During the autumn months, the mountains around Blue Ridge, Ga., are ablaze with a spectrum of vibrant colors. Blue Ridge is home to Mercier Orchards, Georgia’s largest u-pick farm. While Mercier offers u-pick seasonal fruits nearly year round, in the fall the orchard is filled with a variety of apples, the market offers fresh apple cider, and the bakery is filled with the aroma of baking apple pies.
Adele and Bill Mercier, who was the county extension agent, purchased the orchard in 1943 from a pharmacist who planted the original orchard at the turn of the century. The original orchard included 27 acres, a tractor and two employees. Over the years, the 27 acres grew into a 200-acre fruit farm, retail market, bakery, Adele’s Kitchen and a winery. Mercier is still family run with four generations working in the business.
During fall weekends, ride a wagon pulled by a tractor up the hill to pick your own apples and other seasonal fruit. The orchard produces 26 varieties of apples in jewel tones from deepest ruby to bright greens. Mercier will ship gift packs and baskets. The market at the orchard offers just-picked apples and other fruits as well as apple cider and assorted jellies and jams, including no-sugar-added varieties. The freshly made cider is one of the best we have tasted.
While at the market, stop by the bakery for a pie to take home or try a freshly made fried pie with homemade ice cream. An assortment of baked goods is offered, including an exceptional sour dough bread. Mercier now has a winery and also makes hard ciders. They grow, press, ferment and bottle their own product. Wines include Fall Harvest made with apples, Blackberry Winter and Summer Sweet Peach. When planning a trip to Mercier, leave early and have breakfast or lunch at Adele’s Kitchen. Breakfast choices include French toast made with apple cinnamon bread served with a side of warm cinnamon apples; eggs with choice of meat and breads; pancakes, waffles and filled biscuits. Lunch includes burgers, assorted sandwiches, wraps, chili and soups. The specialty is Pecan Chicken Salad offered on top of salad greens or stuffed in a tomato. A Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad is also available with the salad rolled in chopped pecans and then sautéed.
After lunch save time for a sightseeing journey through the North Georgia mountains on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. Boarding for the railway is at a historic, 100-year-old depot in downtown Blue Ridge. During the fall months, the train runs most days and twice a day on weekends. As the train heads north into the high country, it winds through mountains by the Toccoa River. Fall foliage can be viewed from vintage air-conditioned coaches and open-air cars. The train stops in the border towns of McCaysville, Ga. and Copperhill, TN., for lunch and antiquing. A shorter trip is offered on Sundays without a layover for lunch and shopping. Before heading home, browse downtown Blue Ridge, which has a variety of restaurants, art galleries, antique and specialty shops.
Forty percent of the county is in the Chattahoochee National Forest offering stunning views. Blue Ridge offers exhilarating hikes, white water rafting and trout fishing. Outdoor sites include the Zipline and Aerial Adventure Park and the Morganton Point Recreation area at Lake Blue Ridge. If you decide on an overnight stay in Blue Ridge, there are several cabin site options, and Comfort Inn Suites is situated near downtown and the orchard.
Not far from Blue Ridge, the town of Ellijay will hold its 46th annual Apple Festival Oct. 14-15 and Oct. 21-22 at the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds, 1729 South Main Street. Over 300 vendors will be featured. Admission is $5 with children free 10 and under. For further information call 706.636.4500. Blue Ridge is located 90 miles north of Atlanta. For further information to assist with a visit to Blue Ridge, contact the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce at www.blueridgemountains.com or call 800-899-MTNS. To purchase tickets online for the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway go to www.BRSCENIC.com or call 887-413-8724, and for information at the orchard check www.mercier-orchards.com or call 706-632-3411. While Mercier is promoting u-pick apples for September, check the website for availability in October. Apples can be ordered online.