Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula has enchanting vineyards and flower farms
TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan — While hard for a Buckeye to admit, this northern state can be enchanting, even magical, especially along the shores of the lake of the same name.
One of the most charming destinations on charming Lake Michigan is Old Mission Peninsula, especially when the apples, grapes, cherries, blueberries and the like are ripe or nearly ripe.
The narrow peninsula projects into Grand Traverse Bay just north of Traverse City, the surrounding water not only provides a beautiful backdrop of sparkling azure, but also a soothing climatic effect that, with each harvest season, turns the peninsula into a cornucopia of mouth-watering produce.
During a visit to the area last month, my family spent an entire day exploring and tasting the vast riches of the peninsula. We started by driving the 18 miles from Traverse City (www.traversecity.com) to the northern tip of the peninsula and the scenic and historic Mission Point Lighthouse (www.missionpointlighthouse.com), located a few meters from the 45th parallel, marking the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole. The lighthouse, built in 1870, is open for self-guided tours.
Day trip destination:Weird and Fascinating Philippi, West Virginia Is Worth a Visit
The lighthouse public beach is also a popular place to swim or sunbathe, but we weren’t there for a day at the beach. We had an appointment with gluttony.
On our way back south, we stopped at Buchan’s Blueberry Hill (www.buchansblueberryhill.com), a picking blueberry field where the bushes were laden with so much fruit that they seemed inexhaustible. I picked until a stalk was almost bare, turned away for a moment, and the plump, juicy blueberries, some of which were almost the diameter of a penny, had apparently regenerated, or maybe I just to lose my place, distracted by the charm of the surroundings.
In a very short time, we had picked over 5 pounds of berries, enough to bake two pies in our rental cabin, plus plenty of extra snacks.
Flower farms also attract
The bounty isn’t just edible; the peninsula is also home to spellbinding floral farms, evoking reminisced and anticipated sachets, bouquets and corsages, especially when the large fields of gently undulating lavender are ready to be cut.
These fields were in full splendor at Harbor View Lavender Farm and Nursery (www.harborviewlavender.com), where visitors could stroll through an old barn filled with shadows and dusty sunbeams and drying sprigs of lavender soon turned into soaps and lotions or used to flavor jams, candies, teas and other treats.
The Lavender Barn reminded me of the tobacco barns I still remember from childhood trips to Eastern Kentucky, but much healthier, at least in retrospect.
At Harbor View we also tried the lavender ice cream, made, as we learned, at Buchan’s Blueberry Hill. The ice cream was just wonderful. Unlike some lavender ice creams I’ve endured, this had a perfectly retained hint of taste/scent, as if the Lavender Fairy had gently brushed the creamy confection with only the tip of her wand or scepter or whatever whether it be. Lavender Fairy wears these days.
10 wine estates found in the region
We were quickly drawn, perhaps by thirst, perhaps by the unseen sorcery of the vineyard elves, to the huge stone cellar and tasting room of Mari Vineyards (www.marivineyards.com).
The hilltop winery, one of 10 found on the Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail (www.ompwinetrail.com), reminiscent of a Tuscan castle – appropriate, giving the winery founder’s Italian heritage.
Grapes grown on the estate’s 60 acres of vineyards also include Italian grapes such as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese as well as traditional French and German varietals and others.
Although we did not have the opportunity to visit the huge wine cellars under the “castle”, we took advantage of the seats on the outdoor terrace and the grassy lawn of the cellar, which offered a magnificent and magical view of the lake.
Day trip destination:Cardboard Boat Museum near Cincinnati supported by the Ohio River Regatta
Another stop, Brys Estate (www.brysestate.com), was a five senses extravaganza, complete with a flower farm and garden, vineyards and a beautiful winery.
The winery has a lovely tasting room with a hillside terrace offering sweeping views over the grape-rich vineyards to the lake beyond – the perfect place to try a flight of wine from the estate.
We found more lavender magic at the estate’s secret garden, with large fields of whispering flowers just waiting to be caressed, imparting a delicious scent to hands and fingers, even those still sticky with ice cream. or blueberry juice. The garden also has a postcard-pretty gazebo, a cute gift shop, and even – for those for whom flowers aren’t enough, I suppose – cornhole games set up on the lawn.
OK, I threw in a bag or two myself. I’m sorry to report that the bags were not lavender scented which was a small disappointment, the only one to be found on the entire peninsula.
Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at [email protected].