BY SHELLY GABLE || PHOTO CALLAWAYGARDENS.COM
Callaway Gardens makes a terrific winter destination, especially around the holidays when Mother Nature is frequently covered in a blanket of snow and always covered in twinkling lights.
Forget traveling out of the state to find a luxury vacation spot. You don’t even have to go far outside of Middle Georgia this holiday season for a relaxing family vacation. You just have to put the kids and a few basics in the car and take the gorgeous drive to Pine Mountain, Georgia. Spend a night—or several—basking in the spacious opulence of The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, which includes two admission tickets to the gardens per night of your stay. Visit Callaway Gardens for everything from fishing and golf to horticulture to walking and biking trails.
The Lodge and Spa caters to the needs of their guests like no other lodging in the area, which is exactly what is to be expected of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The entire atmosphere is devoted to rejuvenation. Room sizes are generous with beds that allow you to sink into sleep peacefully. Fireplaces abound indoors and outside, surrounded by cozy furnishings. Full-length windows throughout the public areas offer vistas of natural décor: stone fountains and waterfalls, wooden benches, and calming foliage. Amenities of the lodging include a heated outdoor pool that is open year-round, on-site restaurant and lounge, spa services, gift shop, valet parking, fitness center, business center, and banquet and meeting facilities, among others.
I visited this lush vacation spot with my husband and daughter, and we were well pleased with our trip. In addition to being efficient, the staff adhere to Southern hospitality by going above and beyond. When my husband was in the room with a fussy child while I was having dinner solo at the Piedmont Grille on site, the hostess sent a room service person to our room in an attempt to get him dinner at a reasonable hour. We rarely passed a hotel employee without receiving a smile and greeting. Many remembered us, some even by name, though we were only there for two nights.
After visiting Callaway Gardens again, I am sold on the idea of getting an Annual Pass, which includes general admission every day they’re open as well as half-price admission for special events. There is something for everyone at Callaway all year. In addition to beautiful blooms each season, there are centers devoted to educational fun. The Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center is the place to start. Helpful staff members and volunteers will direct you to activities best suited to your group. This is also the place to catch the Birds of Prey Shows—an absolute must-see. There is nothing to match the sensation of wind in your hair as a hawk or owl swoops over your head. Nor is the joy on your child’s face to be missed as she sees these large raptors up close for the first time.
Special events take place throughout the year, culminating in the glorious Fantasy in Lights, which features eight million lights stretching more than five miles, creating 15 larger-than-life holiday scenes. You can choose to drive through this one-hour wonder or take a seat on the Jolly Trolley and let someone else handle the driving! A word of advice here: layers. The Jolly Trolley is open-air, so bundle up and take a blanket as well. Additionally, you may want to try to get the early tickets—especially if you are traveling with little ones. We had a window of 6:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m. to start our drive. By the time we went through Fantasy in Lights and strolled the Christmas Village, the parking lot had become completely packed.
Accompanied by Christmas music, each display is designed around a particular theme. My daughter’s two favorites were Firefly Cove (colorful fireflies, dragonflies, and butterflies that are larger than life) and Twin Trees (lights glitter to either side and above). Each section is wonderfully laid out, with a combination of more traditional scenes (Santa’s Workshop) and more fantastical ones (Enchanted Rainbow Forest). There are two shows at Robin Lake Beach—The Nativity and ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. The Christmas Village, which includes these shows, can be visited as part of Fantasy in Lights or by itself. Admission to the village is free and presents an opportunity to buy unique souvenirs and gifts for everyone. Festival food is available for purchase, and guests can take pictures with Father Christmas and Christmas characters—we saw a Gingerbread Man and FIL the Frog! #