The burning of Atlanta, for me, was one of the most poignant moments of the American Civil War. It truly epitomised the end of the Confederates' dream.
Modern-day Atlanta is a far cry from that devastating time. The city is vibrant, energetic, brash. However, fascinating as it may be, the State of Georgia has so much more to offer than just embedding oneself in Atlanta.
So, I headed north, basing myself with friends in beautiful Lake Arrowhead - a residential estate filled with forests, mountains and lakes. From here several tourist attractions are within easy striking range. It was early Spring and the snowy Bradford Pear, shy dogwoods and showy Red Buds were already displaying their ballgowns. The old American South was always synonymous with giddy balls and glorious dresses, so why should the trees not take on such a character as well.
To see nature in full finery, head for Gibbs Gardens, one of the most famous in the State. Started as a family estate in 1980, it has become a world-class garden set among natural forests. The owners proudly proclaim that "the artistry of superior landscape design melds with the perfection of nature to create a garden experience like no other." The gardens have won over 250 awards.
Actually, I was quite surprised at the size of the gardens - more compact than expected. Although the 300-acre estate boasts 16 garden venues, one can easily walk around in a few hours, taking in spring-fed ponds, streams, waterfalls and ornamental bridges. While a tram transports those who have difficulty with walking, if you are able-bodied, walking is the best way to absorb it all. To our delight the cherry blossoms were in full bloom during our visit. This happens for only one week in the year. There are four feature gardens: daffodils (more than 20 million blooms over 50 acres); the Manor House gardens designed to offer different colours in spring, summer and fall, as well as sweeping views down over the gardens; the Japanese Gardens; and the Monet waterlily gardens (with 140 varieties of these delicate blooms).
Incidentally the owners still live in the Manor House, so it's up to visitors not to put nose to windows in order to peer into their private domain.
In one garden, sculptures of children at play add charm, Japanese maples bring a blaze to autumn. Azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas make sure they are not outdone in the colouring competition at different times of the year. The tea gardens are in great demand and the gift shop has some really classy, irresistable items on display. There is nothing tacky, tawdry or typical of day-tripper mentos anywhere in sight...but be prepared to pay accordingly. I would have loved to take home just one of Carol Gadek Skapinetz's exquisite paintings of the gardens.
Needless to say, my budget did not run to this. The Blue Ridge scenic railway is another great attraction. Tracks were first laid in 1886 and the railway has played an important role in the area ever since. The train leaves the 100-year-old depot in downtown Blue Ridge and travels to the twin border towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennesee, where it stops at one or the other for two hours, so visitors can explore, before returning to the starting point. There are also special trips such as the Easter Eggspress; one that has a fireworks display around American Independence Day; the Pumpkin Express around Halloween; a Santa Express and on New Year's Eve.
Stop for tea in Blue Ridge (the town is full of character), or at one of the wonderful restaurants in the surrounding countryside where all finds of tasty fare and fruits are on offer.
If you are into adventure sports, try out one of Georgia's Adventure Lodge. Among the activities at one in Amicaloloa Falls State Park in Dawsonville are survivalist camping, archery, ziplining, hiking and fitness trails. Then in the evening, you can settle in a rocking chair on the porch of one of the cabins and soak up the view.
Gibbs Gardens www.gibbsgardens.com
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. You can buy tickets on line at brscenic.com
Adventure Lodges www.GaAdventureLodge.com