When you get out of Atlanta and hit the narrow asphalt ribbons of the Georgian countryside, time stands still. Pine forests and flowering trees flank the roads winding up to gentle elevations. Charming cottages and commercial streets (invariably called Main) cluster into towns so tiny they have no need for stoplights. Among the most charming of these is Pine Mountain, population 1,336. Made famous in the 1920s by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came to the area to bathe in the hot springs and eventually built a clapboard cottage, today Pine Mountain is known for its pristine nature, its friendly small-town atmosphere, and the breathtaking Callaway Gardens.
Miles from Naples: 596
Why Go: Perhaps it’s the crisp air of the high country, or maybe the genteel character that harkens back to the Old South, but the lure of Pine Mountain is irresistible. Even hard-core city folks have been known to put away their mobiles and stretch out on a rocking chair under an oak canopy.
A burst of color at Callaway Gardens.
Natural High: Being in nature’s embrace is one of the main reasons to visit Pine Mountain. The prime attraction is Callaway Gardens, a 6,500-acre complex with gardens, woodland, lakes, trails, and interpretive activities. In the summer, Robin Lake Beach is the main attraction, offering water-ski tournaments, the Florida State University Flying High Circus, a floating playground, and family activities galore. The highlight is the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival on Labor Day Weekend.
The Chapel at Callaway
Other attractions at Callaway include the world’s largest azalea garden, birds of prey shows, fishing, golf, and a butterfly conservatory that puts guests in the midst of fluttering wings.
Roosevelt’s Little White House at FDR State Park.
Photo by Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Pine Mountain also houses Georgia’s largest state park, named for Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sprawled across 9,000 acres on the mountain slopes, FDR State Park is a terrific spot for camping (cabins also available), hiking, picnicking, and horseback riding across 28 miles of trails. FDR’s vacation cottage, the Little White House, is located near the park and worth seeing. Every year, some 100,000 visitors come to the house-cum-museum to see FDR’s wheelchair, leg braces, and 1940 Willys roadster. One of the most fascinating items on view is the unfinished portrait for which FDR was sitting when he suffered a fatal stroke.
interior of Little White House (above) and the horse stables at FDR State Park (below). Photo by Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Try This: At Callaway Gardens, the Treetop Adventure (right) gives a whole new meaning to the traditional ropes course. The in-air obstacle course presents 34 challenges, ranging from balancing logs to swinging horizontal ladders perched as high as 70 feet above the forest floor. The course covers 3,000 horizontal feet, but some of that distance is covered quickly through zip lines that whiz you across the canopy or over water. Thrill seekers, this is your ticket.
Where to Sleep: The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens is situated within the gardens complex, meaning it is ensconced within 6,000 acres of pristine nature. The surrounding pine forests and lakes lend a feeling of seclusion and tranquility, though in reality the property is close to dining, shopping, and Pine Mountain attractions.
Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, The Lodge looks and feels like a mountain chalet—with a Southern accent. From the lobby fireplace that burns year-round to the excellent regional dishes (the Hoppin’ John salmon is a personal favorite) of the Piedmont Grille, everything comes together beautifully to give a sense of place.
When at the Lodge:
- Get a signature hot stone massage at Spa Prunifolia. Therapists use natural basalt stones from Pine Mountain and botanicals from the gardens.
- Take a walk in the woods surrounding the property and winding around Robin Lake Beach (below).
- Order s’mores for two—a campfire classic—at Piedmont Grille and enjoy by the fire.
- Purchase a bottle of Callaway Cellar Selection wine, produced by members of the same family that established Callaway Gardens, and enjoy on your suite balcony overlooking the forest.