Our adventures in Michigan continued the day after running the 13.Wine Half Marathon. We enjoyed breakfast at the Blue Plate Cafe which was just minutes from the Lakeside Inn on the Red Arrow Highway. The food was appealing and the service was prompt and friendly.
At the suggestion of our new 13.Wine Half Marathon friends, Ron and Lori, we continued north on the Red Arrow Highway to St. Joseph’s or St. Joe’s as the locals seemed to refer to it. We were impressed by the immense sandy beach and the recreational facilities such as a fountain pool and a remarkable carousel housed inside a glass enclosure. We walked out to the end of the jetty (?), pier (?) that offered a chance to venture out into Lake Michigan without leaving land. After our stroll, we thankfully sought refuge in the air conditioned carousel building to escape from the still oppressive heat. Sitting in comfy chairs watching the carousel whiz by with enraptured children was an ideal way to recover from the heat before meandering up the hill to choose a spot for lunch.
We settled on Caffe Tosi which is a bakery, restaurant, and coffee shop. The atmosphere was welcoming and the food was just what we were looking for.
After lunch, our travels continued to Saugatuck, the second place that we had been encouraged to visit. We found it to be an enchanting water-side town with a multitude of galleries, wineries, and restaurants.
Uncharacteristically, we had no lodging reservations – a situation that we found liberating. After strolling through the town and scoping out a few establishments, we stopped for tea and then perused the local Yelp listings for some suggestions.
Stellar reviews and a quick call answered by a most welcoming innkeeper directed us to the Beechwood Manor Inn. A drive of only a few blocks brought us to a quiet, tree-lined residential street. The Inn was beautiful and as soon as we walked in the door, we knew we had made a wise decision.
Our hosts could not have been more welcoming and accommodating. They provided suggestions for activities and dinner. They offered beach chairs and towels for a visit to the beach and had a bottle of wine ready for us after we returned from more touring. They recommended the Everyday People Cafe for dinner and arranged for us to have a table within moments of arriving there. The restaurant was buzzing – obviously the hot spot of the area. We loved our waiter whom we decided was a toss-up between Richard Dreyfus and Billy Crystal. He was personable and unobtrusively attentive. Perfect! The food was, as my grandfather used to say, “an epicurean triumph”.
As we drove back to the inn we had to stop to take pictures of the stunning sunset. It had been a truly outstanding evening.
The next morning we enjoyed a gourmet breakfast at the inn then began our travels back towards New Buffalo where we planned to spend the night before flying out of Chicago the next morning. We had been reading about the dunes as we traveled in this southwestern area of Michigan but had not really encountered them first hand. The Warren Dunes State Park was on our way to New Buffalo so we decided to stop to see if we could actually experience the dunes. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that there truly are impressive dunes in the area.
The weather had been threatening all day but as we walked near the beach some impressive cracks of thunder and bolts of lightning sent us scurrying for the car. Our next plan was to visit more of the wineries in Baroda.
Gravity Winery was our first stop. The skies were becoming dramatically dark and thundery as we entered the winery. We were met by an enthusiastic employee who explained their tasting system where you choose 4 wines and they pair them with cheese for the whites and chocolates for the reds. After making our tasting selections we enjoyed the weather excitement as we sat on the covered patio to do our wine tasting.
We were impressed with all of the wines that we tasted and after some pondering we purchased a bottle of Lemberger to take with us.
We had run past Free Run Cellars during the race and we knew we wanted to visit it. The name caught our attention and also provided a photo op for the typically camera-shy, Mike, who volunteered this perfect pose.
We sampled the wines and loved them. Sadly, we were unable to ship them home so we left with only a cork screw. We were truly impressed with all of the wines we tasted while on the Michigan Wine Trail. We had been clueless about this fabulous wine country. The ability to visit multiple sophisticated and distinct wineries within one town was an unexpected surprise. We loved the intimate feel of these small wineries which clearly invested so much personal devotion to their products.
Our trip continued the short distance back to New Buffalo. What a difference a couple of days made. What had been a town teaming with tourists on Saturday was now, on Tuesday, a relative ghost town. Apparently midweek in late August was not the peak of tourism. We ventured down to the beach and were met with literally hundreds of seagulls covering the beach…as well as signs indicating that the beach was closed due to E.coli. Ah ha! That may have explained the shocking difference in tourists.
Once again, we did not yet have plans for where to stay. After some research we happened upon the Lake Country Inn.
Due to the quiet pace of the town there was a sign directing visitors to call a number if interested in the inn. We called and were assured the owner would be over momentarily…which she was. She gave us a tour of the available rooms which are all a different, distinct color. They were all lovely but we/I selected the “Green Room”. The inviting over-sized chair and ottoman were a big selling point.
This inn also offered towels for the beach, as well as a community kitchen with a fridge for saving leftovers or chilling wine, wine glasses, cork screws, dishes, etc. A continental breakfast is served in the kitchen in the morning.
We settled in and enjoyed our bottle of wine from Gravity before heading across the street to Brewster’s Italian Cafe for dinner.
We needed to leave for the airport early the next morning so we enjoyed a quiet last vacation evening in our indulgently cozy room.
The Bottom Line: What had started out as a chance to run a fun race in Michigan evolved into an enlightening and highly enjoyable mini vacation. We would highly recommend a visit to this region for a chance to taste fabulous wines, view the stunning beauty of Lake Michigan and the dunes, and to experience the establishments, sights, and culture of the local towns.