I'm standing outside of the goat pen at The Inn at Serenbe, the burgeoning bucolic resort, staring into the eyes of a goat. I am clear that the creature standing before me is a garden variety goat—exactly the ones my two-year-old son reads about in his books—but my internal processors are stuck. Here is this white haired, floppy-eared goat with his mustard colored marbles with black horizontal slits for pupils and I'm starting to get a little weirded out. I'm thinking to myself, "this is an alien." It's at this moment, there amongst the other goats, cows, llamas and chickens that I realize just how completely devoid of nature my city life has become.
It's mini-epiphanies like this; little lightning bolt reconnections to nature that happen to you at Serenbe. Down on the farm, through the senses of a city slicker, everything seems just so…foreign. The sky looks different. The food tastes different. Even the air breathes different than it does a few dozen miles back up I-85.
Steve Nygren was well aware of my urban ailment when he first laid eyes on the property back in 1991. Part owner of the Peasant Restaurant Group, Nygren had become aware of what he termed a "nature deficiency disorder" brought on by the toxicities and stress of city life and ended up buying a 60-acre farm down in Palmetto as a weekend escape for his wife and three daughters. But the peaceful charm of the land was so magnetic that within three years, Nygren had cashed in his share of the restaurants and moved the whole clan down full time.
Within a couple of years and numerous improvements to the property, the family began to welcome guests to their bed and breakfast on steroids (or at least the all-natural, organic equivalent to steroids). The large farmhouse went through a luxe renovation and its kitchen, aptly named The Farmhouse, elevated comfort food with a level of sophistication and freshness that were well ahead of its time. Out of the Serenbe ground came vegetables so fresh and natural they were a revelation. Rabbits, goats and the other farm animals soon inhabited the land and guests could experience the whole petting zoo up close and personal. Cottages and swimming pools were built along with hiking trails, wedding and meeting facilities and quietly The Inn at Serenbe took its place among the most upscale resorts in the southeast.
But the scale of Nygren's vision would soar well beyond the model of a thriving B&B. Years before the whole organic craze would commandeer the country's zeitgeist, Nygren felt a crusader's passion for preserving nature and creating a sustainable living experience. One morning on a jog near the farm, a bulldozer on a nearby piece of land caught his eye and triggered his ultimate fear: that viral development might eventually encroach upon his unspoiled rustic dream. His response? To buy up the neighboring 900 acres to Serenbe and spearhead an effort with other nearby landowners to preserve 80 percent of the Chattahoochee Hill Country from development.
Now with a protective zoning blanket around his 1000 acres, Nygren has focused his love/hate relationship with urban design into an all-out redefinition of what cities could be with an "if you build it, they will come" master plan. Now two of three planned communities have come out of the ground and have stirred national attention for their eco-friendly design as well as their idyllic charm.
The danger of a visit to Serenbe is that Nygren's vision does make a ridiculous amount of sense once you are there. Besides the occasional Delta flight heading into the Hartsfield Jackson, you truly can escape all traces of your metropolitan shackles. Many of the 160-plus full time residents of Serenbe came down on innocent weekend escapes and found the charm and embrace of sustainable principles too intoxicating to leave. A pre-school is up and running and a charter school is on the horizon. It won't be long until utopia will truly exist on the farm.
But if you aren't ready to make the full time leap to Palmetto, Serenbe makes for a delightful glimpse into what a stress-free life could be like. While escaping for a weekend might seem like the perfect tonic to what ails you, I suggest that to truly discover an off ramp to your rat race, you should burn a vacation day or two and stay a little longer. Get up from your cozy room at the Inn on a Sunday and grab a seat in The Farmhouse which will be serving its divine Fried Chicken lunch. Take some walks. Tour or even volunteer on the organic farm. Sleep. Visit some of the shops and galleries in the Serenbe hamlets. It might take a few days, but Serenbe will remind you that there is life outside of the grind. Who knows, you might even make friends with a goat.
The Inn at Serenbe
10950 Hutcheson Ferry Rd.
Palmetto, GA 30268
Phone: (770) 463-2610