Helen’s newest place to stay is off the beaten path of tourist traffic, sitting nestled between mountains.
“Heaven on earth, here we are,” co-owner Gayle Murdock said during a tour of the 5-acre property last week.
The Valhalla Resort Hotel opened quietly in June, celebrating its grand opening this weekend with gourmet food, entertainment and special room packages.
Valhalla refers to a heavenly place where, according to Norse mythology, warriors go after dying in combat. A hotel press release states that the resort combines “old world charm and true Southern hospitality.”
The theme also meshes with the Scottish heritage of Jerry Murdock, Gayle’s husband and resort co-owner. Vikings and Norse settlers colonized parts of what is now modern Scotland.
The 25-room hotel (including a presidential suite) features a restaurant with a deck overlooking the swimming pool, wine cellar, full-service spa, gift shop, walking trail and access to the Innsbruck Golf Club.
Guests can check out bars at the pool or, for a more scenic view of the North Georgia mountains, on the fourth floor — the “sky bar.”
Rooms, with rates starting at $395, feature balconies facing the mountains, as well as gas fireplaces, seating areas, two smart TVs, marble vanities and “spa rainfall” showers.
The resort also provides free shuttle service to local attractions and wineries.
The Murdocks arrived in the Helen area 12 years ago, following some friends from Destin, Fla.
“This wonderful place, with all its awesome hardwood trees and the oldest mountains in the world, is pretty hard to beat,” Jerry Murdock said, describing his discovery of the Valhalla property.
“We needed something here with this golf course, so this is how (Valhalla) came about. It worked out with the homeowners here to buy this 5 acres and to (put up) these buildings.”
He added: “We love the North Georgia mountains and felt we could attract more guests to the area with an upscale property. We’re excited to provide an alternative in our region. Our goal is to allow our guests to fully experience the pure beauty and relaxation of our regal retreat.”
The Valhalla is the couple’s first resort hotel venture.
“He just wanted a project to get going, I guess,” Gayle said, with a laugh. “He dreamed one night this is what he wanted, and this is what happened. ... I thought I was retired. He’s got me working, for nothing. But it’s been a fun project.”
Despite its tranquil setting, the hotel isn’t far from downtown Helen and its busy shopping and restaurant scene. Also popular is tubing down the Chattahoochee River, which winds through Helen.
Murdock was inspired by the legendary Valhalla restaurant in Sausalito, Calif., near San Francisco.
The owner “had all these gorgeous women walking around in gowns serving food with this awesome view of the bay,” he said. “It was kind of like heaven there.”
Murdock, a Rome native, is a former Marine and was owner and CEO of Chilay Corporation and Chilay Foods of California.
Gayle Murdock, an interior designer, had an active hand in designing the resort.
A member of the team that restored the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and Wharf Bar on the Georgia coast, she worked with architect George Hlavenka to create a decor reminiscent of an ancient Scottish castle, but with modern comforts of home and upscale finishes.
“Its grand European architecture and luxurious, rustic-contemporary design creates an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience,” states a resort press release.
“Guests can expect a warm, welcoming atmosphere complete with personalized service, attention to detail, and the ultimate in scenery.”
The resort also features an executive chef, Dean Hill, who has worked in wineries and 5-star resorts and was trained at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute’s Le Cordon Bleu Program.
Overall, the project has cost $6 million to $7 million.
“There are a lot of things we haven’t completed,” Gayle said.
A couple of bungalows — also with mountain views — are under construction on the property, with more planned.