Callaway Gardens, one of the loveliest resorts in the South, began as a retreat for just one family. Today it's a popular getaway for many. Visitors from all over come to Pine Mountain, Georgia, to enjoy the natural beauty of the gardens and participate in a host of activities that range from strolling down paths lined with azaleas to hiking, biking, fishing, and golfing. While the reasons for visiting the gardens are many, the best time to go is any time. It's perfect for a day trip but even better for an overnight stay in the lodge or in a cottage.
In the early 1930s industrialist Cason Callaway discovered a rare plumleaf azalea growing on a pretty piece of property called Blue Springs, near Hamilton, Georgia. He bought the land to use as a weekend getaway. But Cason Callaway had a dream, a 2,500-acre dream that opened to the public in May of 1952. Since then, thousands have made the pilgrimage to Callaway Gardens each year, especially when the azaleas are in gorgeous full bloom.
The original masses of azaleas, growing in an area called the Overlook Garden, still dazzle visitors. But a new 40-acre garden, the Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl, was opened in 1999 with more than 5,000 native and exotic azaleas.
Beauty is easy to find here. It bursts into bloom each spring, then unfolds in summer like a patchwork quilt patterned with wildflowers. You see it reflected in the tranquil lakes that spread like mirrors across the valleys and find it fluttering in the foliage of the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center.
Fun comes with Callaway's 63 holes of golf, including the top-rated Mountain View Golf Course, home of the PGA Tour's Buick Challenge. It rides with the cyclists who take on the 10-mile Discovery Bicycle Trail. And it anticipates the strike of a trophy-size fish on Mountain Creek Lake.
Overlooking Mountain Creek Lake is the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center, named for the cofounder of the gardens, Cason Callaway's wife. the center tells visitors about the history of the gardens and the wonders they hold.
The Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel was built of native quartzite fieldstone in the English Gothic style. The chapel casts its refection on one of the many small lakes that dot the landscape.
And the gardener in each of us can appreciate the exotic plants in the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center and marvel at the neat rows growing in Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden.
Callaway Gardens is lovely when morning dew glistens like diamonds on the radiant blossoms, but it's even more magical as evening approaches. Pick a spot beside one of the lakes to watch the last rays of sunlight weave golden threads on the water before night falls like a velvet curtain on nature's beautiful show.
Bicycles and helmets may be rented at the Discovery Center. At the boathouse on Mountain Creek Lake, you'll find fishing gear and guides. You can also visit the Butterfly Center, the Birds of Prey exhibit and the Sibley Horticultural Center.
There are a number of restaurants on the grounds of Callaway Gardens. Fine dining is available at The Georgia Room. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets are specialties at the Plantation Room. Champions is perfect for a sandwich between rounds of golf. Veranda Restaurant offers Italian cuisine. The Mountain Creek Café offers quick salads and sandwiches. The Gardens Restaurant features Southern entrées at lunch and steaks and seafood at dinner. Pizzas and subs dominate the menu at the Flower Mill. And for a country-style meal, there's the Country Kitchen.
Rates at Callaway Gardens Inn start at $139; rates for garden cottages and villas start at $251. Two-day admission is included in overnight rates.
WHEN YOU GO
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission: $12 adults, $6 ages 6-12 for a single-day ticket, $13 and $7.50 for a two-day ticket. Directions: Callaway Gardens is 60 minutes southwest of Atlanta and 30 minutes north of Columbus. From I-85 or I-185, exit east on State 18.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Callaway Gardens: P.O. Box 2000, Pine Mountain, GA 31822; (706) 663-2281, 1-800-225-5292, or www.callawaygardens.com.
Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.