There should be something pretty impressive about a place that few people outside of Georgia have heard about but was once referred to by Harper's magazine as "the best winter resort on three continents."
In the deep reaches of Georgia, about a rock's throw from the Florida line, Thomasville is a town where time seems to have stood still and the Old South never completely faded away.
It's no exaggeration to say that Thomasville is one of the prettiest towns in America. Rolling green hills. Furrows of red clay in hues of carmine, mahogany and cinnamon. Graceful plantations from long ago. Victorian architecture. Warm breezes. Bobwhite quail whistling among the pines. Kudzu-covered roadsides. Towering magnolias and oaks drizzled with Spanish moss.
Until the Civil War, Thomasville evolved to a plantation society where King Cotton ruled. The war ended, and until the early 1900s Thomasville was the end of the railroad line in Georgia. With near-perfect winter weather, wealthy snowbirds flocked there for its warm and clean pine-scented air and to hunt and fish its pastures.
The moneyed magnates - Vanderbilts and Goodriches among them - built luxurious homes there. Their lifestyles were lavish, and their winter cottages architectural jewels, many of which still hold their original grandeur.
That was the gilded age of Thomasville, which eventually became known as the Winter Resort Era. But it all ended when rail lines snaked their way into Florida and tourism opened up in the Sunshine State.
The vacationing grandees move on with their money, but their architecture - a mix of plantations and Victorian homes - remains in place and at the core of Thomasville's beauty.
Sample the past
First, try the self-guided Historic Thomasville Walking and Driving Tour that takes you to more than 70 locations in the historic districts. Seeing all those colorful, gorgeous homes and buildings gives you a sense of just what Thomasville's past is all about.
Plantations? Seventy-one of them are strewn over 300,000 acres on Plantation Parkway, between Thomasville and Tallahassee, Fla., yet the only one open to the public - the rest are private homes - is Pebble Hill, a 25,000-square-foot house museum dating to the 1820s that was once a shooting plantation. Think Scarlett O'Hara.
Thomasville is noted for its historic inns and buildings - including the Victorian-style 1884 Paxton House with 13-foot ceilings and a dozen fireplaces, the African-American Mitchell-Young-Anderson House filled with century-old furniture, and Freedom Oaks, a restored Queen Ann Victorian surrounded by azaleas and oaks. Gecko Gardens, the former 1854 Wright House Inn, bedazzles with more than three acres of retail landscaping goodies. The Lapham-Patterson House is an offbeat wonder in that it was built with no right angles.
Savor the food
In the midst of all that exploring, you'll have to eat. Thomasville's perfect storm of restaurants, many of which are on downtown's red brick-paved streets, blends everything from meat-and-three joints to barbecue to gourmet. Jonah's Fish & Grits is the go-to place for fried oyster sandwiches and shrimp and grits, and Liam's of Thomasville has wonderful wine and cheese selections and a European brunch on Saturdays.
The Plaza Restaurant, with its Greek dishes, is the oldest restaurant in downtown. Cafe Marebella is in the historic train depot serving outstanding Northern Italian food and offers al fresco seating under the old depot canopy.
Grassroots Coffee roasts its own coffee in small batches on location, and the dough is freshly made every day and shaped by hand at Moon Spin Pizza. Savannah Moon Bakery & Cafe is a local favorite, and so is the Billiard Academy for pool room chili dogs. Try George & Louie's Restaurant for the best hamburger in town, Izzo's Soda Fountain for old-fashioned milk shakes and malts, and finish at Bella Woods Cafe for high tea.
Smell the roses
Love roses? Like maybe a gazillion of them? A good time to visit is during the 90th annual Thomasville Rose Show and Festival scheduled for April 21-23. That's when Thomasville, nicknamed the "City of Roses," hosts the festival that has been a Georgia tradition and top event since the 1920s. With parades, pretty blossoms and parties galore.
Pick either roses or fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, or jams and jellies at the Thomasville Farmers Market, or smile and say cheese with a fun visit to Sweet Grass Dairy, which produces sumptuous cow and goat cheeses onsite in the complete process from milking to aging.
Then there's the Big Oak. Dating to about 1680, it's the largest oak tree east of the Mississippi River. Covering about an acre, its long, gnarly limbs make it wider than Niagara Falls is deep. It has survived windstorms, hurricanes and snowstorms to become an enduring symbol of Thomasville.