage Patch dolls are "born" daily, is located in Cleveland, too. Admission is free, although most folks can't resist the urge to buy one of the cute cuddly dolls.
The Old Sautee Store, which is about 4 miles east of Helen, is also worth visiting. The building is 126 years old and now serves as a museum filled with memorabilia. Be sure to get a free sample of gingersnaps and slogg, a Swedish drink. The store has an impressive troll doll collection, including rare albino trolls.
There are plenty of places to stay around here, from motel and hotel rooms in town to peaceful cabins, chalets and B&B's just outside of town. We stayed at a new bed-and-breakfast called Lucille's MountainTop Inn (1-866-245-4777) in Sautee, a few miles southeast of downtown Helen. Innkeeper and architect George Hlavenka designed the beautiful house himself. It glows with rich wood and sparkling glass, and every room includes a splendid view.
The view from the top of the mountain is well worth the short drive. On the third floor, a glassed-in room called the Crow's Nest provides a spectacular 360-degree view and a telescope for stargazing.
Fall is the most beautiful time of year to visit this region. The Blue Ridge Mountains are absolutely gorgeous when the leaves are at their peak color.
Whether you come to soak up the beauty, participate in Oktoberfest activities or experience the old-world Bavarian charm, I'm sure you'll enjoy your stay in Helen.
Before You Visit... Helen is in northeast Georgia on State Highway 17/75, about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta and approximately 9 miles northeast of U.S. Highway 129.
Be sure to make lodging reservations early if you plan a weekend visit during Octoberfest.
For more information about Helen and Oktoberfest call the Helen Welcome Center at 1-800-858-8027.
More to See... The Dahlonega Gold Museum, which chronicles the history of the state's gold rush, is in Dahlonega, about 35 miles southwest of Helen, where U.S. Highway 19 meets State Highway 52. For details, see page 40 of the July/Aug issue of Country Discoveries, call 1-706-864-2257.
The Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area features spectacular twin waterfalls that tumble 153 and 53 feet. The falls are located several miles north of Helen in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. To learn more call the Chattooga Ranger District, 1-706-754-6221