One thing I love about the South is how green and lush it is here in the spring and summer. Growing up in California, there were distinct wet and dry seasons, the latter marked by drab (or golden, depending on how poetic you’re feeling) brown hillsides. However, here there are frequent (sometimes daily) rain showers and thunderstorms in the summer, and everywhere you look there is grass, overgrown kudzu, and leafy trees in rich shades of green.
The rainforesty feel is enjoyable here in Tuscaloosa, but we got an even more impressive taste of it a couple of weekends ago on our trip to Atlanta. We decided to stay about 40 minutes south of the city in a community called Serenbe, which we’d read about in Southern Living magazine. Serenbe is 900 acres, and it is part of a zone called Chattahoochee Hill Country. A master plan calls for 80% of Chattahoochee Hill Country’s 40,000 acres to be protected as green space. I hadn’t spent much time in designated “green space” before, but after one visit here I am head-over-heels in love with the idea. To say the streets were tree-lined would be an understatement. It was more like the green space was lined with tasteful buildings and homes.
Serenbe is a tiny town of shops and businesses with lovely houses within walking distance, an organic farm, an inn, an equestrian center, and miles and miles of trails. Some of the guiding principles seem to be connection to nature, environmental responsibility, a sense of neighborliness and community, healthy and balanced living, and being a peaceful distance from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Even the street lights, stop signs, and speed limit signs were built to look like graceful branches instead of metal poles.
To get from the inn to the town, you walk right next to the all the docile farm animals you can imagine (donkeys, pigs, sheep, ponies, horses, cows) to the main road, turn left, and go past a little lake, about three-quarters of a mile total. If you’re lucky, there will be unpenned goats feeding literally a foot from the road on the grassy downward slope.
We strolled to the Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop in town our first night, which had a nice chalkboard menu of salads and sandwiches, as well as triple chocolate cookies as thick as scones and a layer cake that perfectly toggled the line between fancy and down-home. There was a play going on just up the street, in a little outdoor pavillion that would house the very small farmer’s market the next morning.
On Saturday we walked through the neighborhood and browsed in a few of the shops. The Bilt House had a fantastic upstairs room of housewares that I pretty much wanted to move into, but everything there was too expensive for my taste. I found an adorable purse and a couple of makeup bags I couldn’t resist taking home at Bloom, though.
We liked walking through the residential areas too. They were gorgeous, and I loved the emphasis on nature, and the walkability between inn, farm, town, and homes. Not since Savannah or Charleston have I seen such attention paid to gardens and outdoor living spaces, or such aesthetically-pleasing combinations of architecture and landscaping.
We stayed in room 20 of the Guest House of the Inn at Serenbe, which was quaint and nicely appointed, with soft white linens and gingham window panels. A plate of cookies was left by our bedside each evening, and there was a selection of Stash tea, coffee, mugs, wine glasses, and other basics in the homey kitchen across the hall. Tea is served to inn guests each afternoon, a country breakfast is included in the room rate, and you can take tours of the farm or go on scheduled outings to feed the animals. Our room had its own sweet porch with rocking chairs overlooking the vegetable garden, and the grounds were gorgeous, especially around the pool and cabana next to the Guest House.
The only slight drawbacks were that our bed frame was so loud and creaky that we kept waking each other up when we shifted ever-so-slightly in the middle of the night, the Jacuzzi tub in the room was small and old, and although I emailed ahead of the time asking about vegan options for breakfast and our server told me they were “prepared,” the healthiest offerings I managed were a small selection of fresh fruit and a sugary, non-whole grain cereal with a half-juice-box of soy milk. Thank goodness they had a “cold bar” in addition to the hot breakfast options, or I would have been a lot hungrier! So, in short, the country breakfast was too country for me, but not country enough according to my sweet Southern gentleman husband. (He did not think that grits souffle qualified as traditional country fare, and though I appreciated the gourmet twist on Southern cooking, it still didn’t appeal to my personal tastebuds when cheesed up and served alongside scrambled eggs and sausage.) David and I would jump at the chance to stay here again though. The beauty and serenity of the setting far outweighed those minor discomforts.
All in all, it was a refreshing, quiet, peaceful place to visit and I would love to end up in a similar community when we buy a home in the next few years. In fact, I had to remind myself that I really, really hate the humidity in the South in order to prevent myself from calling up a real estate agent in Serenbe during the short few days we spent there.