If it seems like all we do is go to weddings, that’s pretty much accurate. Luckily, it’s all awesome people who we’re celebrating—like Sarah and Brian, the absolutely stunningly perfect bride and groom from last weekend’s wedding—and they all pick some pretty fantastic places to tie the knot. Which is how I finally made it to Barnsley Gardens, 15 years after this historic northern Georgia property debuted as a resort.
Barnsley Resort is just a two-hour drive south of our house, and like Ella told you earlier this week, she’d actually visited before. My dad’s company has done some retreats there in the past—though it’s a luxury resort, Barnsley also hosts plenty of business conventions and meetings—and so Ella went down there with my mom one year. She’d been talking about it ever since, so SVV and I were thrilled we finally got to see what all the fuss is about.
First of all, the service was top notch. A friend who works as a manager for Omni and I were geeking out over the hospitality side of Barnsley Resort: It struck the right balance of nice, friendly and welcoming, without the constant feel like someone is always lurking behind you waiting to open the door or carry your bag. (That kind of service stresses me out.)
I also loved that many of the employees—at least the ones we interacted with—seemed to grow up in the area and got jobs there when they were on their second (or third or fourth) careers before retirement. The local element was a nice added touch.
The food was awesome. I’m currently in the final week of Whole30, and dining out has been pretty restrictive, yet nearly everything at Barnsley—even the rehearsal dinner BBQ and the reception dinner itself—was marked “gluten free.” This still didn’t mean I could eat it all as much of it contained dairy or sugar, but your average Paleo diner or celiac could go to town, and I was also able to find plenty of things on the menu at Woodlands Grill that I could adapt accordingly.
Since we were just there for 36 hours—and two of the meals were dedicated to wedding events—we didn’t have time to eat at the fine dining restaurant, the Rice House, but we took a peek inside nonetheless, and I loved the history of the 1800s farm house (and all the items on the menu looked delicious).
What we did find time to do was try out a new activity…clay shooting! Confession: I have only ever shot a gun, at a range, one time in my life (a self-defense lesson while in Grizzly Country) as I’m positively terrified of anything that emits bullets.
But what I’m not afraid to do is try out new things.
Barnsley currently is offering a Syren Shooting & Spa package, so SVV and I started out our Saturday morning with a trapper to test our skills on the 15-station course. It took me one or two stations to get comfortable with the shotgun, but after that, I was ready to annihilate some clays. It’s just like Duck Hunt, right?
Our trapper was about as kind and helpful as could be, teaching me the proper technique to hold the shotgun and point at the target, and lo and behold, SVV and I tied: both hitting 10 clays each. I think I’ve found a new hobby! Who knew I’d enjoy clay shooting so much and actually not suck at it?
Obviously, this package meant we had to try the spa, too. Now, you know SVV and I love our massages (and we both have muscular/joint problems that justify regular treatments…or so we tell ourselves at least). I feel we can safely call ourselves spa connoisseurs at this point, so you should trust me when I tell you my therapist Korrin? Best massage of my life.
Not something I say lightly! SVV had the Beautifully Balanced Massage—so masculine, right?—and also said it was one of the best treatments he’s ever received. It might be bad news for our bank accounts that we’re so close to this lovely oasis with the best therapists around.
And, of course, I have to point out the obvious: The pet-friendly aspect of Barnsley was clutch. No one fussed about Ella prancing around off leash when we let her, they didn’t worry about dogs tearing up the inside of the cottages, and they only charge a one-time fee of $75, and even donates the proceeds to an Atlanta non-profit (we’ve been to other hotels that charge $125 a day). Not to mention, they left her sweet little presents.
I find true pet-friendly hotels—the kind that actually welcome your animals—to be few and far between, so I was blown away by the reception we got at Barnsley.
But you know me, I can’t make anything all play and no work, so I decided to double up and do a magazine story on the property since I was already there. Which is how I met Clent Coker, resident historian and all-around fascinating individual.
He carted us around the 3,300-acre property and talked a mile a minute about Sir Godfrey Barnsley, how the Brit came over to the States at the age of 18 because he saw potential in the cotton industry, and how he went on to build an empire for himself (Clent’s great-great-grandfather helped to found the original estate).
The rest is a love story that would make an excellent movie or mini-series—take note, Hollywood; Clent has written a tome on Barnsley’s past and compiled so many relics from the 1800s and 1900s—and you really need to experience it for yourself (and hear Clent’s stories) to grasp the magnificence of this two-century history.
Saturday night, we headed back to Clent’s territory to watch Sarah and Brian make it official. Sarah and I have known each other most of our lives, as our little sisters are best friends. I even played Elmo at Sarah’s little brother’s birthday when I was 14! Dang, that suit was hot.
Even though Sarah grew up in my hometown, she and Brian were living in Atlanta and moved to San Francisco for his job at Facebook shortly after SVV and I left the city and have since adopted it as their own. (I not-so-secretly hope they’ll move back to Nashville one of these days, though!)
She now works at OpenTable, and the whole wedding felt like a mini-Silicon Valley affair with all the cool kids with awesome jobs as the guest list (I talked to friends from Twitter, Square, LinkedIn, the whole lot). If there’s anything that makes you feel like quite the underachiever, it’s mingling with that bunch! And they’re all super nice to boot.
Barnsley Resort is located about halfway between the bride’s and the groom’s hometowns, so the 120-person wedding was pretty equally split with guests from both places (plus, California, too), and we saw several familiar faces come down from Tennessee, including my sister, her fiance and my parents. It’s always a fun time when those guys join the party!
But back to this picture perfect spot: I can’t think of anywhere cooler to get married than the lawn of these old 1840’s ruins. I mean, would you just look at this? And Sarah and Brian were every bit as stunning as the venue. That dress!
The reception cocktail hour was inside the ruins and then the dinner in a massive tent out back. The band killed it on the dance floor, as did the bride and groom.
I can’t even handle the cuteness. Perfect match.
SVV and I have been to our share of destination weddings but never had actually stayed on site before, and it sure was nice just hopping a golf cart and heading back to our room late into the night (I would say stumbling, but I’m still not drinking! see: Whole30, sigh).
Can’t believe we’ll be doing it all over again this weekend—but this time, with my sister as the bride (…eek!).
The next morning, after our spa indulgence, I really just wanted to lay out at this pool. It was what might possibly be the last warm weekend day of summer (or early fall), and this beauty was calling my name.
But alas, we had a pergola to build back in Tennessee (wedding committee, y’all), so we skipped out, but now I’ll have something to look forward to when I return.
We grabbed a quick breakfast at Woodlands Grill—they had a Whole30-compliant frittata! and it was delicious! and only $10!—before getting on the road again. All in all, it was the perfect wedding, the perfect weekend escape and a brief 36 hours of R&R that will be much-needed as we head into the craziest autumn of our lives.