Go, go, go to this hidden gem. I have been around the world, from Cambodia to Chile, from France to Ecuador, and Southern Cross Ranch stands out as wonderful in every way. I’m dying to go back. In other words, GO (unless you're an uptight jerk, in which case please leave this lovely place to those of us who want to keep it tranquil and happy). :)
Key points: A vacation at SCR would be ideal for horse lovers (obviously), people who love animals, golfers (world-renowned courses in the area, including Augusta), city mice who don't get to be in the country much, families who wants lots of options outside in the fresh air, Europeans who want to ride and relax in a picturesque part of the US South, etc etc. I really can't imagine who wouldn't like it here.
- I got a cheap flight from NYC to ATL and spent 5 days there in April (spring had just sprung and it was gorgeous weather: horses were foaling every night and I got to meet several adorable babies!) on the all-inclusive riding plan.
-The food is good and plentiful, with A LOT of hot options at every meal. There were American, Mexican, and German options pretty much at every meal (reflecting the kitchen staff and management), which made for interesting and delicious combinations. If you're riding, the meal schedule (you must eat at 8:15 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm or very shortly thereafter) will seem totally natural and not at all a hindrance. If you're not riding and you think it might be irritating to follow their schedule, you can always eat certain meals there and other ones in Madison a few minutes away. They made it very clear that they will happily accommodate any special dietary needs. One of the most amazing things I've ever experienced on any vacation was that you have access to a soda fountain and other beverages 24 hours a day!! It seems like a little thing, but imagine being in 75+ degree weather and having unlimited access to cold water, lemonade, sweet tea, Dr Pepper, coke, diet coke, coffee, tea, etc ANYTIME you desire it (you don’t even have to ask someone to pour it for you: you use the machines yourself)! There are also snacks out for people who are hungry outside of the dining times. Their cookies are to die for.
-The riding program is by far the best tourist riding experience I have ever had. In the world. I could write hundreds of words on this, but I’ll try to sum it up by saying that SCR puts a lot of trust in their guests, giving us tons of flexibility and chances to be with the gorgeous, well-cared-for horses as much as we could desire. You can visit them in the barn anytime; you can hang out in their pastures, the largest of which circles the B&B (providing views of grazing horses from every window!). You can get up close and personal with the horses, making friends and observing animal behavior. The horses themselves are as happy as I’ve ever seen at a large-scale operation, particularly given that the guest horses are trained to give rides to everyone from total newbies (I saw lots of people get on horses for the first time and look very happy and safe) to the expert trainers and guides. Some horses are there for riding: the others are there for the extensive quality horse breeding program (hence the adorable foals). As a rider, I was impressed with how well trained the horses were without being barn sour, stubborn (unless you gave up control to the horse, in which case the guides are always there to help you get control, but I really didn’t see this happen), or boring. I tried a couple horses until I found one that I really clicked with (they were all great, I just was looking for one where we communicated well). They are all given a couple weeks off in the pasture interspersed with their weeks being ridden, which is a sure sign of how much the management cares for the horses and their health at SCR. Several guests (and I) commented on how special it was to see horses truly “living” – running around the pastures at a gallop just to have fun, play-fighting with one another, making noise, caring for their young, etc. Coming from the Northeast, that is not something I’ve gotten to experience before. It felt as close as you could get to being around wild horses.
-Another major point, which is covered in several reviews here, is that if you’re comfortable at the walk, trot, and canter, the staff will let you and your friends go trail riding on your own, because the trails are all safe and you won’t run into roads, etc. You can’t go entirely solo, but if you’re at SCR alone you can hook up with guests there and ride with them, with or without a guide. The guides ranged from completely wonderful, with interesting stories and great horsemanship, to quite young (college or right after) and therefore a little inexperienced in hospitality. I never had a bad guide, just one or 2 who were a little less invested in the experience. The barn staff, housekeeping staff, and office staff are all excellent too.
- I stayed in the Magnolia room (Category 3, out of 5), which has the benefit of being one of only 2 rooms in the 2nd building of the B&B, with the sun-drenched dining rooms on the 1st floor. At first I thought that sleeping above the dining room would be loud and unappealing, but it was very quiet and I had a lot of privacy. The room was spacious, clean, with a very nice leather sofa, flat-screen tv, little balcony, nice bathroom, and HEAVENLY bed. SCR does a very good job of offering rooms at different rates for those with different budgets: everything from $80/night Cat 1 rooms to luxurious Cat 5 rooms. They could upgrade their toiletry options (they have dispensers for liquid soap and shampoo in the showers, but considering how dirty you're liable to get at the ranch, it would be nice to have individual soaps, shampoos, and hair conditioner). The only other suggestion I just have to make is that they should get rid of the fake flowers in guest rooms and common areas (there are lots of nice common areas, like a game room, tv room, living room, patios, swings, and a pool/hot tub). They are just outdated.
I’ve written too much, but suffice it to say, this is an EXTRAORDINARY getaway in the lush, tranquil Georgia countryside, but only 1 hour to Atlanta. You’ll meet interesting people from all over the world, you’ll relax in nature, you’ll soak in the hot tub to soften sore muscles, you’ll make friends with 1500-pound sweethearts, you’ll eat well and sleep like the dead. Just don’t make it impossible to book a room, because I need to go back!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Southern Cross Ranch is a new breed of dude-ranch experience that combines a working ranch with the comfort of a cozy bed-and-breakfast inn. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Southern Cross Ranch Hotel Madison