Southern Dream Towns
From lakeside retreats to coastal gems, our guide to the best small-town hideaways
St. George's, Grenada
Step Ashore for Good at This Caribbean Outpost
Why You Should Move Here Be forewarned: The sight of St. George’s green Neverland hills and red-roofed colonial bungalows rising seductively from its horseshoe-shaped harbor is not one you can easily forget. A lush, volcanic outpost at the tailbone of the West Indies, about 100 miles north of Venezuela, Grenada’s compact 133 square miles combine lovely surroundings with an easygoing, time-warp pace. Sure, you can get broadband now, but plenty of islanders still remember when the ice-truck man would signal his arrival in Grenadian villages by sounding a foghorn blast with a conch shell. “It still has a lot of what the Caribbean has lost,” says an expat record producer originally from New York. Yachts and small cruise ships make regular stops in St. George’s, the relatively bustling capital that the French founded in the 1600s and whose surroundings are now home to about a third of Grenada’s 100,000 or so residents. And St. George’s University enrolls thousands of medical students, mostly Americans. So the island isn’t really a secret anymore. It just feels like one.
What’s Going On Grenada’s forty-plus beaches rank with the Caribbean’s finest—most famously Grand Anse, a two-mile crescent of sugar sand lined with resorts, just outside St. George’s proper. On that same leeward coast, reefs, sunken shipwrecks, and an eerie new underwater sculpture garden keep divers and snorkelers entertained. Sailors from all over flock to the Grenadines, one of the hemisphere’s most beloved nautical playgrounds, just to the north. High above sea level, in Grenada’s jungly central massif, hikers can slog along steep trails up peaks that approach three thousand feet in elevation, roam in the rain forest of Grand Étang Forest Reserve, and cool off in waterfall plunge pools shaded by creaking thickets of fifty-foot-tall bamboo. On the west coast, it’s worth checking out the River Antoine distillery for a less-than-polished, very un-Disneyfied tour of a rummery that’s been using a waterwheel to transform sugarcane into overproof grog since 1785.
Planting Your Roots A one-bedroom “Mediterranean-style” condo with a balcony overlooking St. George’s Morne Rouge beach and a pool on the premises recently listed for $250,000. Airy three-bedroom villas with bay views and a wraparound veranda might start between $500,000 and $700,000 (and head skyward from there). A gingerbread seaside mansion with mature tropical-fruit trees, a garden pond, and a private dock on Clark’s Cove Bay on the south shore, just across from the site of a soon-to-rise Four Seasons golf resort, is on the market for $1.15 million (remax-grenada.com).
Music is only one of this town’s high notes
Why You Should Move Here To oversimplify Floyd, Virginia’s charms, think of a modern-day Mayberry—with a good Mexican cantina. But, really, Floyd is more interesting than that. Tucked just beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway, atop a mountain plateau at roughly 2,500 feet, Floyd has redbrick storefronts and an easygoing, eco-minded style. While a sign hanging outside the Floyd Country store reads Loitering Allowed, and just down the street sits the Mayberry-esque Floyd Barber Shop (no kidding), the town and its outlying farmland are as likely populated by people who abandoned urban careers when their woodworking or weaving hobbies took off as they are by farmers whose families have been here for centuries.
What’s Going On This depends on the day. It might start in town at Cafe del Sol, the local coffeehouse with bagels and burritos, or traditional waffles or bacon and eggs at the town’s landmark Blue Ridge Restaurant. Or late in the day, a stop at Oddfella’s Cantina, with live music nightly, is a regular ritual for many looking to relax.
Beyond that, there’s work to do—which ranges from wine making to woodworking or pot throwing to farming. Once that’s done, Floyd’s trout fishermen and hunters (turkey, deer, and upland birds) rarely grow bored. And for more social events, the town regularly hosts huge, tourist-friendly weekends that typically draw thousands. Consider the Tour de Floyd, an annual springtime “metric century” ride (sixty-one miles), for which both elite athletes and basic pedalers cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway and local roads in a circuit around town. Or there’s FloydFest (usually the last full weekend in July), which brings dozens of bluegrass, rock, country, and (lately) African musicians to town for a three-day concert and party under the open sky. Despite its being a small town, there’s always something going on.
Plant Your Roots With farmland and several smaller outlying towns surrounding Floyd, there’s a place to fit any domestic need. A trim Victorian cottage near downtown Floyd, with a white picket fence and gardens, is currently for sale for $136,000. Or, should you want to spread out a little, there’s an 1800-vintage three-bedroom/one-bath farmhouse on fifty-one acres outside of town for $350,000.
“The topography around here is so many different things,” says Joe Blackwell of the locally owned Thompson Real Estate. “If you want long views off a hilltop, we’ve got lots of that, or if you want to be away somewhere private, we’ve got that, too. The landscape here has really conspired to create all sorts of building sites. We’re lucky that way around here.”
Eurkea Springs, Arkansas
Find art and adventure in this Ozark hamlet
Why You Should Move Here Few mountain towns in the South have the cultural cross-section of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Clinging to a near vertical Ozark mountainside, the Victorian-infused place is home each year to both a full-on opera festival season and the most polite unofficial biker convention you’ll ever experience.
While largely catering to a bed-and-breakfast visitor, the town’s oldest and possibly grandest lodging, the massive Crescent Hotel & Spa, is not only American Gothic luxurious but said to be the most haunted building in the United States. And Eureka Springs’ ganglia of steep, winding streets are full of art galleries (including one that specializes in kaleidoscopes), cafés, restaurants, and bars. But that’s only half the place’s draw: on the outskirts of the city—in the folded Ozark Mountains—awaits an active-sportsman’s Valhalla.
What’s Going On Where to start? Lodged between the Mark Twain National Forest to the north and the Ozark National Forest to the south, Eureka Springs is a perfect spot for a hiker’s base camp. And just outside town, the hilly but not heavily traveled two-lanes and gravel forest roads draw cyclists from hundreds of miles away (in June every year, the town fills up with athletes competing in the Eureka Springs Off-Road Triathlon). If water is more your idea of fun, the fish-laden King’s River and the scenic Buffalo National River—the latter among the most picturesque paddling destinations in the country—are reachable by only a short drive, as are several enormous impoundment lakes for fishing and boating.
In town, there are antique-auction weekends and powwows and bluegrass or folk-arts festivals year-round. And the annual Mardi Gras in town is always fun. Fitting with Eureka Springs’ open-minded approach, there’s even a Diversity Weekend each April.
Also meshing with Eureka Springs’ overall vibe, the place is on the rise as a food destination, especially around supper time. For straight-ahead aged steaks, the 140-year-old Gaskins Cabin restaurant—a log cabin with the fireplace usually going—hits the spot. Or you can head into the woods to Autumn Breeze, which combines a wide-ranging menu (try the coconut-fried shrimp), panoramic outdoor views from every table, and a wonderful wine list. (And don’t forget to order Autumn Breeze’s signature dish, chocolate soufflé, for dessert.)
Plant your roots “In recent years, I’ve sold a lot of properties to people who’re still working but can make their living anywhere thanks to the Internet,” says local real-estate broker Evelyn Cross. “There are also skilled, nationally known painters and photographers and potters and jewelry makers here. Then, of course, there are all the people working in the tourism industry, which is a large portion of our economy.”
And house prices are still reasonable. The Hobbit House cottage, a two-bedroom/one-bath, stone-fireplace and garden-encircled cottage in town, was listed for $137,500. Or for something with more sweeping views, there’s the Guest Cottage, a porch-encircled Victorian three-bedroom/two-and-a-half-bath for $289,000.
“But there’s a wide variety of houses to choose from,” says Cross. “With a little patience, you can find about any kind of place you’re looking for.”
Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Even congressmen find clean living in this oasis
Why You Should Move Here Where the Appalachians kneel to the Potomac River sits Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the state’s oldest settlement. And any day along the brick storefronts on German Street, the town’s main boulevard, you’ll run into everyone from farmers and students at Shepherd University—its Georgian campus plunked in the center of town—to a variety of old-money magnates and, on weekends, a bevy of Congressmen and Beltway lobbyists.
All of them are here for the same reasons: The place is natural, gorgeous, easygoing, and a snappy ninety-minute drive from Washington, D.C.
What’s Going On A mix of mountain and river, Shepherdstown is a fantastic location for cyclists and paddlers, fishermen, bird-watchers, and gardeners.
As befits the home of the Freshwater Institute—which studies the issues of potable water worldwide—and the National Conservation Training Center, protecting the environment is a local priority. Virtually everyone recycles and composts, and beyond annual Earth Day Celebrations and other environment-friendly local pushes, there are several seasonal garden shows each year.
For higher-brow fun, there’s also the Contemporary American Theater Festival, which promotes new American playwrights each July and August, as well as an Opera House and dozens of local antiques stores. And despite its smallish population (just 1,208), there are also dozens of antiques shops and dealers in town.
For foodies, Shepherdstown has a huge variety of restaurants, from coffee bars to bistros (favorites include the Stone Soup Bistro and the Yellow Brick Bank).
Plant your roots Despite its proximity to the pricey nation’s capital, real estate in Shepherdstown remains reasonable. Just outside town, a three-bedroom/two-bath cottage on more than two acres is currently for sale for $193,000. Or, should you want more stately digs, an elegant four-bedroom/four-bath Colonial manse—with a gourmet cook’s kitchen—sitting on twenty-three cliff-top acres overlooking the river is on the block for $695,000.
“Visit Shepherdstown once, and you’ll understand why we’re often listed as one of the best places to live in America,” says a former Englishman named Thomas Harding, a real-estate broker for locally operated Greg Didden Associates Realtors. “When people get here, they want to stay…and I speak from experience. That’s how I ended up here.”
DeFuniak Springs, Florida
A modern town with an Old Florida feel
Why You Should Move Here History and architecture buffs can hardly believe their good fortune when they arrive in DeFuniak Springs, whose postcard downtown seems as though it’s been preserved in amber. In its 1880s-to-1920s prime, this northwest Florida gem served as winter headquarters for the New York Chautauqua cultural movement, which drew the likes of William Jennings Bryan and thousands of others to town by way of the new railroad and established DeFuniak Springs as a sort of Athens of the Panhandle. On magnolia-shaded Circle Drive, stately nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century homes still huddle around the near-perfect circle of spring-fed Lake DeFuniak, a mile in circumference. It’s a preservationist’s mother lode of wraparound porches, stained glass, gingerbread, and turrets, where Florida’s oldest library still lends books. And it doesn’t hurt that the sparkling Gulf Coast beaches along Highway 30-A, some of the finest white sands on the planet, await less than an hour’s drive south.
What’s Going On Outdoor types have plenty to keep them occupied here in Baja Alabama: lakes, bays, bayous, paddling in blackwater rivers, swimming and diving in crystalline spring-fed pools, and wooded, rolling hills that draw hunters of ducks, doves, turkeys, wild boar, and deer. In recent decades, residents have fanned the flames of their town’s rich cultural legacy, staging Chautauqua conferences each winter, with concerts, readings, lectures, art exhibits, tours of homes, and the like. DeFuniak Springs has attracted a thriving little subculture of exurbanite artists, as have Walton County’s thriving beach towns—Seaside, Alys Beach, and other New Urbanist “Old Florida” developments trying to perfect the small-town formula that DeFuniak Springs patented a century ago.
Plant your roots This far from the Gulf, in north Walton County, you can still find small lakefront houses with private docks for less than $200,000—sometimes a lot less. Houses priced from around $250,000 up to $900,000 can include not just ample lakeshore but also plenty of custom details and acres’ worth of buffer. On the high end, a restored and updated 1907 Victorian on Circle Drive recently went on the market for $1.6 milion, and a 100-acre “equestrian estate” with two houses, an enclosed pool and spa, a lighted jumping-and-riding arena, and a twelve-stall horse barn can be yours for $2.9 million.
No matter what floats your boat, you’ll find it here
Why You Should Move Here All too rarely do hoop-skirted debutantes intermingle with tobacco-chawing bass fishermen, which is a crying shame—imagine the cinematic possibilities. But here in the Bluff City of the Chattahoochee, visions of the moonlight-and-magnolias Old South overlap with visions of ten-pound hawgs caught on spinnerbaits, in agreeable fashion. Atop the aforementioned bluff perches one of the South’s finest collections of antebellum and Victorian architecture, monuments to Eufaula’s cotton-and-riverboats heritage, many of the buildings along the leafy avenues appearing in the National Register of Historic Places. Every April, as the azaleas and dogwoods do their best impression of heaven, the Eufaula Pilgrimage tour of homes affords glimpses of the finery behind the doors of many a Greek Revival, Italianate, or late-Victorian beauty, with the sweet young Pilgrimage Queen and her court smiling and greeting visitors (eufaulapilgrimage.com). But it’s the water at the base of the steep bluffs that puts Eufaula on most pilgrims’ radar. Lake Eufaula, an enormous 45,000-acre dammed impoundment on the Chattahoochee River, provides 640 miles of shoreline on the Alabama and Georgia banks.
What’s Going On Fishermen (and women) come not just for the largemouth bass, but also for crappie, bream, sunfish, and catfish. Boating and waterskiing are also big here, and a man with an outboard and a bad case of wanderlust can make his way south along the Chattahoochee to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico within six hours or so. For wildlife watching, the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, just eight miles north of town, hosts populations of peregrine falcons, wood storks, bald eagles, and alligators, as well as hundreds of other birds that travel the Mississippi Flyway migration corridor. The refuge also allows managed hunting for doves, deer, waterfowl, and rabbits. There and in southeast Alabama’s many woodlands and old plantation grounds awaits some of the finest whitetail hunting in the South. Downtown Eufaula, with its thirty-five-foot Confederate monument and a burbling wrought-iron fountain, feels like it sprang straight out of the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Plant your roots Newer ranch-style houses in town are priced from around the low $200,000s. Waterfront properties range from about $325,000 (for a three-bedroom condo with dock and boat lift) to close to $900,000 (for an elegant Cape on three and a half secluded acres with a private covered dock). If you’re a preservationist at heart, note that a handful of grand nineteenth-century houses in the Historic District—renovated and ready for their Eufaula Pilgrimage close-up—are currently on the market for less than $500,000.
Lake Lure, North Carolina
Dive into this Appalachian lakeside retreat
Why You Should Move Here A lazy paddle around a still, sapphire cove. An early round of golf amid hazy Blue Ridge views fading back to the horizon. Sweet tea on the front porch after a breath-stealing hike to a roaring waterfall. Such are the pleasures that have kept Southerners seeking refuge along the shores of Lake Lure for decades, swelling the town’s population tenfold in summertime. Tucked between Henderson County’s roadside apple stands and the southern Appalachian foothills, the lake is actually a relative newcomer to these parts, brought about in 1926 when one Dr. Lucius Morse dammed the Rocky Broad River twenty-five miles southeast of Asheville. As the water rose, it formed a made-to-order sportsman’s paradise, with more than twenty miles of shoreline, a seven-acre island, and enough bays and inlets to keep every trout bum and his brother grinning for weeks on end.
What’s Going On The lake’s sprawling 720 acres help fishermen, boaters, water-skiers, paddlers, and beachgoers to all play nicely together, for the most part. The athletically ambitious can also swing nine irons (at one of several resort courses or a municipal nine-hole course) or climb rock bluffs or hike to 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls (in Chimney Rock Park, just up the road). And you’re never more than a short drive away from the bounty of antiques markets, hidden waterfalls, rhododendron-lined trails, whitewater rapids, backroads exploring, art-and-craft galleries, and great independent restaurants of Asheville, Hendersonville, and the surrounding countryside.
Plant your roots Views (of mountains or water) and access (to links or water) are the most precious commodities in the local housing stock, and prices tend to track pretty closely to those factors. These days that means that in the $200,000-to-$300,000 range, you can probably find a cabin with a creek frontage or year-round views, but not both. Lakefront homes, complete with docks, boathouses, and ample decks, start in the $400,000s—a hefty discount from 2006 levels—and range to more than $1 million (mrlakelure.com). At almost any price point you can expect stone fireplaces, rocking-chair porches, and a whole lot of knotty pine.