When the pace of city life gets to be too much, it might be time for a trip to Callaway. For seven decades, the 2,500 acres at this Southern resort and gardens have been a soothing tonic to visitors in need of some nature. The location is about an hour and a half south of Atlanta, and less than three hours from Birmingham, Alabama – the sort of easy drive that makes it a good last-minute weekend getaway. Like any smart resort these days, Callaway has year-round pleasures — golf, a spa, lake sports and bike-riding — but it also excels at one-of-a-kind events. Some families like to come in December for the Fantasy in Lights holiday show, while others prefer September’s Hot Air Balloon festival or Steeplechase in November; a new food & wine festival, aptly called Sip & Savor, coincides with the beginning of spring blooms and might be good for a girlfriend getaway.
Where to begin? Here’s a curated itinerary for a weekend experience at Callaway.
Check in to the Lodge at Callaway (rooms from approximately $189/night), a newer option tucked into the woods with views overlooking Robin Lake or the pool. Stash your bags if the room isn’t ready, but make sure to grab your pass to the gardens, where the next adventure awaits.
Drive to the entrance and start meandering through wooded roads following signs towards the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center. (The fact that Callaway’s gardens are so spread out is both good and bad. It’s not a walkable experience since the resort was founded in a time when automobile was king, but then again, a place that forces you to slowly drive around lakes, maybe spotting an egret here and there … that’s a good thing.) At the butterfly center, you’ll be delighted by the resort’s signature nature experience: Thousands of butterflies flutter around tropical plants in a glass conservatory … and you might even have the opportunity to hold one.
That evening, plan to dine at Callaway’s newest place to gather and eat — Cason’s Tap Room, a casually chic pub located at the Lodge. The vibe is modern-rustic, with a clever design touch of using old black-and-white photographs depicting Callaway’s history as wallpaper. Start with a couple of craft beers or cocktails (we liked the Scarlett Belle) and the Hoppin’ John pimento dip, their tasty take on pimento cheese with a little andouille sausage and black-eyed peas mixed in. For dinner, the chicken Oscar or citrus salmon are reliable lighter entrées, and save room for the decadent chocolate spoon cake!
On Saturday morning, relax and order room service, going for something a little hearty like the make-your-own omelet, since you’ll be exercising a bit afterward. After breakfast, drive to Callaway’s Discovery Center and pick up some bicycles to explore the grounds. Well-maintained bike trails can take you on as long or as short a ride as you’d like. SB TIP: Do the loop that takes you to scenic places such as the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel, Azalea Bowl (a don’t-miss in spring), the Pioneer Log Cabin and numerous lakes.
In the afternoon, drop off the bikes and pick up one of the light lunches at the Discovery Café before heading back to the Lodge. Plan to relax all afternoon at the adjacent Callaway Spa. Their popular offerings include a Couple’s Massage for Two, Detox & Renew Body Treatment or a Wellness Soak (treatments start at $70). Go early and stay late to make use of the facilities: a steam room, sauna and relaxation room with snacks.
Come dinnertime, grab a table outside on the porch and savor the view at The Gardens Restaurant, the resort’s fine-dining option overlooking the golf course. The asparagus salad has a nice combination of savory and sweet with its candied pecans, cranberries, local farm cheese and lemon-thyme vinaigrette. The Georgia striped bass keeps the theme local and comes with risotto and seasonal vegetables.
On your final day, enjoy breakfast at the Lodge before selecting from several outdoorsy options. Golfers won’t want to miss the two top-notch golf courses on the property. (The Mountain View Course served as home to PGA’s Buick-sponsored tournament for more than a dozen years.) Looking for something a little more active? The resort now has a Treetop Adventure and zip-lining experience, ranging from 44- to 700-feet-high courses among the trees. Participants are always in a harness and get plenty of instruction beforehand. Feeling a little lazy? Robin Lake Beach offers the best of a lake and beach combined, with a sandy shore and a gentle current. Sun-lovers can sit and relax or take a boat out.
So much of Callaway has a retro feeling, but none more so than the Country Store and Country Kitchen, located about a mile outside the garden gates. Pick up some of the resort’s signature muscadine preserves, and then try the fried chicken and waffles in the restaurant, adding a little more small-town charm before heading home, a weekend well-spent.
Callaway Resort & Gardens is located at 17800 US Hwy. 27, Pine Mountain, GA 31822. Learn more and book a visit at callawaygardens.com.
All photography by Lisa Mowry.
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