Lounging on the Lake

This sleepy North Alabama hamlet lures those in search of a restful weekend.

Many folks sneak off to Guntersville because the community wraps itself around one of the state's prettiest patches of fresh water--Lake Guntersville. However, the city of roughly 7,600 holds a few shopping and dining surprises that could have easily been plucked from much more urban areas such as Birmingham (65 miles southwest) and Huntsville (45 miles northwest). You're here for the lake, though, and its calming qualities will ease you through this relaxing weekend.

Friday--Getting a Feel for The Place
Upon arrival, drive down Gunter Avenue, the town's main drag, and stop for a late lunch at Covington's Café & Catering. This quaint eatery with the atmosphere of a tearoom serves up an excellent chicken salad sandwich on a croissant ($5.25).

While you're in the area, discover The Rock House Flowers, Gardens and Gifts, a unique home and garden shop. Because it was built as a residence in 1926, the current owners have utilized the space as it was intended, arranging the shop to seem as if you are walking into someone's home. In addition to antiques and decor items, The Rock House also carries cut flowers and plants.

Guntersville offers a few lodging options, and your best bet is the Hampton Inn on U.S. 431. Rates start at $89 a night, with check-in at 3 p.m.; (256) 582-4176.

For dinner, make reservations at Bistro La Luna ([256] 582-0930), located in Covenant Cove, a lodge and marina down on the water. We liked the Seafood al' a Campoli ($20) with sautéed lump crabmeat, shrimp, and scallops tossed in a wine sauce with angel hair pasta.

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Saturday--Hit the Lake
Wake up to breakfast at Wanda's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor, a short order-style diner downtown. For almost 23 years, owner Wanda Poole has kept locals happy with her country cooking. Try the 2+2+2 breakfast special--two eggs, two pieces of bacon, and two slices of toast ($2.95).

While you're in town, stop by Southern Pines to see what Dennis and Suzanne Goldasich have brought back from their latest European excursion. Almost every inch of the 13,000-square-foot building is full of French and English antique furniture, a nice collection of handmade Oriental rugs, and other imported pieces.

Grab your lunch to go at Simmons Barbecue (it's drive-through only), where we liked the pork sandwich ($2.19) a little better than the beef ($2.49), and make your way down to the lake for a picnic.

We suggest setting up your picnic inside Lake Guntersville State Park at the free public beach area. If you want more privacy, another option is to follow a walking trail that begins in front of the chamber of commerce (200 Gunter Avenue) and winds down to the lake. Into angling? Pack your tackle, because this is one of the top-rated largemouth bass fishing lakes in the country.

While you're cleaning up at the hotel, make dinner reservations at La Strada ([256] 582-2250). Originally from Switzerland, owners Markus and Beatrice Bischof serve seafood as well as cuisine that blends tastes from Italy and California. Despite the sophisticated menu, the restaurant still holds a comfortable family atmosphere. We started with the fried calamari ($8) and chose the grilled salmon ($18) as an entrée. Definitely save room for the homemade crème brûlée ($6).

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Sunday--Take a Drive
Rise for a stack of three pancakes with ham ($4.99) at Reid's Restaurant, another local diner just down the hill from your hotel.

Not surprisingly, most businesses downtown are closed today. Consider a 30-minute drive to Cathedral Caverns State Park in Grant ($8 adults, $5 ages 6-12; no credit cards). Park rangers lead guided tours into one of the largest cave openings in the world. Pack a jacket, because the caverns stay a cool 60 degrees.

You could also drive 20 minutes southeast on U.S. 431 to Boaz, home to three outlet malls with more than 80 shops (www.shopboaz.com).

Of course, you can always drift to the lake one last time and lie around making plans for your next trip to Guntersville.

Getting on the Lake
A few marinas in town offer boat and other watercraft rentals. Their service agreements authorize you to drive the boat even if you don't have an Alabama boating license.

  • Guntersville Boat Mart: (256) 582-2038. Rates: 4- to 12-person pontoon boats ($120-$170 half-day, $145-$195 full day); three-seater personal watercraft ($40 per hour plus gas).  
  • Covenant Cove: (256) 582-1384. Rates: 8- to 10-person pontoon boats ($100 half-day, $170 full day); kayaks ($8 per hour, $25 half-day).

For more information: Contact the Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-582-6282 or www.marshallcountycvb.com. Or contact The Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce at (256) 582-3612, 1-800-869-5253, or www.lakeguntersville.org.

This article is from the July 2004 issue of Southern Living. 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.

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