By Kathy Dean
It seems that more and more people are moving from the hustle and bustle of city life to settle among the beauty and tranquility of north Georgia and its surrounding hills. Really, the idea of enjoying life in the mountains is almost as old as the hills themselves. But there’s plenty that’s new in the mountains, too – new communities, new home styles and a new awareness.
“Highlands has always been known for its beauty and luxury,” said Bill Gilmore, Provisional Broker, Highlands Cove Realty and Atlanta Realtor with PalmerHouse Properties. “Unfortunately, that has kept some people away. They’d been concerned that the high price points might keep the area out of reach for them. These days, Highlands is finally becoming recognized for being more inviting to a wider range of people, without losing any of its reputation for luxury.”
Gilmore shared a long list of features that are drawing new residents to the Highlands-Cashiers area, just over the Georgia border in North Carolina. There’s the redone Highlands Pool and the Cashiers Fitness Center, both available to everyone. Half Mile Farm, a country inn now owned by the Old Edwards Inn, has been completely renovated into something unique.
Cashiers/Sapphire will see new restaurants opening, some headed by the former chef of Madison’s at Old Edwards, a AAA Four-Diamond Award restaurant. Speaking of food, the Highlands Food and Wine Festival, previously known as Highlands Culinary Weekend, is a three-day long celebration of regional and local cuisine that embodies the essence of the Highlands community in an assortment of private venues.
This year the autumn festival runs from Nov. 10-13 and includes a variety of wine dinners, a sip and stroll, small bites presentations, Sunday Gospel Brunch, Autumn Oyster Roast and an exclusive “Rockwood Rocks” dinner held at the Rockwood Lodge. Brewers, wine makers, artisans, local chefs and culinary leaders of the Southeast will all be in attendance.
“Everybody thinks that Highlands is expensive, but they should know that there’s a good selection of affordable homes, some fully furnished and ready to move into, that offer good rental potential,” Gilmore explained. “We’re getting the word out that our community is welcoming and family friendly. And with the wide variety of price points in the area, a broader range of people are becoming aware that this is the place for them!”
While homesites in the mountains are considered luxurious, with their lush greenery and breathtaking views, that’s not the normal perception of mountain homes. People often think of primitive log cabins and the barest of necessities. Today, that’s far from the truth.
“The hot new trend here is modern rustic homes,” said Nathan Fitts, Nathan Fitts & Team of REMAX Town & Country in Blue Ridge. “In the past, housing in the area was primarily cabins for vacationers. Now, local builders are concentrating on more modern finishes for the interiors.”
Those finishes include premier lighting as well as features for full-time living, like pantries, masters on main and walk-in closets. Modern rustic homes tend to have a contemporary look inside, but rustic elements on the outside, and take full advantage of the mountain views with full-length windows.
“One area builder uses locally sourced elements throughout the homes he builds, like old barn wood that he reclaims and uses to create chair rails in rooms,” Fitts added. “It’s touches like these that give each home a history, makes it unique and keeps it native.”
While there are plenty of historical sites and long-held family homes in the north Georgia mountains, a notable new community in the Blue Ridge area is garnering a lot of attention.
Don’t let the world “old” confuse you: Old Toccoa Farm is a new active lifestyle community in the Blue Ridge mountains of north Georgia. Homesites normally range from one-half to three-quarters of an acre, and there’s a well balanced portfolio of home designs, each carefully positioned on the land to take advantage of long and short range mountain views of the distant Cohutta Mountains, Rich Mountain Wilderness and Toccoa River Valley.
Builders in the 400-plus acre master planned community now offer some smaller footprint homes and cottages that range from 2,200 to 3,200 square feet, with even smaller cottages set to begin very soon. Board and batten, cedar shakes, natural stone and tin accent roofing are some of the features used to create a look and feel unlike the typical mountain cabins seen in other communities.
According to Old Toccoa Farm Managing Partner Peter Knutzen, “People come to see Blue Ridge and they fall in love with the area. Then they visit Old Toccoa Farm, and they’re thrilled to find all the added values – like gatehouse security, city water and sewer, river footage, miles of walking trails – all included for the same price points.”
The community’s state-of-the-art infrastructure is complete with Blue Ridge city water, private sewer, and high-speed internet and phone. There are golf course and river views, and property owners have access to more than 4,000 feet of Toccoa River frontage, miles of walking trails and an 18-hole golf course (9 holes currently open) that features zoysia fairways, tees and fast, bentgrass greens.
And then there’s the location of Old Toccoa Farm, which couldn’t be better. It’s a mere five miles from downtown Blue Ridge, and just four miles from Lake Blue Ridge. Other nearby attractions include Ocoee Whitewater Center, Noontootla Creek Farm, the Appalachian Trail, the Benton Mackaye Trail, ziplining, John C. Campbell Folk School and Grumpy Old Men Brewery.
The charming downtown of Blue Ridge has earned the city its distinction as “Georgia’s Top Renaissance City.” Bar and grill style food, fine dining and local breweries contribute to the laid back mountain vibe that brings in day trippers and families up for long weekends. It’s been reported that several new Blue Ridge businesses and ventures are underway for 2016.
A new attitude, a new community, a new style, new restaurants and businesses – there’s a lot more that’s fresh in north Georgia than just the mountain air.