Small town charm meets upscale dining, shopping in Madison

Atlanta Journal Constitution. Nov 2022.

Oak-lined streets dotted with historic homes, charming shops filled with locally made art, a park packed with families. The small Southern town of Madison is a destination preserved in history and amended with time.

Established in 1809, Madison was named for Founding Father and fourth president of the United States, James Madison. It flourished as a stagecoach stop and the commercial hub for agrarian families. Today, the city is home to nearly 5,000 people, many of them farmers, artists and small-business owners who enjoy a slower pace of life.

Recently, Madison has undergone a transformation with the opening of new retail establishments and restaurants. Located 60 miles east of Atlanta, Madison makes for a perfect day trip or a quick weekend getaway, offering a little bit of everything from one of Georgia’s largest historic districts and unique shopping opportunities, to holistic wellness treatments and exceptional outdoor activities.

Family-friendly events, festive decorations and small-town charm make Madison especially appealing to visit during the holiday season.

Town Park is lit up for the holiday season.
(Courtesy of Madison Morgan CVB)


Decked out for Christmas

Madison’s town center is never livelier than during the holidays. Streets decorated with wreaths and mistletoe, homes dressed with Christmas lights and bustling holiday markets create a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Festivities have already begun. Holiday Market at the Madison Artists Guild (MAGallery) is open now through Dec. 24, selling unique handcrafted items made by local artisans through. And every Saturday in November during Shop, Sip & Stroll, local retailers provide free drinks and nibbles for visitors to enjoy while they shop and listen to live Christmas music in the streets.

The Holiday Tour of Homes returns Dec. 2-3 for the first time since the pandemic. Choose from a daylight or candlelight tour to stroll inside six private historic homes decked out in holiday finery in the Madison Historic District. Proceeds from the ticket sales benefit the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, venue for the annual Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Holiday Concert on Dec. 22.

While you’re in town, cut down your own tree at Jack’s Creek Christmas Tree Farm, a 50-acre family-run farm that has been growing award-winning Christmas trees for more than 30 years. It also hosts a Grandma’s Christmas Shoppe and appearances from Santa Nov. 26-Dec. 21.

On Dec. 17-18, Hard Labor Creek State Park hosts Holiday Hayrides ($3 admission, $5 parking) complete with hot cocoa and marshmallow toasting around a campfire.

One of the highlights of Madison’s Christmas festivities is the Holiday Parade and Caroling by Candlelight on Dec. 10. Festive floats, dancers, horses, dogs, marching bands, vintage cars, choral groups and Santa Claus himself all come together at Town Park for a merry afternoon and evening celebration.

Built Circa 1809, the Rogers House has been located in downtown Madison for more than 200 years.
(Courtesy of Madison Morgan CVB)

Credit: Handout

History and Architecture

Even when it isn’t Christmas, there’s still plenty to do in Madison. With more than 350 historic structures, the Madison Historic District is one of the largest National Register Historic Districts of 19th century architecture in Georgia. Among the highlights are many grand, antebellum mansions that survived Gen. Sherman’s March to the Sea because of a “gentleman’s agreement” to spare the town.

Madison boasts three house museums open for tours, including Heritage Hall, an opulent Greek Revival-style home built in 1811 and relocated to Main Street; the more modest Piedmont Plain-style Rogers House, circa 1809; and Rose Cottage, once home to former slave Adeline Rose.

To learn more about the the town’s architecture, visit the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, which features the “Columns and Cottages: Madison’s Architectural Treasures” exhibition. For more about the history of Madison’s enslaved people, visit the Morgan County African-American Museum, located in the Folk Victorian-style home of John Wesley Moore, an African-American man born in the last years of slavery.

For a map of the Madison Historic District, stop by the Welcome Center on Main Street.

New shops and restaurants have recently opened in downtown Madison.
(Courtesy of Madison Morgan CVB)


Hob Nob on Main Street

Pedestrian-friendly Main Street spans 1.5 miles through the heart of Madison. It’s bookended by Town Park on one end, and the prominent courthouse on the other, and in between the street is lined with plenty of independent shops and restaurants.

After touring some of the town’s historic homes, be inspired to decorate your own place with one-of-a-kind pieces available for purchase at Madison Markets. The 20,000-square-foot renovated cotton warehouse is now a unique indoor shopping venue selling new and vintage furniture, linens, jewelry and collectibles from more than 75 dealers under one roof. Independent dealers like Keith Fortson and Katie Hyatt, who travel to Europe to source original canvas paintings, furniture and accessories, specialize in one-of-a-kind goods.

Many of Madison’s old buildings have been retrofitted for new and trendy dining establishments. What was once Simmons Funeral Home is now Hart and Crown Tavern, a cozy British pub with original brick walls and imported art and furnishings. It’s an ideal spot to sample varieties of whiskey and Scotch, along with deep fried Scotch eggs wrapped in spicy ground pork and hearty Irish bangers and mash.

Located in a former gas station, The Sinclair is an upscale café offering all-day dining, cocktails and specialty coffee drinks. Pick up homemade muffins and pastries with your morning latte, or linger on the patio with a prosciutto and brie panini and a limoncello mule cocktail in the afternoon. Near Heritage Hall, Town 220 Restaurant serves upscale French and Southern cuisine in a bright, airy dining room with warm wood furnishings. Executive chef-owner Francisco De La Torre sources local and organic ingredients and is renowned for his herb-crusted rack of lamb dressed in mint sauce.

Farmview Market is a popular local spot for hearty Southern-style breakfast and lunch, and there’s a storefront selling a wide selection of local and organic produce, jams, spreads, honey, pickles and handmade crafts. On Saturday mornings May-September, vendors from around Georgia bring their seasonal fruits, vegetables, free-range eggs, plants, baked goods and artisan crafts to sell at the adjacent open-air Farmers Market. 

Delight in Downtime

If you want to unwind during your vacation, spend an afternoon at ZEN Relaxing Wellness Center. A wide selection of alternative and natural care providers from around Madison come together at ZEN to offer yoga, meditation, massage and holistic treatments — all under one roof. Float in a sensory deprivation tank, get pain relief with cryotherapy, detox through ionic foot therapy or simply breathe in the salt halotherapy room and clean out your lungs.

To connect with nature, book a horseback ride at Southern Cross Guest Ranch, a family-owned and operated dude ranch located about 15 minutes from downtown Madison. The ranch’s all-inclusive riding plans include comfortable accommodations, buffet-style meals, bike rentals and up to four hours in the saddle each day. The ranch’s six miles of open pastures are warm in the winter sun and the wooded trails offer shade during summer afternoons, so outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy horseback riding any time of the year.

For golfing, fishing, swimming and hiking in a wooded setting, head over to Hard Labor Creek State Park. There are fully equipped cottages and campgrounds to spend a night or two. Other accommodations in Madison include luxurious James Madison Inn located within walking distance to most attractions. Local art and Southern culture are reflected in the inn’s bright lobby and 17 distinctively themed rooms and two grand suites.

Madison’s vintage charm and modern amenities make it an ideal close-to-home destination where you can take a romantic getaway or a memorable winter vacation.


Madison is 60 miles east of Atlanta via I-20.

Things to do

Holiday Tour of Homes. 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Dec. 2-3. $30-$40. 434 S. Main St. 706-342-4743.

Holiday Parade and Caroling by Candlelight. Dec. 10. Parade 4 p.m. Caroling 5-7 p.m. Free. Along College Drive, N. Main Street and W. Jefferson Street. 706-341-1261, Ext. 1208.

MAG Holiday Market. Through Dec. 24. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. 125 W. Jefferson Street. 706-342-9360.

Zen Relaxing Wellness Center. $35 and up. 271 W. Washington St. 706-350-5999.

Madison Markets. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 144 Academy St. 706-342-8795.

Where to Eat

Town 220. Southern inspired French cuisine in a casual setting. Entrees $18-31. 220 W. Washington St. 706-752-1445.

Hart & Crown Tavern. Cozy British-inspired pub and locally sourced chef-driven restaurant. Entrees $14 and up. 142 E. Washington St. 706-438-8050.

The Sinclair. Upscale coffee shop and bar serving light bites. $4 and up. 298 Hancock St. 706-438-1101.

Farmview Market Café. Casual deli serving smoothies, breakfast, salads and sandwiches. $6.99 and above. 2610 Eatonton Road. 678-729-1458.

Where to Stay

James Madison Inn. Luxury boutique hotel downtown. $225 per night. 260 W. Washington Street, Madison. 06-342-7040,

Hard Labor Creek State Park. Newly renovated pet-friendly cabins with full kitchens. $165-200 per night. 5 Hard Labor Creek Road, Rutledge. 1-800-864-7275,

Southern Cross Guest Ranch. $115-300 per person, per night, depending on boarding and activities. 1670 Bethany Church Road. 706-342-8027,

Tourist info

Madison Morgan County Welcome Center. 115 E. Jefferson St., Madison. 706-342-4454,

~ Written for and published by Atlanta Journal Constitution. All rights reserved.

Where to Stay and Play on a Family Vacation to Qatar

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler. July 2022.

With a bevy of outdoor adventures, thrilling theme parks and enriching museums and activity centers, Qatar’s making its mark as one of the Middle East’s most family-friendly destinations.

In a nation famed for luxurious accommodations, bespoke services, myriad activities and consideration of safety, there are ample unique experiences sure to dazzle kids of all ages.

Doha offers a wealth of cultural sites for curious parents and kids. At the Museum of Islamic Art, take an educational and creative tour to see Islamic art and exhibitions showcasing more than 1,400 years of history.

Continue reading on Marriott Bonvoy Traveler

8 Books That Let Kids Travel the World Through Stories

The Expedition. January 2022.

There are ways to travel besides getting on a plane or into a car. Thank goodness, given the constraints of school schedules—not to mention the limitations of the pandemic. Books can take children on journeys to different places and times. And books by diverse authors encourage kids to identify and empathize with different cultures and perspectives. 

We chose several books that can let kids travel through their pages. They can learn about language, food, music, animals, attractions and more, whether they’re toddlers, grade-schoolers or on the cusp of adolescence. Try these vibrant volumes to bring armchair adventures into your home. 

My Little Cities: London by Jennifer Adams

3-5 years

My Little Cities London Cover

Continue reading on The Expedition

At Palmetto Bluff, Living Well Is All About Sincere Interactions, Close Contact with Nature, and Self-Discovery

Travel+Leisure. June 2021.

Located in the heart of the South Carolina Lowcountry, between Charleston and Savannah, Palmetto Bluff is a lush and vibrant community filled with rich history, stunning natural beauty, and Lowcountry charm. Exquisitely designed homes and a luxury hotel and spa sit on 20,000 acres of magnificent maritime forest with ancient live oak trees, Spanish moss, and longleaf pines. Villages offer a slower pace of life with plenty of room for exploration. Activities abound here: Paddle a kayak to dinner, gather with neighbors over cocktails by a firepit, and watch the kids playing outdoors until dark. You can participate in a class with a Conservancy naturalist, meet a local artist, go fishing, and play golf and tennis. You can listen to the tides while relaxing on the porch. Smell the sweet coastal air. Watch a watercolor sunset.

Palmetto Bluff is an ideal place to live and visit, and these experiences characteristic of this beautiful destination make that clear.

Continue reading on Travel+Leisure

Copyright: Amanda Mills, USCDCP

How to Teach Kids to Appreciate Foods From Other Cultures

Lifehacker. April 2021.

Cultural diversity is an important concept that shapes us as individuals and as a society. Grasping its importance at an early age means understanding and appreciating that people are different, and that’s what makes the world more interesting. In particular, teaching kids early on about different foods, eating habits, and mealtime traditions can help them understand, appreciate, and embrace people from different backgrounds later in life. Continue reading on Lifehacker’s Offspring…

5 Best Family-friendly Hotels on Hilton Head Island

Travel+Leisure. February 2021.

Whether you’re planning your first multi-generational trip or Hilton Head Island is your longtime family vacation tradition, here’s where to stay to keep everyone happy.

A summer vacation on Hilton Head Island is an annual tradition for many families. Pristine white sand beaches, miles of bike paths, and endless outdoor activities make a trip to the largest barrier island on the southern Atlantic seacoast an ideal destination for all ages. Hilton Head has a number of beachfront resorts that offer enough amenities to keep the entire family entertained. There are conference centers, spas, multiple pools, kids clubs, and a variety of dining outlets. Wherever you stay, you’re sure to create happy memories and return to vacation with another generation.

The Westin Hilton Head Resort and Spa

From private cabanas by the pool to family portraits on the beach, The Westin offers a personalized experience for those looking to stay within their pods and celebrate special occasions. ADVERTISING

Don’t leave Fido behind — dogs are welcome here too and there is a dedicated dog park on property. 

As a wellness-focused brand, The Westin Hilton Head Resort and Spa offers families a variety of ways to stay active, eat healthy, and learn about the environment. The concierge can tailor runs, walks, and yoga for the entire family, as well as arrange for discounted golf, tennis, pickleball, golf, and foot golf at the Port Royal Plantation. Outside Hilton Head’s kiosk at the hotel rents out bikes and electric bikes to ride on the island’s 60 miles of bike paths. The Westin also offers room packages that extend a visit to the remote Daufuskie Island, only accessible by ferry, where you can horseback ride on the beach.

Marriott Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa

At Marriott Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa, kids have their own hotel check-in area complete with step stool to reach the counter. The largest resort on the island, Marriott boasts 513 guest rooms, an 18,000-square-foot ballroom, an Olympic-size pool, and a 10,000-square-foot spa with 16 treatment rooms. 

Arts and craft activities center around the expansive pool deck that has closer beach access than any other resort on the island. With the backdrop of a DJ spinning live music, kids can engage in hands-on interests such as sand castle building, shark tooth necklace making, life-size chess, basketball, pickleball, and more. Every July, renowned master sand sculptor John Gowdy conducts sand sculpture seminars where he trains young people in building artistic sand castles. You can also see his extensive sand castle displayed in the Marriott’s lobby. 

The hotel is located on seemingly endless Palmetto Dunes, which has 11 miles of lagoon system and over 100 miles of bike trails. It is common to see families riding tandem bikes, kayaking, and canoeing, unless they are teeing off on one of the area’s three PGA golf courses. If the weather is bad, walk over to the On The Mark indoor archery center that caters to families and kids, helping them build confidence and promoting mental and physical health.

Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island

Located in the gated Shipyard community, Sonesta Resort on Hilton Head has a great program for toddlers and young families to safely enjoy a beach vacation. From its swimming pool, water fountains, and pool toys to its extensive Kids Club, there are nonstop events listed on the activity board each day. During the summer, there are half- and full-day kids camps that include outdoor sports and arts and crafts as well as meals and snacks. Plus, there’s a make-your-own ice cream bar and a snow cone happy hour to look forward to.

You can also see some of the island’s wildlife at Sonesta’s lush lagoon. Kids can check off a punch card and win a t-shirt when they spot the local wildlife, such as sand dollars, jellyfish, horseshoe crabs, egrets, and cormorants. They can also observe resident turtles sunbathing by “turtle beach.” 

In the evening, families can watch a dive-in movie on the big screen, or gather around the firepit for s’mores. And when parents need a night out on the town, the concierge at Sonesta can arrange for a private nanny service to watch the little ones in the comfort of their hotel room. 

Omni Hilton Head Island Resort fire pit


Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort

The Omni Oceanfront Resort is located in the quiet Palmetto Dunes area and offers classic and modern oceanfront suites with private balconies fitted with a living room area, spacious bedrooms, kitchenettes, and connecting doors. Boasting the largest resort rooms on Hilton Head Island, all guestrooms have a mini-kitchen with a microwave, refrigerator, and dining table. 

A live DJ keeps the resort-style atmosphere lively throughout the day, while vocalists entertain dinner guests on the outdoor patio. Kids camps run from Memorial to Labor day, packing the days with leisure activities such as tie-dye, turtle hunts, biking, and paddle boarding. The open outdoor areas serve as a common ground to play pickleball, corn hole, life-size chess, and ping pong. 

The Sea Pines Resort

Located along 5,000 oceanfront acres, Sea Pines is one of the most upscale family-friendly resorts on Hilton Head. A broad range of accommodation options include spacious vacation homes and villas and a romantic inn. Lowcountry adventures offered at the resort include tennis, horseback riding, boating, volleyball, and unique eco-adventures such as geocaching, dolphin watching, and alligator wine and cheese boat tours. There are also scheduled golf championships, culinary festivals, arts workshops, and ghost crabs hunts on full moon nights at this notable resort. 

~ Written for and published by Travel+Leisure. All rights reserved.

Your Guide to Discovering the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Cuisine Noir Magazine. January 2021.

Picture over 100 miles of shoreline, charming seaside villages, walkable waterfront vacation rentals—all within driving distance from home. If you are looking to escape crowded cities and overrun tourist spots, head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The chain of barrier islands is remote yet easy to get to. Linked by coastal highway NC 12, the four islands consist of six towns and 12 villages, each offering a wide mix of romance, nature, and history only steps away from the ocean.

Beach in Kitty Hawk
Pictured: Beach in Kitty Hawk, Outer Banks | Photo credit: The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
Summer, Spring or Fall

Though mainly known as a family summer destination, mild temperatures and cool sea breezes make the Outer Banks a great option to visit any time of the year. Most shops and restaurants are open from after Easter until the end of December. Snowless winters offer solitude, and the beaches are empty yet enjoyable.

Fly or Drive

The Outer Banks (aka OBX) is easily accessible from Norfolk International Airport (82 miles north) in Virginia or Raleigh Durham International Airport (192 miles west) in North Carolina. The best way to explore the islands is by renting a car, and you can even drive in from most states on the East Coast.

Plan a Stay

Each of the towns in OBX has a unique personality, so make sure to split your time staying in a few different areas or at least driving around for a few days. There are a number of hotels, motels, vacation rental homes, and B&Bs to choose from for every budget.

Sanderling Resort on Duck in The Outer Banks, North Carolina
Pictured: Sanderling Resort in Duck, Outer Banks | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Duck is the most affluent of the OBX towns, with boutique shops, fine dining restaurants and extravagant vacation homes. The Sanderling Resort in Duck is one of the few luxury resorts with a private beach, spa, swimming pool and restaurants.

The Lifesaving Station restaurant at Sanderling is an original rescue station from the 1870s that serves Carolina-sourced seafood delicacies such as blue crab and corn chowder, jumbo shrimp cocktail and pan-seared sea scallops. Spend time walking along the boardwalk, maritime forest and Duck Town Park.  Rent a jet ski or simply hang out at the white sand beaches.

Pay a visit to the neighboring town of Kill Devil Hills, a landmark in aviation history. This is where the famous Wright brothers flew the world’s first heavier-than-air powered controlled flight in 1903. Next door to the Wright Brothers National Memorial is Outer Banks Brewing Station, the oldest wind-powered brewery in the U.S., which also serves local food.

Sand dunes, souvenir shops, dreamy lighthouses, and casual restaurants make up Nags Head, another popular OBX town. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can not only see the tallest and largest natural dune system in the eastern U.S., you can even fly over them. Hang gliding and kite flying are popular sports here, which are safe and fun for all ages.

Wright Brothers Memorial
Pictured: The Wrights Brothers Memorial in Duck, Outer Banks | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

If you prefer something less adventurous, climb the 156-foot Bodie Island Lighthouse and watch the birdlife along the marshes. Or gallop through meadows and expansive beaches on a family-friendly Equine Adventures Horseback Tour.

No visit to the Outer Banks is complete without a day out in the water. Head over to Kitty Hawk, the largest adventure outfitter in OBX, to rent bikes, paddles, surfboards, kayaks, hang gliders and parasails.

Watch the Wildlife

Having a car allows you to explore the islands from Duck to Hatteras Island at your own pace. Travel through a distance of 83 miles, stopping to explore the rugged natural beauty of the island.  Fishing boats pull into Hatteras Harbor and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse—the tallest in the United States. Grab a lunch of sustainably caught grouper and tuna sandwiches at one of the many family-owned restaurants along the way.

The Pea Island National Refuge at mile marker 31 offers a great opportunity to spot native birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians.

Relax in Town

End your trip to the Outer Banks on Roanoke Island or the walkable waterfront downtown of Manteo. This is where you can slow down the pace, strolling through Elizabethan Gardens, charming downtown cafes and picturesque neighborhoods, and take a sunset sail through Roanoke and Albemarle Sounds.

Fishing at Nags Head Pier
Pictured: Man fishing on a pier in Nags Head, Outer Banks | Photo credit: The Outer Banks Vistors Bureau

When you are ready to travel, there are endless undeveloped coastlines, preserved wildlife, great fishing, and historic landmarks in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, making it an ideal close-to-home getaway.

For more information to plan your trip, including events, more dining options and more, visit  You can also travel there virtually by following along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Why Romania is the Next Hot Family Destination

For CheapOAir Miles Away. July 2018.

Historic castles, evil counts, wooden churches, and magical fortresses — forget Disney, THIS is where fairy tales come alive! Welcome, to Romania — one of the most affordable countries in Europe for families looking for adventure, culture, history, and relaxation.

Here’s what this southeastern European nation has to offer for visitors of all ages…

Read the full post on CheapOAir Miles Away.

This Is How to Do Your Weekend Getaway at Yosemite

For One Travel. May 2018.

Whether you are a thrill-seeking mountain climber, long-distance biker, or just like to relax outdoors with the family, chances are that you will be able to find an amazing vacation that will satisfy your mind and body in the expansive 1,200 miles of Yosemite National Park. While the best time to visit Yosemite is during spring when the snow is melting and the waterfalls are at their full gushing glory, its massive granite mountains covered with glaciers, ancient giant sequoias, and vast meadows are spectacular year-round.

Continue reading on One Travel….


Discover the Caribbean Island with a Carnival Festival Your Entire Family Will Love

For CheapOAir Miles Away blog. February 2017. 

Think carnivals are only for adults who want to drink, dance and party the night away? Think again! The carnival on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire is a celebration lasting an entire month. Locally known as Karnaval, the island’s must-see events includes colorful parades, pageants, tumba music, and family friendly parties.

Read the full article on CheapOAir Miles Away blog