Bavarian Georgia? Not an anomaly, but a town that rebounded from economic doomsday in the 1960’s to a tourist attraction with over 2 million visitors annually. Gold was discovered in the area in 1828 that began the Great Georgia Gold Rush. When that died down, the timber rush began. Then the railroad came up the Chattahoochee Valley to Helen, which was named in 1913 for a railroad surveyor’s daughter. In 1968 shop owners decided drastic action was needed to improve their business district, and over the next year this typical southern small town was transformed into an alpine village. Oktoberfest draws thousands of visitors for the festival and fall leaves.
I had a little car trouble this trip: I was on the way to Clayton when my car suddenly veered to the right and I ended up at the Rabun Flea Market. I have tried to wean myself from this addiction, but my car already has a rut worn from my house to every junk – excuse me – treasure stop in a 100-mile radius! OK, so my yard could use a “Sanford & Son” sign at the end of my driveway, but it’s not the stuff that counts – it’s the thrill of the hunt. Every bargain hunter’s ideal is to find a $10 million Rembrandt for $5.00 or at the very least a $698 fully automatic boot polisher for $2.50! It doesn’t matter that it is useless. A bargain is a trophy to mount next to the 12-point buck in the den.
Back on the road again, I passed several Georgia Parks and waterfalls. This is a very scenic drive through forest and farmland. The Town of Helen suddenly materialized out of the countryside like a fairytale splash of color after so many miles of green. I started my tour in a wind chime shop, which is like heaven on earth to me. From there I walked down one of the many colorful alleys in town, with an arch at each end and little shops on each side. This village and countryside are great places for photographers. Remember that the bright white of the buildings will affect your exposure reading. Step into the shade of the alley to take a picture of it.
Most of the shops are close together so it is easy to walk from one to another. There are benches scattered everywhere to sit and enjoy a square of fudge or a funnel cake. (Don’t miss out on this confection pulled right from the clouds and covered with powdered sugar) The air itself carries an advertisement for every type of eatery you can imagine. Unique gifts invite you into one shop after another: trolls from Sweden, steins from Germany, wizards, tee shirts, etc, etc. I was particularly impressed with the reasonable prices in the shops I visited. You don’t go to a place like this without expecting to spend some money, but I believe most people could enjoy the day or weekend here for less than they would expect.
My car must have been as tired as I was on the way home – we passed by a sign that offered “Free Junk” without stopping.
Directions: 441south 22 miles to Clayton; right on Hwy 76 west at Dairy Queen 13 miles; then left on Hwy 197 south 11 miles; right on Hwy 356 11 miles; left on Hwy 17/75 for a short distance to Helen.