When it comes to vacation, people want several things. They want to relax in a stress-free environment; they want a change from their everyday lives; they want activity within reason; they want exotic locales.
That’s a tall order in one destination.
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula fills the bill with plenty to spare.
All of the above comes into play with everything available as quickly or as leisurely as the schedule you yourself set. While a good kick-off point is the city of Grand Rapids, a circle tour will take you through some of the quaintest towns and villages the United States has to offer.
Grand Rapids, a clean and neat city, is home to a number of micro-breweries such as the Grand Rapids Brewing Co., offering a greater variety of brews than any sane person could drink in a series of visits. It’s a comfortable down-time location where, even if everybody doesn’t know your name, they treat you as one of them. It has also been named a USDA certified organic brewery.
The sudsy output of Grand Rapids earned it a tie in 2012 with Ashville, N.C. for the title of “Beer CityUSA” and then in 2013 it snagged the kudos all by itself. There are, in this big little city, more than a dozen micro (or craft) breweries.
Drinking craft brews is not a warm weather or indoor sport alone. Each winter, the city hosts its outdoor Winter Beer Festival with the craft breweries creating suds specifically for the party. Needless to say, they sell out faster than you can do away with the foam at the top of your mug.
Assuming you haven’t enjoyed the plethora of craft stops too much, get comfortable in your car and take a short ride to the town of Holland. Yes, the town has a strong Dutch heritage and you might even see someone klomping around in wooden shoes. Maybe.
For a gastronomical treat, stop off at deBoer’s Café and Bakery (or, in Dutch, “bakerji”) for a treat your taste buds will remember for years to come. This family-run eatery has arguably the most amazing cookies, buns and cakes found anywhere. Diabetics might want to consider things before they walk through the door because the scent of fresh goods has a magical pull.
DeBoer’s is overseen by family members and Jakob deBoer makes sure every guest is comfortable and wants for nothing. This is a “must stop” on your trip. Miss it and regret it.
What Dutch town worth its dyke would be without a windmill? Holland has one that comes from, well…Holland. It was purchased, dismantled, shipped to Michigan and reconstructed. It has become a major attraction for guests who want to see an actual windmill in operation grinding grain.
De Zvaan (“The Swan”) is the official name of the windmill, but everyone simply calls it awesome. Built in 1761, it was heavily damaged in World War II but today stands as the symbol of WindmillIsland. The flour ground here is for sale and is highly sought after and prized by locals.
There is a small re-creation of a Dutch village with beautiful flowers and, of course, tulips. Wander through the interconnected shops and sample the candy…especially the fudge. On sale are hand carved and decorated wooden shoes or klompers. Get a pair. They’ll make a statement back home and they don’t wear out too quickly.
Keep in the Dutch mood with a stop at the New Holland Brewing Company for a “quick one” and some great pub food. The menu here is replete with interesting sounding drinks ranging from Dragon’s Milk bourbon to Monkey King, a farmhouse ale.
As with most of the local establishments, the alcohol is not the only attraction. Most, as does the New Holland Brewing Company, offer a delicious menu from snacks to belly busters.
If you prefer something more outdoorsy, Lake Michigan and LakeMacatawa offer some of the best boating around. Captain Pat Nowak and his sailing yacht, Nancy Anne, provide reasonably priced charters.
Captain Pat’s Nancy Anne is a meticulously cared for, 26-foot one-master that comfortably accommodates about six people. While the open water of Lake Michigan can be iffy, LakeMacatawa is generally calm although there can be exciting moments. Captain Pat will offer guests the opportunity to helm the sailboat and will provide lessons on helmsmanship and sail handling to guests.
And his boat is fast. He’s won a number of races and on a recent sail the Nancy Anne easily bested another craft with part of a group that had split between the two boats.
For more information on Michigan, check out www.michigan.org.
Bob and Sandy Nesoff are members of the American Society of Authors and Journalists