ATLANTA -- Anyone who lives in my neck of the woods -- i.e. the Southern part of the U.S. -- has more than a passing acquaintance with the Atlanta airport. It is our preferred gateway to everywhere from Athens, Ga., to Athens, Greece. But just how well do we know the city beyond the airport?
I'm sorry to say that even with several family members living here, I have often considered Atlanta just a stopover on the way to somewhere else. In the last couple of years, I have worked to rectify that situation, making an effort to actually get to know the city.
Or maybe I should say the cities, because if I have learned anything on my recent visits, it's that Atlanta -- like Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth -- is actually several small cities rolled into one megalopolis. All of which can make for a great trip ... or two ... or more.
You could spend all of your time concentrating on the downtown area that boasts such mega-attractions as the Centennial Olympic Park, Georgia Aquarium, CNN Center, World of Coca-Cola and the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Then there's Midtown, known as the city's Arts District, with offerings ranging from the historic Fox Theater (where "Gone With the Wind" premiered) and the High Museum of Art to Piedmont Park and Peachtree Street.
Or maybe you would prefer spending your time in Westside, home to the Georgia Tech campus, repurposed industrial buildings and a growing culinary scene, or its counterpart Eastside where the Atlanta Beltline, a multi-use trail and greenspace runs for three miles showcasing both nature and art.
On my most recent trip, I chose to focus on Buckhead, an ultra-chic neighborhood just north of Midtown, often referred to as the "Beverly Hills of the South."
If you doubt this, head to Lenox Square Mall where names such as Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci will put a serious dent in your credit card, or its neighbor, Phipps Plaza just across the street, which counters with Tiffany, Christian Dior and Fendi.
Right in the middle of all this luxury stands another bastion of posh splendor -- the Whitley Hotel. Formerly the Ritz-Carlton, it has been re-branded as a Marriott Luxury Collection Hotel. While retaining the RC's high standards and the rooftop saltwater pool with its panoramic view, nearly everything else about the hotel has changed.
The lobby, designed to resemble a traditional Southern front porch, and 507 spacious rooms (including 56 suites) have been renovated, boasting a more pared-down, sophisticated design element. The restaurant, Trade Route, offers its own take on traditional southern cuisine, and the spa provides a refreshing way to while away an hour or two. When I say refreshing, I mean it, with treatments such as the Mango Breeze Refresher Facial, Watermelon Cucumber Cooler Body Polish, and the intriguingly named Watermelon Basil Vodkatini Mani & Pedi.