3 magical escapes close to home this holiday season

Whether you're seeking a romantic getaway or a winter adventure for the family, you don't need to travel far from metro Atlanta during the holidays.

Just south of Atlanta, Callaway Gardens is a Southern destination with numerous ways to connect with nature and to celebrate the holidays with events including the annual Fantasy In Lights. The popular light display has been named one of National Geographic's "Top 10 Places to See Holiday Lights,” and you can reconnect with friends and family by staying in its cozy inn, cottages, villas or vacation home accommodations.

Or for a more remote, nature-centric getaway, consider planning a trip to Georgia's coast. Cumberland Island, the largest of the barrier islands, offers a coastal escape where travelers can visit the historic ruins of the Carnegie mansion, observe wild horses and camp under the stars, unobstructed by city lights. Or plan a couple of days in Savannah, where holiday events and decor add another level of charm to the already romantic and historic destination.

Skip the crowded airports, pack the car and head to one of these three magical getaways in November or December.

Callaway Gardens

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Distance from Atlanta: 80 miles

What to see and do: From Nov. 12 to Jan. 7, the 8 million lights in the annual Fantasy In Lights brings a festive glow to Callaway Gardens, a public gardens and resort in Pine Mountain, Ga. The display, now in its 24th year, features scenes like Christmas Tree Lane, Enchanted Rainbow Forest and Snowflake Valley, plus 10-minute light and music shows at Robin Lake Beach. Visitors can ride in an open-air trolley or in their own vehicle. Tickets start at $21 for adults.

Special events for kids include Story Time with Mrs. Claus, photos with Santa and character breakfasts. In the Main Street-themed Christmas Village, you can buy hats, scarves, nutcrackers, ornaments and more. Just outside the Christmas Village, the Christmas Pavilion offers food, and Jacob Marley's Christmas Spirits serves festive beverages like Ebenezer's Eggnog and Cratchit's Cider. Roast s'mores in the Christmas Pavilion before grabbing a warm drink to take on the trolley to watch the lights.

There's more to do at Callaway Gardens during your visit. Fishing and bird watching are among popular winter pastimes.

"For getting away from the hustle and bustle, Callaway Gardens is a great convenient way for people in Atlanta to do that and to really immerse themselves in nature and reconnect with the people they love," said Rachel Crumbley, director of marketing and public relations at Callaway Gardens.

Where to stay: Callaway Gardens accommodates a variety of party sizes, tastes and budgets, but the Southern Pine Cottages feature living room fireplaces and traditional furnishings that create a home-away-from-home feel (nightly rates begin at $109). Callaway Gardens also offers special holiday packages and rates for overnight accommodations. The Fantasy In Lights Bed & Breakfast Ticket Package starts at $149 and includes admission to the gardens every day of stay and to Fantasy In Lights and breakfast for two. Starting at $129 a night, the Fantasy In Lights Room & Ticket Package includes admission to the Gardens, and Fantasy In Lights. Both packages also include a 2016 commemorative ornament.

Info: 888-520-0929.

Cumberland Island

Distance from Atlanta: 345 miles

What to see and do: Cumberland Island is a special spot to enjoy the outdoors and delight in extraordinary sights, such as the wild horses that roam the national seashore. The island, accessible by ferry from St. Marys, Ga., has over 50 miles of trails and roads as well as 18 miles of beach and plenty of outdoor activities such as fishing, kayaking, hiking and beach combing.

You can have a memorable holiday getaway by timing your trip with special events. On Dec. 11, the Plum Orchard Christmas Tour ($10 in addition to park admission and ferry fee) offers a Victorian holiday celebration in the Historic Plum Orchard Mansion. Park admission costs $4 and a round trip ferry ticket costs $28. Or see the decorated mantels and trees on Plum Orchard's "Lands and Legacies" tour between Thanksgiving and Jan. 1. The Lands and Legacies tour is $45. Call 877-860-6787 to book either tour.

In addition to holiday events, visitors can soak in the rich history of the island, located a little over five hours from Atlanta, by visiting the Dungeness ruins, the Plum Orchard Mansion and the First African Baptist Church. Guided tours are also available.

Where to stay: Although an overnight stay at Cumberland requires more advanced planning and preparation due to lack of amenities, it's an inexpensive and unique option. With five different areas to choose from, camping costs as low as $2 a person per night.

Info: 912-882-4336. More details here.


Distance from Atlanta: 248 miles

What to see and do: Savannah, about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Atlanta, offers unique holiday activities in a quintessential Southern setting. Even if you have visited during the year, you could create new memories with a holiday trip to Savannah.

Savannah has an aura of mystery, but when its squares are lit up at Christmas, it can be a magical time.

Check out Wormsloe State Historic Site, known for its surreal tree tunnels draped with Spanish moss. On Dec. 17, from 1-4 p.m., a Colonial Christmas at Wormsloe will feature caroling, burning of the Yule log, dancing, period music, games and refreshments. Admission is $4.50-$10.

Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 23, you can experience December Nights and Holiday Lights, a new and expanded version of the annual event at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm. More than 500,000 lights will cover its 10 acres of farm buildings and gardens, which you can see on a self-guided walking tour. The seasonal display also will include music, treats, a railroad display, a Nativity scene and more. Admission is $5.

Where to stay: Bed and breakfasts abound in Savannah, including Park Avenue Bed and Breakfast near Forsyth Park. Other options include Kehoe House and Ballastone Inn. The Hampton Inn Savannah-Historic DistrictCourtyard Savannah and Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront are among other options in the historic area, which includes River Street, and along the Savannah River.

Info: 912-644-6400.

This article is presented in collaboration with Callaway Gardens’ Fantasy in Lights. Visit the website for more details on the South’s most spectacular holiday light and sound show.

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