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Back to Barnsley

Not content with resting on its laurels, the award-winning north Georgia resort continues to evolve its offerings.

Written by Bridget Williams

Some travelers have their go-to place, whether inherited, generational, or discovered. And, even if it’s only visited annually, the sojourn serves as a bookmark in a life’s chapters. Though I’ve always been more globally curious than a repeat visitor-type traveler, Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, Georgia—nearly smack dab in the middle between Atlanta and Chattanooga—could be my place.

Why? First of all, it’s a snap to get to. As a fan of road trips, I opted to make the five-hour drive from my home in Louisville for my visit this past November. Second, there are scores of things to do. And, even if you want to be a total sloth, you can eat to your heart’s content and be very, very happy you came.

The 3,000-acre resort, sited in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, envelops the ruins of Woodlands, an 1840s estate with an exquisite boxwood parterre garden.

Guest accommodations are spread out amongst 39 spacious freestanding cottages organized in the style of an English-inspired pedestrian village, along with a 55-room Inn. Opened in 2018 and inspired by the work of noted British architect Edwin Lutyens, the stately structure sits prominently at the end of a tree-lined boulevard, standing watch over the charming cottages like a proud parent. The Inn is the antithesis of a bland box, boasting16 different room configurations, including third-floor dormer rooms with window seats that complete the country estate feel. The entirety of the resort is charming year-round, but it really comes alive at Christmas, where a storybook quality is even more pronounced.

I arrived after dark, and after so much COVID-era travel, where resorts were primarily empty, and visiting seemed to serve more a reminder of the pandemic rather than an escape, I was happy to find myself in a bustling place with people genuinely enjoying themselves. After taking a hot second to admire my spacious room, I headed through the center of the village to meet my travel mates for dinner at Woodlands Grill. En-route, I spied a crowd, bundled up off to ward off the chill and sticking close to a firepit, raucously sharing a drink at the Beer Garden while listening to live music. This being the South, you better believe that they answered my curious glances with an invitation to join them.

A feeling of community is encouraged throughout the village, demonstrated by the Adirondack chair-ringed fire pits and corn hole sets lining the greenspace separating the cottages. S’mores kits are set out in the lobby of the Inn each evening, adding to the allure of the firepits. Renovated from floor-to-ceiling since my last visit, the food at Woodlands Grill was even better than I remembered. Focused on Southern regional comfort food, the familiar hallmarks are there, some remixed, others true to form, but all exceptionally plated. An arugula salad with grilled peaches was particularly memorable, as was the sinful brioche French toast coated with Frosted Flakes I enjoyed there following my workout the following morning. As a side note, it’s not unusual to find pre-dawn gym goers coaxed from their machines to head outside and admire spectacular sunrise views.

A strong commitment to craft extends to all dining options, including privately catered affairs where the creative tablescapes whet the appetite. For a private barbeque lunch in the Beer Garden, property pit master Paul shared some secrets of his 48-hour brisket, and gave each guest a glass jar filled with his proprietary housemade rub to enjoy at home.

At the time of my visit Javier Cuesta, an accomplished French-trained chef with 25 years of experience in destinations around the globe, had just been appointed Executive Chef. During our visit, he took our taste buds on a journey to his native Portugal by serving Cataplana, a pork and seafood stew, and Morocco with a lamb and faro dish, before returning “home” with bacon-wrapped venison.

Launched in 2021 and offered seasonally, Barnsley’s Fire Kettle Cooking Demonstrations offer an open-air culinary exhibition where Chef prepares one of his favorite seasonal recipes over the open flame of a Sea Island Forge fire kettle. Guests are given recipes following the experience to recreate the dish and relive the memory at home.

The pinnacle of on-property dining is Rice House, a seasonal, dinner-only destination housed in a 19th-century farmhouse painstakingly relocated to its present site from Rome, Georgia. The tasting menu is ‘garden-to-table’ focused and rotates every few weeks to accommodate in-season ingredients sourced within 150-miles. With Perrier-Jouet champagne pairings, our five-course tasting menu went from one high note to the next, including the dramatic presentation of salt-baked fish and desserts (almost) too perfectly pretty to eat.

As a native Kentuckian, I appreciate Barnsley’s commitment to the Bluegrass’ native spirit, bourbon. Resort Manager Matt Quick is a Certified Bourbon Steward. On weekends and during other special events he leads a tasting at the Inn of Woodford Reserve infused with hickory-smoked Georgia pecans via a drip system on display in a case in the lobby. Quick, who also leads bourbon exploration experiences for corporate groups on the property, has a palpable passion for the spirit going back two decades and genuinely enjoys engaging with guests who have questions.

Quick can take his show on the road with a custom Party Peddler trike outfitted with a two-bin cedar chest for cold beverages and a pair of three-gallon kegs. “You better believe that people come running when I ring the bell,” laughed Quick.

Working up an appetite is easy at Barnsley, and engaging in activities from morning-till-night made all of my indulging a little less guilt-inducing. We started with a lesson at the Beretta Shooting Grounds’ 28-station clay course. Noticing several nervous first-timers in our group, our instructor, Randy Mangum, lightened the mood by remarking, “If you can’t have fun shooting, you have issues I can’t help you with.” Randy displayed a superior knack for employing everyday analogies to make the physicality of the sport understandable. His relaxed and expert instruction had the newbies shouting “pull!” with great aplomb by the end of the outing.

We took our outdoor adventure up a notch with wingshooting and a UTV tour, offered in partnership with John Burrell’s High Adventure Company. The upland quail-hunting venue is part of an 1,800-acre property a short drive from the mainland resort. Here, legendary Italian Beretta firearms pair with a world-class team of guides and their pointing and flushing dogs. The operation is the first time Beretta has allowed its name to be used alongside another enterprise. “It really speaks to the caliber of clients that come to Barnsley,” remarked Burrell, a native of the area who also operates hunting and fishing lodges in Hawaii, New Zealand, and South Africa, to name a few. “We’re just good old boys with a big old idea,” Burrell said. High Adventure Company has developed a combined major in wildlife management and hospitality with a local college and offers students the opportunity to get “real world” experience as interns at their properties.

Safety briefings and post-shoot banquets are staged in the High Adventure clubhouse. In the distance, you can hear a cacophony of sounds emanating from the dog kennels, where prized pups call out for their turn in the field. We learned that Southwest Georgia is often referred to as “The Quail Hunting Capital of the World.” In my first foray into the sport of wingshooting, I have to say I was utterly captivated by the dogs, which Burrell refers to as “super-star athletes.” I admired watching their focus and pure joy as they carried out the tasks they were bred and trained to do. Following the hunt, we returned to a beautifully set long table at the clubhouse, where Chef Cuesta created a field-to-table quail feast.

The only birdies we pursued the following day were on the 18-hole Jim Fazio-designed Par-72 golf course. I am not even an amateur by any stretch of the imagination, but a photo of me teeing off above the dramatic drop on the 14th hole belies my ineptitude. Then, hoping to make some gains in the skill department, I headed to the Golf Performance Center. My swing was analyzed using Trackman technology and then tweaked by Director of Golf Bill Daggett and Head Pro Kyle Morris, both of whom had me believing I might finally get the hang of the game.

Overlooking the golf course and near the Woodland’s Grill, the 10-room Spa at Barnsley Resort harvests their own loofah gourds onsite. I opted for one of their signature services, a Fire and Ice facial. I likened the paprika-laced treatment to the feeling of eating a Habanero pepper and chasing it with a glass of ice-cold milk. My therapist reminded me of the importance of skin cancer checks and using products with natural ingredients, saying that skincare “needs to break its love affair with lab-created products.”

I used the time in-between activities to explore the 1.8-mile fitness trail with 20 different stations, miles of walking trails that alternate between forest and field, and the resplendent ruins of the Manor House, lavishly decorated for the holidays. The ruins would be absolutely dreamy for a destination wedding, and there’s plenty of room to party, with seven distinct event venues able to accommodate intimate affairs all the way up to 500 guests.

Even with all I experienced over my three-day stay, I still didn’t get to try everything or venture to nearby Adairsville, Cartersville, or Rome. This trio of small towns offers interesting museums, locally-owned restaurants and boutiques, and turn-of-the-century architecture. Next time.

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