Story & Photos By Cynthia McFarland
Movies celebrate it; novels expound on it. There’s just something about the true South that has an amiable monopoly on real hospitality. That kick-off-your-shoes, settle-in-and-stay-awhile brand of hospitality that makes for a most memorable getaway.
When this kind of Southern hospitality partners up with gracious accommodations, fine dining, and the absolute friendliest folks you’d care to meet, you know you’ve found a winner. Lucky for us, this winning combination is barely a four-hour drive north of Ocala.
Determined to find a romantic, private spot to say our “I do’s” and spend a short honeymoon, my husband-to-be and I began looking for that just-right location.
We’re not city people, so the idea of a “bright lights, big city” getaway wasn’t on the menu. Lolling on a beach might be enticing to some, but we were seeking something different from a typical Florida beach escape, plus we wanted the option of more outdoor activities. Hiking the panoramic north Georgia mountains and seeing the fall colors sounded grand, but we didn’t wish to spend eight or nine hours driving each way. Thus, the search was on for a destination that offered a country setting, classy accommodations, excellent dining, and plenty of things to do — all within an easy drive of central Florida.
We were delightfully surprised to find just such a place exists at an idyllic country resort known as Henderson Village, a few miles south of Perry, Georgia.
A lengthy Internet hunt kept bringing me back to this very location I’d read about in an article on romantic getaways in Southern Living in February 2005. For those who want to relax, the setting at Henderson Village looked just right. And for the more adventurous, a group we tend to fall into more often than not, there were enough activities available to keep one busy. The fact that it had a Four Diamond rating from AAA made it even more promising.
There are times when anticipation is the best part of a vacation, when the actual “being there” doesn’t quite measure up. Rest assured that Henderson Village does not fit into this category. Our experience actually exceeded our expectations, a pleasantly rare occurrence when planning a special getaway.
The heart of central Georgia, or Middle Georgia as the locals refer to it, is scenic farm country and woodlands. Henderson Village makes the most of this tranquil setting. A collection of homes and cottages, the earliest dating back to 1838, the resort is literally the dream come true of creator Bernhard Schneider, who made his living in Germany in consumer electronics.
Schneider was just a nine-year-old boy when the Americans arrived in his German village after World War II ended.
“The American soldiers occupied the hotel that belonged to my aunt, and there was a big ballroom in which they showed their movies,” he recalls. “The one I remembered most was a love story set in the South. It was the first time I ever saw a movie, so it made a big impression on me.”
Schneider and his brother invested in several thousand acres of Georgia farmland in 1979. In 1991, Schneider built a house on the property and within the next five years, purchased two more neighboring homes, one with five acres.
Unable to shake his childhood memories of that idyllic Southern town from the silver screen, Schneider suddenly found himself in a position to create a tiny village of his own. The location he chose was a once-thriving stagecoach intersection and home to many wealthy planters. In addition to the houses, complete with white-columned verandas, he bought several old cottages and had them moved to the property where they were meticulously restored and refitted.
The “tenant cottages” cluster cozily around a lawn, complete with wishing well. Spacious wooden porches outfitted with swings and comfortable rockers beg you to put your feet up and rest awhile, an invitation we found impossible to ignore during our stay.
Inside, the wide-plank, heart-pine floors; towering four-poster bed; period furniture; and fireplaces make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time a hundred years. Open the armoire, however, and satellite TV is there for the choosing, while a CD player lets you play whatever tunes you wish. Nightly turn-down service, complete with fluffy white bathrobes spread out on the bed and tempting chocolate-pecan candies, along with a handwritten goodnight note, is just another aspect of the attentive personal service.
Although it looks as though it has been entertaining guests for a century, Henderson Village opened in 1998. Twenty-four guest suites are available.
The gardens are exquisite and the trademark fountain that graces the resort’s stationary and brochures is tucked inside a white picket fence next to one of the houses. We found it a perfect setting for photos and also enjoyed meandering the curving brick pathways of the garden leading to the pool area. Vine-covered trellises and archways add to the “secret garden” atmosphere.
The barnyard is home to a menagerie of four-legged critters, including rather rare Jacob’s sheep, Watusi cattle with dramatically curving horns, a friendly horse, and a fuzzy spotted donkey. Near our cottage, an aviary houses love birds, parrots, and cockatoos, which greeted us with cheerful voices when we walked past.
Although perhaps best defined as a “country resort,” Henderson Village shows up repeatedly on Internet searches for bed & breakfast accommodations. This is clearly the cream of the crop, however, unlike some B&Bs where you feel a bit too much like you’re staying in someone else’s home. Here, you can enjoy guest suites in a gracious Southern home, or a private detached cottage, depending on your preference.
The resort is actually part of an 8,000-acre property, which includes timber land, pasture, and crop fields. During our visit, the cotton harvest was nearing its peak and the gently rolling land was snow white with cotton. We watched, fascinated, as high-tech equipment rolled through the fields, reducing to mere hours what once took long days to pick by hand.
It’s not just the Georgia accents and laid-back pace that make Henderson Village such a welcome respite. We kept marveling over the fact that, although we’d traveled just four hours, we felt as though we’d truly “escaped.” This peaceful feeling permeated our entire stay. The first-rate accommodations and graciousness of our hosts just added to the experience.
“In addition to our lively gardens, the staff at Henderson Village keeps guests and patrons alike coming back time and time again,” notes Heather L. Bradham, general manager. “We continuously seek opportunities to create lasting memories for every guest.”
We enjoyed dinner and breakfast at The Langston House Restaurant, just a few minutes’ walk from our cottage. Strolling along the walkways and past the gardens, it felt like walking to dinner in a quaint Southern town. Meals here, however, are not simple Southern fare. If you’re expecting fried chicken and sweet potatoes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the sophisticated gourmet menu.
Service is excellent and there is a full bar, as well as a good offering of wines and champagnes. Adhering to Southern tradition, portions are extremely generous. We quickly realized this the first night when we ordered appetizers and then found ourselves unable to finish our entrees, let alone order one of the tempting desserts.
We remedied this the following evening by skipping the appetizers and holding out for dessert. Even then, we had to share one. Take our advice and try the toffee cake with caramel sauce and ice cream. Definite indulgence!
Fortunately, we were able to work off a bit of the first-rate cooking with horseback riding and sporting clays shooting. Benny Taylor, the resort’s gamelands manager, picked us up at the reception house promptly each morning to drive the few miles. The horses, Tennessee Walkers chosen for their smooth comfortable gaits, were already saddled and waiting. Gamelands Hunting Assistant Taylor McDonald guided us along wooded trails and filled our ears with Georgia tales and answered our questions about the area.
The second morning, Taylor was again our guide, this time into the adventure of sporting clays — you can bring your own shotgun or use one of the resort’s. For those interested in hunting something other than clay “pigeons,” Henderson Village is known for its quail, deer, and boar hunting.
“However, in addition to regular overnight accommodations, Henderson Village offers several special packages, one for golfing enthusiasts, another for romantics,” says Bradham. “There’s also the Country Life package, which includes riding and sporting clays shooting for two, and the Girlfriends Getaway, which focuses on relaxation and spa goodies, including massages.”
The helpful staff will answer your questions and point you in the right direction for area excursions. Shopping and antiquing are just minutes away in Perry. Other close-by points of interest are the Museum of Aviation, the Cotton Museum, the Andersonville Civil War Museum, and historic antebellum house tours.
When it came time to depart, we were genuinely sorry to leave this unexpected bit of luxury in Georgia’s heartland. We’ve already promised ourselves a return trip. After all, once you’ve tasted true Southern hospitality, nothing else quite compares.
125 South Langston Circle
Perry, GA 31069
Directions: From Ocala take I-75 north to Exit 127, 10 miles south of Perry, Georgia. Take Highway 26 west just 1.5 miles to the intersection of Highways 41 and 26. The entrance to Henderson Village will be on your right.
Story & Photos By Cynthia McFarland