‘Atlanta, an art Mecca?’ I said to Mr Smith, wrinkling my nose in skepticism. ‘Darling, this time I think your aesthetic GPS is off – Atlanta’s all business. But this Stonehenge Inn we’re staying at – odd name, isn’t it? – looks pretty plush.’
‘It’s Stonehurst Place, dear, and my GPS is fine. You’ll see.’
I’ve driven through Atlanta many times, but never stopped to explore the city, assuming it was just a corporate headquarters park – the Braves, Coca-Cola, CNN – just as Orlando is one for theme parks. But Mr Smith is an avid art collector, so I was giving him the benefit of the doubt, while playing the reluctant sidekick.
We arrived on an unseasonably cold day, and relied on the car’s GPS to get us to Atlanta’s Midtown, which from the highway appeared to be a district of high rise commercial buildings. ‘That Bank of America building looks artful,’ I said to no one in particular. But it was I who was surprised when Mr Smith turned into a quiet tree-lined neighborhood of vintage homes, among them Stonehurst. Built in 1896, it sits atop a small rise, and is reached by a dramatic stone stairway flanked with rosemary and lavender bushes, now clothed in winter grey, but fragrant as ever.
We began to thaw under the warm welcome we received from the innkeeper, Caroline, who at once offered to have the fireplace in our room lighted. The entire house has an air of upscale vintage glam: chandeliers, antique furniture, and dark hardwood floors leavened by small modern touches, one mark of an experienced and creative interior designer in my book.
I always say that a bathtub should be large enough to swallow the stress of the day, and the one in our room could easily remove a week’s worth. ‘There might be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them,’ I said to Mr Smith, who had often heard me utter this pet quote (Sylvia Plath actually said it first) in hotel rooms. He knew it meant that my mood mercury was rising.
Mother Nature herself could not have made the house more eco-friendly – organic biodegradable bath products, plush bamboo towels, water-filtration system, even solar paneling. The owner had gone to as much trouble to minimise the inn’s environmental impact as the eco-hotel we had just been to in Costa Rica. Only Stonehurst comes with pampering flavored guilt-free.
That night we stepped out onto the front porch, built of muscular grey stone blocks, for a view of the city skyline, then went to meet friends at the trendy Two Urban Licks, a tapas-style restaurant with an open kitchen in the middle of the dining room.
The next morning, peeking above the 1,000 thread-count cotton sheets, I whispered, ‘hello tub.’ But the scent of a savory breakfast soon trumped the prospect of an hour-long bath, so I vanished into the shower, one of those spa-type wonders clad in Corian and with multiple showerheads. With the light shining through the windows and hot water cascading from overhead, I felt like I was showering outside in a summer rain.
Breakfast is an even greater delight here: robust coffee, fresh juices, bruleed grapefruit with cinnamon, fresh baked banana bread and blueberry scones with lemon curd, cheese-and-chive egg soufflés garnished with tomato and asparagus, both drizzled in a balsamic reduction.
The gourmet breakfast set the tone for the day, which included a walk to Piedmont Park, site of the springtime Dogwood Art Festival, and a good, long wander through Stonehurst looking at the owner’s private art collection, which is displayed throughout the house. That evening we met friends at Flip, a retro-chic burger boutique owned by Richard Blais, who has appeared on Top Chef: Chicago and Iron Chef America. Blais is blazing a new trail for the hamburger, having helped invent the restaurant’s artisan burgers (Ossobuco, Korean BBQ, and the Po Boyger) as well as liquid-nitrogen frozen milk shakes with out-there flavors (fois gras, pistachio and white truffle, and Nutella with burnt marshmallow).
After dinner, Mr Smith and I had a triple date with Picasso, Monet, and Renoir at the High Museum of Art, which is not far from Stonehurst, and we also took in the museum’s Dali ’Til Dawn exhibit.
On our last morning, we indulged in another gourmet breakfast, warmed ourselves by the fire, and took one last rain shower before heading home, narrowly missing the snowstorm that shut down the airport. ‘If only we had to fly to get home,’ I said. ‘Then we could have been snow prisoners at Stonehurst for another day or two.’ I had a crush on the inn, on Atlanta, and a renewed one on Mr Smith for not saying, ‘I told you so.’