According to a 2017 CBS News report, Atlanta has the eighth worst traffic in the world. Yes, you read that right — the world. Of course, any local could have told you that without ever looking at a pie chart or an elaborate scientific equation. Be it 9 a.m. on a Tuesday or 9 p.m. on a Sunday, the highways promise to be a mess. But like pollen and area sports teams’ postseason struggles, it’s a stress that most area residents have come to grips with.
Still, even the most optimistic I-75 commuters need a break every now and then, somewhere they can go where people actually use their turn signals or, better yet, don’t even need them. Alas, we’ve found such a mythical place, The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, and it’s less than a 1.5-hour drive from Atlanta’s mechanized madness. Yes, you’ll have to fight I-20 drivers to get out of the metro area, but we assure a meaningful payoff for the efforts.
Three things make a road trip a success: the right companion, the right playlist and the right car. We trust your judgment with the first two but, with regards to the third, we have a strong suggestion — the 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir. The latest effort in an ambitious campaign to give the brand a millennial jolt, the Enclave Avenir makes sense for couples on a quiet getaway or families of five stretching out the summer for as long as they possibly can.
And while this Buick’s easily accessed third row, head-turning curves and sleek intellibeam headlamps hint that the line has moved into the 21st century with gusto, it’s not until you’ve looked around the chestnut-colored cabin (eight-inch infotainment screen, heated second row) and have an understandings of all the bells (lane assist, hands-free liftgate) that you fully comprehend just how much more advanced this vehicle is than your great aunt’s old LeSabre.
Play with the luxury crossover’s toys for a while — we’ve never seen a rearview mirror turn into a camera with the flick of a knob before now — but do your best to get on the road by 1 or 2 p.m. Like we said, there will be mild congestion along the way. But with the crystal-clear Bose Premium stereo system playing, you’ll be more concerned with the tunes than the traffic.
The silky Enclave (3.6-liter engine with a nine-speed transmission) will have you gliding into the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star retreat right before your 4 p.m. check-in. Bellhops and valets dressed in knickers and argyle socks will grab your bags as you handle your business at the reception desk.
While you’re standing there, take in your immediate surroundings: wood-beamed ceilings, roaring fires, leather-backed chairs. It all feels like a snazzy summer camp you wish you knew about when you were 12.
Rooms here also help set a resplendently rustic tone. If you’re in one of the resort- or lake-view units, expect to see neutral tones, sliding French doors and throw pillows with inspiring quotes etched onto them. Accommodations on the Club Level are equally impressive and come with the added treat of access to the snack- and beverage-filled lounge. (Foodie tip: If you see a jar of the outrageously scrumptious white-chocolate-blueberry cookies, pick up two of them!)
Once you’ve explored your quarters and changed from your travel clothes, head down to the property’s quaint man-made beach to bask in the day’s last few hours of sunlight. When you find your spot, kick your feet up with a cocktail — if you ask us, boat watching along Lake Oconee is one of the area’s more underrated pastimes — or, if you have some energy, take a kayak, paddleboard or one of those wacky-looking Schiller water bikes out for a spin.
For dinner, stop by Gaby’s By The Lake, a relaxed establishment that considers laced-up sneakers to be formal attire. But whatever shortcomings the place has in decorum, it makes up for with a deliciously fun menu the whole table will like. The pimento cheese crab dip and Brussels sprouts appetizers are so good that you’ll consider ordering a second helping for your entrée. But if you did that, where in the world would you put the jerk chicken or lobster-and-scallop alfredo?
If your stomach can handle a little more, head over to the now-legendary bonfire for s’mores. We’re not just talking about some half-hearted re-creation from your childhood, either; every night of the year, a sophisticated setup of tasty ingredients, sticks and drinks is available to guests. (And we’re not even going to try to contain our excitement for a Halloween-themed spread coming on Saturdays in October.)
Start your day with the bountiful breakfast buffet at Georgia’s. The elegant spread will captivate your eye with everything from sliced meats and fruit to waffle quarters and almost-as-good-as-granny’s cheese grits. There’s a dedicated omelet station, too. The addictive sticky buns aren’t on the buffet, but if you ask your server nicely, she may bring out one of the pieces of glazed goodness to your table.
After all of those carbs, a trip to the fitness center might be in order. You could go all out on one of the gym’s new Peloton bikes or take a dip in the stunning indoor pool.
But if you’re feeling the need for some fresh air, play a round on one of the property’s five stellar golf courses or challenge someone to a game of cornhole or hoops in the resort’s backyard.
No matter which activity you try, the lake will always have a presence. For a closer look, connect with the onsite Young Harris Watersports about renting a boat for a few hours. Reserve an eight-person wake boat or 10-person tri-toon — pay the additional fee for the captain so your only worry will be finding a good spot for a swim — to get a proper tour of the area, which serves as one of the primary shooting locations for Netflix’s Ozark.
When you dock, it’ll be time for a late lunch. If you’re not famished after the trip, pop in The Coffee Shop for a pastry or order something light from room service. However, if your hunger pangs have gotten powerful, Linger Longer Steakhouse has a midday menu stacked with soups, salads and stuffed chicken sandwiches.
As the day calms, and the place starts to thin out, go for a casual walk. The Georgia pine-shaded property could not be more picturesque. On one side, you’ll see two-, three- and four-bedroom cottages bordering the gorgeous Oconee golf course. The Adirondack-styled, porch-wrapped structures are a delight from outside but they’re even more charming on the inside.
On the other end of the campus is the just-opened Pavilion. If there’s an event going on in the 6,000-square-foot, farmhouse-inspired venue, you’ll clearly see revelers through the floor-to-ceiling windows. But don’t worry about any noise disrupting your stay; you won’t hear a note from Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” blaring during the wedding reception. (We can’t make any promises about the decibels, however, during the resort’s summer-closing concert with Ansley Stewart on September 2.)
Somewhere in between all of this is The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Reynolds, Lake Oconee, a 19-room sanctuary that indulges with timely treatments (like this fall’s S’mores Body Glow and Pumpkin Peel Facial) and unique services (the sweet tea- and magnolia-scented Georgian) you’d literally only find in this neck of the woods.
When night falls, it’ll be time for the lakefront chiminea dinner you’ve reserved in advance. The Ritz-Carlton team will set up a two-person experience near the water that plays out across three romantic courses. Between bites, reflect on how perfect the past two days have been.
Whatever you do, just don’t ruin the mood by talking about work or Atlanta traffic. Save that lament for the smooth ride back home in the Buick Enclave Avenir.