Find Bavaria in Helen, Georgia
The echo of polka music drifts through the small alpine village nestled in surrounding lush hillsides. A peaceful, dreamy kind-of-day encourages visitors to leisurely stroll by charming, Bavarian-designed shops. While farther ahead, bistros emanate aromas of rich, tantalizing sausages and frothy German beer in the scenic mountain town of Helen, Georgia.
The enchanting Bavarian town of Helen, residing on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, is tucked into in Georgia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and is located 75-miles from Atlanta.
Originally, the community of Helen began as settlers arrived in the early 1900s, mined for gold, and cut timber for the booming lumber industry. As the town began to wane in the late ‘60s, local businessmen created a plan to revitalize Helen. With the vision and drawing talents of a local artist who had been stationed in Germany and the natural surrounding area resembling Deutschland’s alpine region, the renovation of Helen into a Bavarian town began. Forty years later, the town has burgeoned into a lovely Alpine village that draws over 2 million visitors annually.
Moreover, as the third most popular destination in Georgia, Helen and surrounding White County have a great deal to offer visitors. From horseback riding, golf, camping, canoeing, river tubing, excellent fishing, hiking, biking, Bavarian shopping and one of the best and longest Oktoberfests in the U.S., Helen is a perfect locale for a superb holiday getaway.
Downtown HelenHelen is truly charming, landscaped with multitudes of blooming flowers and vine-covered porticos, set against a crystal-clear running river and horse-drawn carriages conveying visitors along scenic venues and forested foothills. The town’s easily walkable Main Street is lined on both sides with colorful Black Forest-styled shops filled with European goods and gifts. Local artisans are also in attendance with their products of fine glassware and pottery, intermixed with unique shops such as Magic & Mischief (cool magic shop) and Dream Catcher, offering beautifully crafted Indian arts. And, if you’re looking for a Delft porcelain, Windmill Dutch Imports purveys an impressive selection of reasonably-priced Delft treasures and Dutch food specialties.
Walk across the street to King’s courtyard, adorned with an alpine stone water fountain that leads to dozens of alluring shops. Specialty toy stores, sport shops, fine china, gorgeous German porcelain dolls and fabulous apparel are just a few of the shops to peruse. However, one store is a must visit, Hansel and Gretel, the best candy kitchen in northern Georgia. The family-owned business started in Helen some 30-years ago, producing hand-made delicious confections of divine peanut brittle, chocolates, pecan pralines, butter toffee and a host of additional sweet delights that make the candy kitchen a first stop for many visitors.
There are an abundance of excellent dinning options in town; three recommended establishments are Nacoochee Grill, Hofer’s Of Helen Bakery-Konditorei- Cafe, and Café International. The café is a full-scale restaurant that features a covered outdoor dining section built out over the picturesque and forested Chattahoochee River. This is a popular café due to the locale and they offer a myriad of wonderful cuisine specialties from several European countries as well as American. Hofer’s is downright famous in Georgia and features authentic German cooking; their Bavarian bakery is to die for, as well as their luscious breakfast and lunch menu. The atmosphere is busy but comfortable and they offer outdoor seating as well. Nacoochee Grill, located on South Main Street, proffers fine cuisine encompassing continental specialties with a gourmet regional flair and live wood fire grill. The restaurant’s historical house reflects a tasteful accompaniment to the simple yet upscale farmhouse décor.
Festivals and EventsThroughout the year, Helen is brimming with festivals, dances, events and the especially popular Oktoberfest that begins in mid-September and lasts through October. Christmas season is also special with parades, Christmas markets, stunning lights, traditional decorations and celebrations that are heart-warming and fun. Visit HelenGA.org or additional information.
Black Forest Bear and Reptile ExhibitJust before entering into downtown Helen on Main Street, visitors will find a special park, the Black Forest Bear and Reptile Exhibit. The bear park rescued black bears, a Grizzly, Syrian Grizzly, Asian and Cinnamon bears from being destroyed. The bears are well-cared for by the park and provide visitors an educational and close-up look at these majestic and fascinating animals. At certain times of day, visitors are even allowed to feed the bears (from a very safe vantage point) a variety of fruits provided by the park.
The Reptile Exhibit is exciting for snake enthusiasts and showcases Boas, Pythons and most native snakes to Georgia. The Bear Park is a fun place to visit for the family and their large gift shop is a blast to peruse.
Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Travel Writers Alliance (ITWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger, Seattle Weekly and the Oregonian. As a freelance photojournalist, she has also worked with acclaimed musical entertainers, such as Santana, Billy Joel and Steven Tyler. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.