The more I travel the more I find places I want to return to.
This occurred in Kentucky, exploring former coal mining boomtowns reshaping themselves into historical destinations (Now Magazine, June 21, 2007), and now it’s happened with Michigan.
Michigan, you might be thinking, as I was when I first contemplated heading off to visit one of our nearest neighbours to the south. Yawn.
But after that first evening spent sampling locally-made strawberry wine while digging my toes into white sand and watching the sun burn behind the local lighthouse, I knew this was a place I could come back to, husband in tow.
There are a few reasons. One, of course, is the water – the state has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world. Another is the amazing array of artists producing a wide and interesting range of work in ceramics, wood, painting, pottery and jewelry. Art is taken seriously here. How many towns of 1,000 permanent residents do you know that have seven galleries?
But most delightful of all is Benzie County.
Dubbed with the tagline Northern Michigan Preserved, the state’s smallest county has one street light and 25 miles of sandy shoreline. Here, dogs can still run free on many beaches (provided, of course, their poop is scooped) and permits aren’t required for bonfires.
And like all places that verge a bit on outback, Benzie is home to lots of quirky people and places.
Instead of your average fast food joint, you’ll find the Cherry Hut, an 85-year-old restaurant that sells hearty dinners and a plethora of cherry products, including jams and other preserves. The nearby drive-in movie theatre plays vintage trailers before the evening’s film. Refined tastes can sample a few of the thousands of
mostly German wines in the cellar at the Brookside Inn while dining on Michigan smelt. Upstairs, each room has a hottub. Some even redefine luxury, with sauna, steam shower and wood-stove alongside the bubbling bath.
Add to all this a mysterious hill where cars seem to defy gravity, an old-fashioned printing press once run by a woman way ahead of her time and still churning out her legacy of block-print images on notepads, place-mats and coffee mugs, an award-winning resort with a nearby sculpture park, a dog-oriented artist’s shop where organic, fair-trade coffee and Cuban sandwiches can be purchased on the way to one of the state’s world’s
most beautiful beaches, and you’ll begin to get an idea of just what this place has to offer.
My advice: go there before it’s discovered and the crowds force a few more streetlights on these quiet country roads.