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Destination Guide: Atlanta

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Atlanta is one of those places you really feel you should know more about. It’s also one of those places that, once you’ve got to know, you wonder where it’s been all your life and why on earth you hadn’t taken it out for dinner and put a ring on it sooner. The capital and biggest city in the state of Georgia, it’s buzzy and sprawling, rife with culture, history, shopping – it’s even the home to CNN, Coca-Cola and Martin Luther King. What did I know about it? That it once gave the world Kriss Kross (jump, jump) and, for that, I’d forever be grateful.

I was excited about experiencing ‘Hotlanta’ first hand, a term I’d heard being bandied about which transpired to be quite accurate. It’s technically in the south (which I had great pleasure constantly referring to as ‘the dirty south’ the entire time), which means the weather, specifically in summer, is pretty fabulous. It’s way more metropolitan than other famous southern cities like Memphis or Nashville, though, which makes it the perfect mix of tradition (think soul food, an old-fashioned emphasis on manners), and the kind of cosmopolitan, bright-lights-big-city vibe of somewhere like New York.

Where to stay

Amicalola Falls Lodge at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains

We checked in at the beautiful Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead, a neighbourhood they’ve dubbed the ‘Beverly Hills of the East’. To me, that was a total sign. A Pretty Woman-style shopping spree was definitely on the (credit) cards, although sadly just on mine and not Richard Gere’s.

The hotel actually offers shopping packages for Phipps Plaza (loaded with upscale stores like Gucci, Armani and Jimmy Choo) and Lenox Square (Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus), the two giant malls opposite (from $259 a night including a deluxe American breakfast, $25 gift voucher and entry into the Club Lounge – literally the most serene space manned by impeccable staff who showered us with canapés and Bloody Marys every time we walked in). Just as impressive was the spa and Junior Olympic-size pool – each an ode to classic luxury, chiming perfectly with the grand, chandelier-bedecked lobby and adjoining lounge. Old school and made for martinis.

Incredible scenery at Georgia State Park

A world away from Atlanta’s slick cityscape, at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, lies Amicalola Falls in the Georgia State Park. With a rustic American lodge, the Amicalola Falls Lodge, at its heart, this is the kind of place where you want to get down and dirty with some huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ and then celebrate with a big pie.

They film The Hunger Games in the surrounding forest so you can imagine just how dramatic it all is. We, being city mice at heart, admired it from afar, tucked up in the lodge’s lobby in front of the roaring log fire. No mother and baby brown bear sightings, sadly, but plenty of red wine. And pie.

One of the best bits about the lodge was its proximity to the behemoth-like North Georgia Premium Outlets. Well, in American terms anyway. A scenic hour and a half drive takes you right outside the glorious doors of this indoor-outdoor mall, comprising 140 shops, all, effectively, holding sales. If you haven’t heard of Premium Outlets then I’ve just changed your life. You’re welcome. Scattered throughout the States, each one makes any UK equivalent look like the bargain bin at TK Maxx after a particularly heavy-going January sale.

Food and drink

Weekend brunch at Atlanta's South City Kitchen

Food is high on Atlanta’s agenda – South City Kitchen being particularly standout in a town built on storied gastronomy. Fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, collard greens, lobster mac n cheese and buttermilk fried chicken had me passing out in equal parts joy and over-indulgence. We finished with banana pudding and apple pie cobbler – I’d go back to Atlanta based on these alone.

The Fernbank Museum runs a martinis and Imax night, while the High Museum of Art does Friday Jazz and cocktails.

Things to see and do

Atlanta's High Museum of Art

Make a beeline to Martin Luther King’s home and church and the Atlanta History Center, the grounds of which hold the beautiful Tudor revival building that Margaret Mitchell famously wrote Gone With The Wind in. The museum itself has a brilliantly illuminating guide to the civil war of 1861-65 and Georgia’s part as one of the confederate states.

A little less high-brow but just as enjoyable was the World of Coca-Cola, where I literally had to be dragged out of the screening room where they showed all the great Coke ads from the 80s and 90s. (Remember "I’d like to buy the world a coke?").

Leaving Atlanta wasn’t easy. I’d fallen in love with the food, the wonderfully sincere chivalry and the sunshine. I also felt like I’d barely scratched the surface; there was Little Five Points to explore (downtown hipsterville), an adult-only sleepover to go to at the aquarium and a night at the Royal Peacock Club, where everyone from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin performed back in the day. Yep, I’ll definitely be back. And next time I’m taking Richard Gere with me.

Getting there and away

America As You Like It offer a 5 night Atlanta shopping package from £918 per person including return international flights from London Heathrow on British Airways, 3 nights at the Ritz Carlton Atlanta, car hire and 2 nights at the Amicalola Falls Lodge. Price based on 2 people sharing on a room only basis. Getting an Atlanta City PASS is also a good idea; a one ticket booklet that saves you 44% on admission to five of the best attractions in the city: $74 for an adult and $54 for a child.

Words: Olivia Phillips, Photos: Rex Feature

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