This piece originally appeared on TravelandLeisure.com.
Greenville, South Carolina
This small town, two hours from Atlanta, thinks big. Bob Jones Museum and Gallery has a collection of Italian paintings so impressive, curators from the Louvre have flown in to see it. Greenville also has 600 restaurants—not bad for a city of 60,000. Rent a bike at Pedal Chic, the country’s first cycling shop for women, and trek nine miles north on the Swamp Rabbit Trail until you reach The Café at Williams Hardware. Break for a scoop of pecan-encrusted chicken salad, then return to vibrant Main Street for a glass of wine and baked goat cheese at Passerelle. Sit on the patio, which overlooks River Falls in the town center.
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Follow US-19 north out of Atlanta, and 90 minutes later, you’ll dead end into Dahlonega, easily Georgia’s wine capital. Sure, every state in the nation has at least one winery, but even the most jaded oenophiles will be impressed by Dahlonega’s wine trail.
The red-clay soil in these parts is similar to that found in the Piedmont region of Italy, and it produces grapes ideal for everything from Viognier to Norton. Montaluce, arguably Dahlonega’s premier winery, resembles a massive Tuscan villa and serves seriously good food to accompany its selection of wines. Wolf Mountain, a darling of wine competitions, has sweeping views of its rolling vineyards, plus a killer brunch buffet. At Cavender Creek , a retired Atlanta schoolteacher makes all the wines himself, then serves them in a barn with live music while his pet dogs wander about. Frogtown Cellars plants a whopping 25 kinds of grapes to create wines for its four labels; try them in the tasting room along with a homemade panini. At Three Sisters, take in views of the winery’s namesake mountain while sipping everything from Cabernet Franc to an ice wine made with frozen Vidal Blanc grapes.
Located an hour northeast of Atlanta, Athens seems a bit like a large city trapped in a small town’s body. Its downtown is only five streets wide, but it teems with University of Georgia students discussing politics over coffee, award-winning restaurants serving Nouveau-Southern fare, and on-the-rise musicians playing in intimate venues. In the summer months, the crowds are manageable, the cocktails are strong, the vibe lively. While you’re here, pay homage to Athens’ storied music scene, which gave birth to bands like R.E.M., The B-52’s and Widespread Panic. Take a self-guided walking tour of its landmark concert halls and music stores, from the site of R.E.M.’s first-ever gig (held April 5, 1980, at a former Episcopal church) to Wuxtry Records, a dinosaur of a music shop that has sold obscure music and publications since 1975. After your tour, refuel at Five & Ten, which boasts the considerable talents of Chef/Owner Hugh Acheson of Top Chef fame.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians two hours north of Atlanta, charming Blue Ridge offers the perfect antidote to city life. Park your car on Main Street and hop onboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which departs from a historic depot. Choose either a climate-controlled vintage car or an open-air one as you follow the path carved by the Toccoa River. You’ll make one stop in McCaysville on the Tennessee border, where you can browse for gifts at Woodland Express Mini Mall. Once you’ve returned, walk a block from the depot to Southern Charm—and preemptively loosen your belt. As the restaurant’s name suggests, you’ll find gracious folks and all manner of fried food here, including a killer fried catfish served with hash brown casserole. If your tastes veer more toward “farm-to-table” than “fat-to-arteries,” try the lodge-like Harvest on Main, instead. Its owners source many ingredients from their own gardens and those of local purveyors to create dishes like seared Georgia trout with seasonal vegetables.
Allison Entrekin is an executive editor with Southbound Magazine and the Georgia Travel Guide. She covers the Southeastern United States beat for Travel + Leisure.Follow her @aweissentrekin.