In the fall, as the apples ripen in the orchards and the blazing hills in Northern Michigan are aglow with the colors of autumn, I love to take a drive to Bellaire, an early 19th century village built on the banks of the Intermediate River (note to the local chamber – change the name to something more pastoral).
There are other charming towns in this part of the state, most tucked along the waters of the bays and shoreline of Lake Michigan and many people who come this way get no further than Shanty Creek, one of the state's major ski resorts. But for those who take the time, Bellaire, with its cozy and quaint downtown, has options for serious foodies with its microbrewery, trendy and inexpensive farm-to-table restaurant and smokehouse that turns out great meats and sausages.
There are outdoor adventures too; horseback riding at Coyote Bill's, apple picking at Clam Lake Orchard, fishing on Intermediate Lake and Lake Bellaire and, for history buffs, there's the Bellaire Historic Museum. Golfers might want to reserve a tee time at Hawk's Eye Golf Course, ranked as Michigan's 18th greatest course, which is really saying something considering that the state has a plethora of golf venues.
I like to start by checking into the Grand Victorian Bed and Breakfast Inn, considered one of the finest examples of Queen Anne architecture in the country. A story book mansion with gables and peaks and gingerbread porches and balconies, listed on the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places, the home, built in 1891, even had electricity back then (rather unheard of this far north) because the owner had his own hydroelectric plant.
Tucked away off the main street and just a block or two from the inn is the Bellaire Smokehouse where owners Tim and Karen Watters not only smoke ribs, pork tenderloins, salmon, trout, bacon and whitefish but also carry a great selection of local microbrews, cheeses, seafood, jerkies, wine and house-made whitefish pate. Also available are their freshly made German bratwurst made with eggs and milk and Greek sausages with feta, garlic and spinach.
Nearby is the fun Sassy Sunflower for gifts and quirky fun accessories and décor.
And then it's a walk across the Intermediate River to the downtown. First stop is lunch at Short's Brewing Company. Adventuresome foodies might want to try the purple-hued Blood Orange Wheat Wine – it's the blood orange puree fermented with a super hopped wheat wine, dry hopped and spice with blood orange zest and green peppercorns that gives it both a distinctive color and taste, the Black Licorice Lager –– black lager spiced with vanilla bean, chocolate mint, and anise or the Key Lime Pie, a golden ale made with fresh limes, milk sugar, graham cracker and, of all things, marshmallow fluff.
While downtown, take time to check out the French Bulldog Boutique –– a dress and handbag destination, and the Little Treasures Toy Shop, offering unique toys for young and old. Learn about the local history including the area's lumber period at the Bellaire Historic Museum.
Drive out to the Grass River Natural Area (GRNA) which features eco tours on boardwalks that wind through its marshes and wetlands. Free guided tours include the Bluebird Walk, which includes checking out the bluebird houses to see if anyone is home and the Weekly Wildflower Tours.
Though there's no snow on the ground, be sure to check out Shanty Creek, a lovely resort nestled in the wooded highlands of Michigan. It's beautiful here in the fall and the resort's four golf courses, including Arnold Palmer's The Legend and Tom Weiskopf's Cedar River, are fun for even those who don't devote their lives to the game.
Rent a kayak at Stone Waters Inn or go for the pontoon boat and take it down the Chain O' Lakes, a series of interconnecting waterways. One direction takes you to the Clam River, through Grass River Nature Area and to Lake Bellaire while the other direction leads into Torch Lake, considered one of the most beautiful of the state's inland lakes, to Torch River and then Elk Lake.
All this activity calls for a great a dinner and Lulu's Bistro in the downtown is perfect for sophisticated palates who don't want to spend big bucks. Featuring specials that change daily including grilled grouper with basil–laced basmati rice, seared scallops under a Gruyere crust, plated with wilted escarole and whipped potatoes, flat bread pizzas and house made ice cream. And you can have that extra glass of wine because it's just a few blocks walk back to the inn.