This historic town just an hour east of Atlanta is filled with antebellum charm.
Fuel Up at Jolene's
The best way to start your day in this historic town is with a cup of locally roasted java at Jolene's Perk Avenue Cafe & Coffeehouse. Choose the signature blend ($3 for a bottomless cup), or splurge with an Almond Joy ($4), a toasted almond latte with coconut and whipped cream. 111 West Jefferson Street; perkave.com or 706/342-2562
Hobnob with History
Now that you're perking, pay a visit to the Madison Welcome Center. Pick up a brochure, and begin your self-guided walking tour of the more than 50 antebellum sites in the city's downtown historic district. Two must-sees are located just down East Jefferson Street. Go past the courthouse and you'll find the Rogers House and Rose Cottage. (179 East Jefferson Street, 706/343-1090). Built in 1809, the Rogers House is Madison's oldest home and is open daily for tours. A couple of blocks over, the impressive Heritage Hall (277 South Main Street, 706/342-9627) becomes even more striking when you learn that the building didn't always occupy its present location. The 1811 Greek Revival mansion sat on a lot 200 feet away until it was dragged over logs to the current site in 1908. At the Welcome Center you can purchase a combination ticket to all three sites for $10. 115 East Jefferson Street; madisonga.org or 800/709-7406
From Heritage Hall, it's a short walk to the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center. Located in a restored Romanesque Revival schoolhouse, the center houses the room where Oliver Hardy of Laurel & Hardy fame attended first grade. (It's preserved just as it was when he attended.) The building also serves as the venue for Madison's performing-and-visual arts scene. This month the center welcomes the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit "New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music" (on display June 2-July 14). 434 South Main Street; mmcc-arts.org or 706/342-4743
Lunch in a Caboose
You may want to drive to Tequila Express Cafe since it's almost a mile from downtown. But once you enter the train car-turned-restaurant, you'll be glad you made the trip to enjoy its mix of light Mediterranean and Spanish fare. Get a taste of both by ordering the grilled shrimp tacos ($11) topped with a feta dressing. 270 West Washington Street; 706/342-0729
Do Some Shopping
Energize before hitting the shops by picking up a few hand-dipped chocolate Bulldog Bites ($2 each) from Antique Sweets (127 South Main Street, 706/342-0034). You'll need the energy because you can't go far in this town without stumbling on a treasure trove of antiques, collectibles, and trendy housewares. On South Main Street, get your fix of Coca-Cola memorabilia and vintage collectibles at J&K Fleas An'Tiques (184 South Main Street, 706/342-3009). You'll discover a more upscale mix at Madison Markets Antiques and Interiors, a 20,000-square-foot renovated cotton warehouse that houses some 75 dealers. Inside you'll find aisles of architectural salvage and antiques ranging from a pair of elaborately carved doors made on the island of Montserrat to vintage barware. 144 Academy Street; madisonmarkets.com or 706/342-8795
Hit the Town 220 Restaurant
After a few hours of antiquing, score a table at chef Francisco De La Torre's Town 220 Restaurant. Start with his sashimi ahi tuna ($12) or seared crab cakes ($9) served with a delicate tomato-basil sauce. End the night with the fresh berries Napoleon ($8), a crispy pastry stuffed with vanilla custard and a sea of hot caramel sauce. 220 West Washington Street; town220.com or 706/752-1445
And If You Decide to Stay the Night...
Reserve a room at The James Madison Inn, a boutique hotel tucked between Town 220 Restaurant and Madison Town Park. From its elegant lobby to the 19 rooms and suites (with in-room fireplaces, Sferra linens, and oversize rain showers big enough for two), you'll feel like you're staying in one of Madison's stately mansions. Rooms from $189, spa packages from $30. Keep an eye on your mailbox after you return home—The James Madison Inn's staff sends each guest a handwritten thank-you note. 260 West Washington Street; jamesmadisoninn.com or 706/342-7040