This historic town just an hour east of Atlanta is filled with antebellum charm.
Historic Downtown
Madison's historic downtown boasts more than 50 antebellum buildings.
| Credit: Courtesy Van Jones Martin

10 a.m.
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; or 706/342-2562

11 a.m.
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; or 800/709-7406

Get Schooled
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; or 706/342-4743

1:30 p.m.
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

3 p.m.
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; or 706/342-8795

6 p.m.
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; 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; or 706/342-7040