The story of me finding the European treasure which is Alpine Helen is the literal definition of a happy accident. Before my husband and I got married, we had a long-distance relationship. Me in Tennessee and him in Greenville, South Carolina. On one trip home in particular, I became hopelessly lost in the rural foothills of Georgia. Driving on and on through winding country roads, without even a gas station for almost an hour. When I finally conceded defeat and turned to my GPS for rescue, it couldn’t find me. Like at all. So I did what any miserably lost person would do- I kept driving. And I drove until, out of no where, a village sprouted tall and bustling out of a Thomas Kinkade picturesque valley. This town, from the cottages and German architecture, to the horse-drawn carriages and smell of fresh pine, was the village that Christmas forgot. I immediately became completely enchanted, mildly confused, and extremely interested in this little European paradise.
I didn’t stop to explore Alpine Helen on that day, but my husband and I recently took a day trip to Helen to see what we could find. So for all you travelers looking for the next pin on your map, here is the best of Alpine Helen, Georgia!
Overall Experience: 9/10
While I LOVE venturing abroad, sometimes all I have is a weekend- or even just a Saturday. So I am always looking for the best weekend destinations that will make me feel as if I am a lifetime away from my daily routine. This is where Alpine Helen receives a 9/10. You’ll drive through the rural countryside for quite sometime before Helen springs up out of no where. It feels almost magical once you catch the first glimpse of tall steeples and bustling streets rising out of the valley. Surrounded by mountains, creeks, and a crystal clear river, you feel as if you’ve already stamped your passport.
The experience of Helen is immersive. Designed by a German architect in the 1960s, every building from the churches and schools, to the local restaurants and the Comfort Inn, all share the same Alpine architecture. More than the buildings themselves, many of the merchants in the town are first generation immigrants from Germany, Holland, Denmark, and Austria. Many of the shops even feature china, food, dolls, clothing, and art from the shop owners’ home countries. You will feel as if you are genuinely wandering the streets of Germany by lunch time.
Local Art: 8/10
Okay, so I have a lot of “Best of”s here since art comes in so many forms. I am going to separate this review by type so we can hit them all!
Best Art Gallery- Helen Arts and Heritage Center: In almost the exact center of town, is an art gallery and museum that is open to the public with free admission. It’s not huge, but they certainly make use of the space they have. The paintings, ceramics, jewelry, photography, and wood work of local artists are showcased throughout this gallery- most of which is for sale. The art there ranges anywhere from a few dollars to thousands and you will find almost every style. (I personally fell in love with a piece of pottery that perfectly captured the essence of summer in the South.) Once you have finished surveying the local art landscape, you can transition right into the museum wing of the gallery. This museum is all about the history of Alpine Helen, complete with a short documentary.
Best of Antiques- Nacoochi Antique Mall: You will know you are getting close to Helen when you begin seeing more antique shops than cars. About three miles before you reach Helen’s city limits, multitues of old homes have been transformed into antique shops. While most of these are smaller mill houses, the most stunning antique venue is a towering, three-story plantation home with a wrap-around porch. As you walk through the squeaky wooden halls, and climb up the winding staircases, you will see everything from vintage china, furniture, jewelry, art, and memorabilia from almost every age. (Super reasonably priced, I might add!)
Best of Gem Mining- Dukes Creek Gold and Ruby Mines: I wasn’t aware of the gem mining until we were already rolling into town, and I had one of those moments where you freak out and beg to turn the car around. It worked. So there are two different gem mines in Helen- one is more organized and commercial, and the other is super eclectic and artsy. I went for the eclectic. From mining your own gems, to picking out some pre-mined treasures, you can find something beautiful for your home or the perfect gem to complete your next project.
Best of German Food: Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Cafe-8/10
This was a hard category to find the “Best of” because there are so many incredible restaurants in Helen. If you aren’t hungry when you first arrive, you will be soon. The moment we stepped out of the car we were rushed with the sweet smell of candied pecans, fudge, and freshly baked bread. While the choice was tough, I have to say the best sit-down restaurant in town has to be Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Cafe.
My husband is a Yelp junkie, so he scoured the reviews in Helen till we found Muller’s. And yes, the name of the restaurant might make it sound more like a novelty, but in reality it is the perfect spot for a romantic date. The seating area itself is just a few tables, so I suggest popping in on an off time, because the food is worth it. Shane ordered the Jaeger Schnitzel, which is a seasoned pork loin cutlet, lightly fried and topped with a rich and creamy mushroom sauce. I normally would order something English sounding because I never really cared for German food in the past, but I took a chance and ordered the Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich… and ya’ll- It was amazing. Both of our entrees were perfectly fried, but not too heavy, and the seasonings they used made the dishes taste completely unique and delicious. Muller’s is on the outskirts of town and has a stunning view of the mountains. With just a short walk you could have some of the best schnitzel of your life.
Overall Value: 8/10
This village was designed to draw tourists- there is no debating that. But because it’s so far out in the country and not as well-known as Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, the prices have remained fairly reasonable. For example, you will pay upwards of $20 to park in downtown Gatlinburg, where all-day parking in the heart of Helen was only $5. They also offer a lot of similar goods as their East Tennessee equivalent, but their prices are all significantly lower.
Helen just feels so much less commercial, which really gives you the sense that you aren’t just in another American tourist trap, but truly transported to a unique destination. I hope you enjoyed the “Best of” Helen and that it helps you plan your next adventure. I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you think in the comments below, or email me on my contact page.
Sweet Dreams and Happy Travels lovelies!