SCENIC HELEN, GEORGIA, GETS ITS FIRST LUXURY RESORT
It’s late June, when the temps are reaching up into the 90s across most of Georgia, and I’m sleeping comfortably in my hotel room with the patio door open, having been lulled into slumber by the soothing sounds of Mother Nature. It’s a surprisingly cool summer night, even for the North Georgia mountains, making my stay at the newly opened Valhalla Resort Hotel all the more special.
Located on five woodsy acres in Helen, Georgia, just 90 minutes northeast of Atlanta, Valhalla is the popular mountain destination’s first luxury resort. Named for the mythical heaven for ancient Nordic warriors, Valhalla is the pet project of Gayle and Jerry Murdock, and in design and decor, it reflects Jerry’s Scottish heritage. The European influences are fitting considering Helen’s alpine, German-village vibe, but Valhalla is unlike other accommodations you’ll find in the area. Kids aren’t allowed, and it’s geared toward the crowd who’d rather spend the day touring local wineries than tubing down the Chattahoochee.
Its plush amenities include 24-hour room service, valet parking, free Wi-Fi, a full-service spa with sauna and steam room, a fitness center, pool and even a helipad. The rooms are all suites and boast balconies offering picturesque views, two smart TVs, marble vanities and rainforest showers, as well as separate sitting areas with a desk and gas fireplace. And the service is four-star, with friendly staffers looking after your every need. The nice woman at the front desk set me up with an appointment at the Solasta Spa, where I enjoyed a pampering—and wonderfully aromatic—60-minute massage. She also made my dinner reservation at Caledonia, the on-site dining room, helmed by executive chef Dean Hill.
As I dined out on the terrace overlooking the pool, savoring a juicy filet of Buckhead Beef with twice cooked herb and vinegar potatoes, Hill stopped by to say hello and told me a little about his background, which includes stints at The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado and the Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia. Hill favors using local and regionally sourced ingredients and has a flair for adding an upscale edge to Southern comfort food. On the night of my visit, for example, he made gourmet corndogs as an appetizer for the rooftop Sky Bar.
The view from the fourth-floor Sky Bar is of the neighboring Innsbruck Golf Club. Guests of Valhalla receive discounted greens fees and preferred tee times at the course. The hotel will also stash your clubs during your stay so they don’t clutter up your room and will have a golf cart waiting for you at the front door when you’re ready to play. Forgot your golf glove? Just pick one up at the Innsbruck pro shop and charge it to your room.
If you care to venture out beyond the hotel, Valhalla offers complimentary shuttle service to local attractions and activities. The options include ziplining, horseback riding, fly-fishing and taking an old-fashioned horsedrawn carriage ride through downtown Helen. My guess is, though, that once you check in to Valhalla, you might not want to check out.
VALHALLA RESORT HOTEL
STORY: Jill Becker