A leisurely one-hour drive from Atlanta on I-20 East puts you in the heart of Georgia’s Lake Country. It’s a delightful place to be. Ideal for everything from traditional tours and family reunions to girlfriend getaways and golf trips, the region is packed with fun.
With Lakes Oconee and Sinclair running through the area and bordered by the Oconee National Forest, the region is an agreeable mix of outdoor adventure and charming, historic small towns. With “Lakes” in the name it just stands to reason that water sports take center stage.
A favorite resort of planners, Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee has 180 spacious guestrooms and a full menu of options. With stunning views of the lake, the resort offers kayaking, paddle boats, chartered boat tours and fishing. The appropriately named Waterside Restaurant and its catering staff are ready to provide a memorable event. The highly regarded Cuscowilla golf course is just one of a dozen courses you can play in the Lake Region.
Five of those courses with names from golf’s elite designers – Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Tom Fazio and Bob Cupp – are found at Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation. There’s no arguing the beauty of the golf courses and the Plantation’s grounds, but a great way to explore the sights of Lake Oconee is a guided Segway tour. For non-motorized activities on the lake, consider kayak, canoe, pedal boat or paddle board rentals. Pontoon boats and jet skis rentals, plus guided history and eco tours, are all waiting for you at this 2013 AAA Five Diamond Lodging luxury hotel.
Greensboro, considered Lake Oconee’s hometown, is located halfway between Atlanta and Athens and the ideal first stop on your Lake Country adventure. Here are three must-dos in Greensboro:
- Shops in the historic downtown abound with arts and antiques, apparel and accessories, and gifts and home décor. The largest collection of antiques is found in the Greensboro Antique Mall. Across the street, Genuine Georgia offers Georgia-made treasures. Traditions Old and New offers a warm Greensboro welcome and a wide selection of gifts.
- Having one best-in-Georgia acknowledgement is good. Having two justifies a visit. The tough decision is where to go first. The Potted Geranium Tea Parlor (best tearoom in Georgia by teamap.com) has six tearooms and is surrounded by exquisite gardens. Scones with clotted cream and jam are delightful. Offering American Southern fare and desserts, the Yesterday Cafe is perfect for lunch or dinner. The buttermilk pie has been recognized by Southern Living magazine as the best in Georgia.
- When planning your visit to the Lake Country, be certain to check Greensboro’s Festival Hall events schedule for an evening option. Built in 1939, the performing arts venue and the Greene County Players welcome groups.
Madison, conveniently located off I-20, has one of the state’s premier historic districts and has been recognized by Budget Travel Magazine as one of the “World’s Top 16 Most Picturesque Villages.” There’s much to see and do in Madison, but three options stand out:
- Heritage Hall, an exquisite example of Greek Revival architecture, stands witness to when the cotton industry prospered. The authentically decorated home, built in 1811 by Dr. Elijah E. Jones, serves as the headquarters of the Morgan County Historical Society. Be sure to notice the window etchings and ghost bedroom!
- From Madison, embark on a “Farmeander tour” promoting agritourism and local Georgia foods. Touching nine farms in Morgan County, this self-guided tour is a great way to discover the bounty of the land and gives real meaning to “farm to table.” A map is available with all the specifics.
- How many of us grew up visiting our community park and listening to those wonderful rhythms flowing from the bandbox? Your groups can relive that experience at Madison’s Town Park. The downtown green space venue is the centerpiece of shopping and dining options and comes alive with music almost every weekend. Check the performance schedule to see what will get your group dancing in the streets.
Although no Civil War battles were fought in Eatonton and Putnam County, the Union army of Gen. William T. Sherman did pass through, destroying all productive buildings. The wealth of the pre-Civil War era was wiped out, but many antebellum and Victorian structures remain to this day. Georgia Power’s creation of Lake Sinclair in 1953 and Lake Oconee in 1979 was the beginning of the tourism and recreation industries in Eatonton. Here are three treasures to include in your Lake Country tour:
- Crooked Pines Farm owner Duncan Criscoe brought 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry when he and wife Angela decided to make a business serving quality products from their family farm. Central to the farm is The Barn with a regular series of events from canning instruction to music festivals. My choice would be a nice country breakfast with time to visit the animals. You’ll find them ready to go out of their way for groups of all sizes.
- Authors Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker are a favorite son and daughter of Eatonton. A visit to the Uncle Remus Museum remembers Harris, who always claimed he was just collecting stories. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple is honored with the Alice Walker Driving Tour that includes a stop at Southern Manor Farm, her childhood home.
- Be certain to plan your Eatonton visit around a performance at the Plaza Arts Center. The Old Grade School has been renovated to include a 500-seat theater showcasing local, national and international music, plays and dance. Along with the arts center is the Old School History Museum, whose timeline includes the area’s earliest Native American settlers and Sherman’s visit.
Located at the southern tip of Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville holds a unique place in the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s the only place a train has ever stopped for a red light! You should probably stop for much longer than a red light. Sightseeing highlights include:
- The Sallie Ellis Davis house might not be the most impressive on South Clarke Street. However, the remarkable story of Davis’s life is reason enough for a visit. She was the child of an African-American woman and a white father who provided for her education at Atlanta University. Upon returning to Milledgeville in 1912, she served as a teacher and principal until retirement in 1949 and was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement in 2000. Her renovated home serves as an African-American cultural center.
- Andalusia was the home of author Flannery O’Connor from 1951 until her death in 1964. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Andalusia was a dairy farm operated by O’Connor’s mother. The main house has been magnificently restored, and many of the support buildings are following that course. O’Connor’s keen interest in domestic birds is exemplified by the aviary’s magnificent peacocks.
- The Old Governor’s Mansion, completed in 1839, served as the residence for Georgia governors for more than 30 years. The Union army occupied the house, and it’s believed that Gen. Sherman planned the Atlanta Campaign from the dining room. A National Historic Landmark, the historic house museum has been restored to its antebellum glory. Throughout December the mansion is festooned in authentic pre-Civil War Christmas decor.
As you might realize, it’s not all about the 19,000 acres of water in Georgia’s Lake Country. However, like any local might tell you, there’s no better way to begin your visit then enjoying some lake time.