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Over the moon for Bavarian weirdness in Helen



You won't be able to get there riding along the Autobahn. Instead, head north on Ga. 400 to Ga. 115 and, eventually, find your way to Ga. 75. Once you get close, the traffic will more closely resemble the downtown connector than a highway cutting through the German countryside. And the gridlock definitely will seem out of sorts for a sleepy mountain town on the banks of the Chattahoochee.

At the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and roughly 85 miles north of Atlanta, Helen (www.helenga.org) was transformed into a tourist destination in the '60s, when the town was blanketed by south German architecture (in an area that was far more Appalachian than Alpine). Mandated by city zoning laws, nearly all of downtown Helen's buildings were reconstructed in a Bavarian style. Forty years later, clusters of shops and city structures still share the same gabled designs and red roofs.

Today, Helen sees a large influx of visitors most weekends, especially in the fall, when the town hosts the Southeast's longest-running Oktoberfest (www.ngeorgia.com/ang/Oktoberfest_in_Helen,_Georgia).

Yet the summer months are also a good time to take advantage of the region – and its cooler temps. First, be sure to browse Helen's bizarre offerings, including Hofer's of Helen Bakery (8758 N. Main St., 706-878-8200, www.hofers.com), which bakes all its goodies on a stone hearth, and Old Heidelberg (8660 N. Main St., 706-878-3273, www.helenga.org/business/alt-heidelberg), whose website boasts that it's the most photographed place in town, with waitresses donning dirndls who'll happily take your order for schnitzels, brats and krauts.

Once you've had your fill of German kitsch, you can hit the Appalachian Trail (www.georgiatrails.com/features/apptrail.html), which crosses Unicoi Parkway just 10 minutes north of the city. Helen also is situated near Unicoi State Park (1788 Highway 356, 800-864-7275, www.gastateparks.org/Unicoi) and Brasstown Bald (www.georgiatrails.com/trails/brasstownbald.html), both of which are well worth the drive.

As you head home, don't miss Nora Mill Granary (7107 S. Main St., 706-878-2375, www.noramill.com) two miles south of town, which sells grits and pancake mixes made by the original French burr stones powered by the waters of the 'Hooch.

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