Friday, February 6, 2015

Flashback to a little old inn in a Georgia mountain town

It was midnight, after a 13-hour trip, when we arrived at Dillard, a tiny Southern mountain town at the tip of Northeast Georgia, by car. It was raining, and the car windows were fogging up a bit, so much in fact, that had it not been for some strategically-placed Christmas lights on the side of the road, we would have missed the last right turn on our paper map, a turn that would lead us up a twisting, winding road–City Hall to the left, an old cemetery to the right, and what appeared to be a miniature village of cottages and farmland straight ahead. It was December 2009. Our destination: the Dillard House, an inn nearly a century old, that a couple named Arthur and Carrie Dillard had lived in, then opened–as a single stone house–to boarders in 1917.

Located in the Little Tennessee River Valley, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, and just south of the North Carolina border, Dillard is a 1.5 square mile city that only 200 or so people call home. We decided on visiting the spectacular little old inn in the little old mountain town because a couple that I used to babysit for, much older but very similar to us, had described just how relaxing and therapeutic their stay had been, and told us that if we visited, we would surely return home just as relaxed and much more in touch with ourselves and with nature than ever before.

A small town, Dillard's southern hospitality was like no other. From the tiny neighborhood bar that closed at 7 p.m. sharp every day, to the mom-and-pop art and jewelry store, to Shelby’s Consignment Shop–a thrift store on Main Street (every small town worth visiting has a Main Street, right?)–the service we received at each locale was unparalleled, and better yet, genuine.

Everything about the place was magical. Lazy horses grazed behind the hotel’s cottages, baby goats (my new fave animal, btw) begged for snacks at the petting zoo while potbellied pigs lounged in the shade. From one day to the next the rain turned to snow, stars twinkled at night–we were sure we had never seen as many stars in our lives–and dining was a near-spiritual experience.

The Dillard House is famous for its restaurant’s family-style menu, and it's said that depending on the season, 800 to 3,000 visitors per day–including well-known guests in the past like Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Jimmy Carter–dine there.

Every meal at the Dillard House is a special affair. Fried chicken, Virginia sugar-cured ham, country steak, savory prime rib, potatoes au gratin, green beans, creamed corn, sweet glazed carrots, steamed broccoli, cornbread, and cobbler a la mode are only some of the provisions served for dinner on any given night, and guests never have to go through the trouble of choosing what they'd like to order. Because the Dillard House restaurant is all-you-can-eat, food continues to be brought out until diners say they can’t eat anymore.

We most certainly gained weight on our first and only stay in Dillard, but we also attempted to work it off, first with snow tubing in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina, and then hiking at the Tallulah Gorge, a two-mile-long canyon with six grand waterfalls and rocky cliffs up to 1,000 feet high. A three-day visit in Dillard was long enough, I guess, but it wasn't long enough for us. We wished we could stay forever.

Reluctantly, the same as we arrived, we left close to midnight on Day 4. After packing up our bags, buying an assortment of jams, jellies and butter to take home (all of which I dropped and broke later, before getting to eat/share them), and bidding our farewells to the innkeepers, we loaded up the car. As we drove down the twisting, winding road–City Hall to our right, the old cemetery to our left, and only darkness ahead of us–we wondered when we would return. Five years or so later, I am still hoping, soon.

MORE TO SEE/DO/EAT/DRINK: We didn't get to ride horses on our trip because of the snow, but if this is an activity you like, Dillard is a great place to explore on horseback. Yesterday's Treasures for antiques and the Rabun Gap Flea Market, which is weird and, might I say, even a bit intimidating (I recall there being guns and ammo for sale--things might've changed since then) but also cool. One of my fondest memories from this trip was breakfast at the Cupboard Cafe. Not only was the food tasty, but a happy, redheaded woman working at the restaurant made a stop at our table just to say, in her syrupy Southern accent, that I was the most exotic girl she'd ever seen. In a town of 200, this is not remarkable, but the compliment made my day, nonetheless. 

*Wish I had better pics, but it seems that in 2009 I was particularly fond of photographing landmark signs. 

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