BY CYNTHIA A. MARQUARD
With the price of gas climbing to more than $2 per gallon, this might not be the summer to load up the car and drive to the National Parks out West. Besides most are completely booked by this time, even the campgrounds. Since many of us consider a Motel 6 to be the roughest kind of camping that we want to try anyway, perhaps this would be a good summer to vacation near Chicago. You can enjoy some great experiences just on the other shore of the lake in Michigan and Indiana, Chicago's 'front yard.'
About a three-hour drive from Chicago, Saugatuck has always been a hot spot for GLBT travelers. There are bed and breakfasts, motels, campgrounds, log cabins, and vacation rental homes all awaiting us. For years this was known as an artist's colony, but now they just come right out and say 'GLBT Friendly.' Douglas, the neighboring town, is also full of our people and shops, and many restaurants fly rainbow flags.
Deerpath Lodge is a great place for women only, with a hot tub and 40 acres. It is an outdoor paradise in a rustic setting that feels nice and private. ( For information and reservations, call Linda at 269-857-3337. )
If you want to walk to Saugatuck's restaurants, try Newnham Suncatcher Inn, a very pleasant and cozy B&B. ( Barb at 269-857-4249 will be happy to take your reservation. ) If you long for the privacy of a vacation cottage, there is Hillby Thatch, which has cottages in Glenn a few miles away. ( To book, call Gaylon at 847-864-3553. )
There's no need to fly to California, rent a car, and stay in pricey hotels to enjoy wine country. The vineyards in southwestern Michigan are now producing some quite respectable grapes and the vintners are turning out some quite respectable wine, all yours for the tasting. One of the most up-and-coming Michigan wineries is Fennville Winery just south of Saugatuck off US 31.
Just a one hour and 10 minute drive from the Loop, Harbor Country has gotten a lot of rave reviews lately for its beaches, restaurants, wineries, and other attractions. Harbor Country consists of New Buffalo and Union Pier on the lake, artsy Three Oaks to the east, and all the towns along the lake up to Bridgeman ( exits 1 through 16 on I-94 ) .
Two big-name wineries are located in Harbor Country, Tabor Hill and St. Julian. You can enjoy wine tasting at Tabor Hill and dine in the restaurant overlooking vineyards. Driving the back roads through vineyards in this area, you'd think you were in Napa. Both Tabor Hill and St. Julian also have tasting rooms along the Red Arrow Highway that connects the Harbor Country towns. If you want to make a day of wine tasting, add Lemon Creek Winery, Heart O' the Vineyard, and the Round Barn to you list of stops.
Harbor Country is ripe with GLBT citizens and activities. You can drop a bundle at the upscale restaurants, art galleries, and antique shops, but you can still vacation quite reasonably by renting a cottage and doing your own cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables from the Michigan farm markets. ( For cottages, call us at Envoy Resort Properties 800-443-6869 or visit www.envoytravel.com/envoyresorts.html ) Not in the mood for cooking? Get breakfast muffins and great coffee at the Whistlestop Café on Red Arrow highway in Union Pier.
As an example of the how rich the area is in GLBT activity, the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund has scheduled a fundraising event in New Buffalo at the home of two men who live right on Lake Michigan. Save the date: Aug. 20, 2005. Even if you return to Chicago that night, it's a great exposure to 'the other side of the lake' and most definitely a worthy cause.
Some of you with children will be thrilled to find that not too far away a variety of different experiences are available to you and your kids. About a three hour drive from Chicago is Amish country around Goshen and Shipshewana, Indiana. You can explore Amish culture in the shops and stores around Shipshewana, then drive the back roads and see Amish farms. ( They are the places with horses and no cars. ) Don't be surprised to see reflecting triangles on the back of the Amish horse-drawn buggies. The symbol means a slow-moving vehicle, however, not GLBT friendly.
A good place for the family to stay is Checkerberry Inn in Goshen. Located on 100 acres, the inn has 14 rooms, outdoor pool, tennis court, and a great restaurant. ( For reservations, call Karen and Kelly at 574-642-4445. )
A Wisconsin Farm
If taking the kids for a farm vacation sounds good and you are willing to drive for about five hours to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, area, you will be rewarded with a great experience at Rainbow Ridge Farms. Rainbow Ridge Farms, a B&B in Onalaska, Wisconsin, is a working farm with five rooms for guests. They have lots of animals on the farm and the kids are allowed to pet some of them. For more information, call Cindy at 608-783-8181.
So don't let the price at the pump spoil your summer vacation fun. Whatever your interest, there is likely to be a summer place for you near Chicago.
Your travel writer: Cynthia A. Marquard is the owner of Aqua Terra Travel, Inc., 65 E. Wacker Place, Chicago IL 60601. Cynthia can be reached at 312-787-2400 or visit the Web site, www.aquaterratravel.com .
Mercury, Chicago's Skyline Cruiseline fleet of four sightseeing boats offers Chicago's most diverse and creative cruises from relaxing lakefront cruises and fascinating history and architecture tours of Chicago's river 'canyon' to late-night supernatural cruises and cruises just for dogs ( and their owners ) And, back by popular demand, they're cruising into November, again.
Their vessels are docked at the gateway to Chicago's 'Magnificent Mile,' in tranquil Riverside Gardens located on the lower level and southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
See www.cruisechicago.com and www.mercuryskylinecruiseline.com .