You Don't Have to Fly to Germany to Taste Bavaria
Hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an hour north of Atlanta, Helen is a true to life model of an Alpine village straight out of the Bavarian Alps. Helen is a great little place offering a real taste of Bavaria – complete with Alpine architecture, dressed in the distinct blue and white colors, Bavarian food and of course the beer and Oktoberfest.
The Cherokee Indians were the original settlers and lived in the area before 1800. Gold was discovered in 1828 and gold fever took hold. Miners poured in to the valleys around Helen. The leading mining sites were the England Gold Mine (this is still in use) and Hamby Mountain. When gold mining petered out around 1900 settlers started moving into Helen and the surrounding hills. Lumbar was the next big thing. The area had plentiful forests and saw mills were built to produce timber which was shipped all over the U.S. and Europe. This industry too fell into decline and by the 1960s Helen’s future looked bleak. The city elders decided to reinvent Helen. A local artist drew up a new vision for Helen using Bavarian designs and colors. Helen was to be reinvented as an Alpine village. The architecture of buildings, shops and homes would be redone to reflect the new vision. Streets would be cobbled and renamed. The artist picked to visualize the new Helen had lived in Germany. He drew on his experience to project Helen as a small town very like the ones he had seen in Bavaria. Helen embraced the concept and began rebuilding in earnest. Dull and dreary walls were painted over with bright Alpine scenes. Paintings showing the early life of settlers appeared on buildings to illustrate the town’s history. Bavarian designs with the distinctive blue and white diamonds became the dominating motif in Helen. A robust, new, and thriving community emerged from a tired old settlement. A strikingly beautiful village – a slice of Bavaria came into being deep in the mountains of Georgia. And the tourists poured in turning Helen in to a major tourist destination. Tourism is now the major industry for Helen and draws in millions of visitors each year.
Helen has a lot to offer the tourist. The village is a family destination and offers activities geared towards families. Tubing down the river, fishing, and canoeing on the Chattahoochee River are popular so are mountain biking and hiking. There is much to see in the mountains around Helen - waterfalls, streams and mountain vistas. Hot air balloon races and parades are also featured during summer. True to its Bavarian roots, Helen prides itself on its Oktoberfest – believed to be the longest in the South. This is followed by the Alpenfest which runs through December.
The food in Helen is excellent with many restaurants offer food with a German flavor – sauerbraten, schnitzel and wurst. Traditional American menus of steaks, burgers, seafood and deli-style sandwiches are available. There is fudge, candies, and funnel cakes for dessert. The Chattahoochee River runs through town and restaurants located along its banks offer riverside dining to add an extra touch. One restaurant with riverside dining is the Troll Tavern on Main Street and their rates are reasonable. Other restaurants offering German fare are Hofer’s Bakery and Café, Old Bavaria Inn, Alpenhaus, Alt Heidelberg Schnitcelh, and Hofbrauhaus Inn.
The shopping is varied - shop windows display everything from Hansel & Gretel Candies, Candles, Jolly Toys, Music Boxes, and Cuckoo clocks. Gift Shops compete with shops selling antiques and curios. Nacoochee Gifts offers wooden toys, leather goods, and antiques on 3 floors. Helen offers everything to delight the shopper - iIt is all here and so is an outlet mall right in town. The atmosphere in Helen is welcoming and pleasant and a visit to this beautiful town is memorable.
Helen offers varied lodging options ranging from the budget motels to luxurious upscale hotels and Bed & Breakfasts. Well known hotels are represented here. Prominent too are Hotels reflecting Helen’s Bavarian heritage. A visitor may stay at the Helendorf River Inn on Munich Street or at the Black Forest River Suites on Eidelweiss Strasse. For tourists in groups, Innsbruck Resort on Schwarzwald Strasse is suggested. The range of lodging varies from $60 to about $100 per day for the hotels and inns to $150 and up for hotels in the luxury class.
Getting to Helen
From Atlanta take GA 400 North which becomes GA Highway 115. At the next traffic light turn right on to Highway 115. Continue to Cleveland (13 miles). Turn left on US 129 North. At the next light take a right on Highway 75 North and drive 9 miles to Helen.