|The vineyards of Chateau Grand Traverse. All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.|
The car is cresting over the hills of Old Mission Peninsula, whipping around curves at 70mph. It is a clear, late summer night, 80 degrees. The air is damp, perfumed with burning wood and a hint of fall. Top down, music blaring, I look up to my right to see the stars of the Little Dipper burning white hot through ink-black sky. There are few perfect moments in life. This is one of them.
Old Mission Peninsula is nestled in the “pinkie” of the Mitten, on the west coast of northern Lower Michigan (got that?). It is the crown at the head of Traverse City, recently famous for Iron Chef Mario Batali’s unabashed love affair with it and for being named one of Bon Appetit Magazine’s “Foodiest Towns in America.” OMP splits the Grand Traverse Bay into East and West Bays. It is 19 miles long; at its widest point it is three miles wide, at its narrowest you can park your car on the side of the road and drink in panoramic views of sloping vineyards and sparkling bays on either side.
Michigan is not without its share of beautiful places. The state has the longest coastline in the continental U.S., all freshwater and blessedly hurricane-free. Good Morning America recently named Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Michigan’s west coast the “Most Beautiful Place in America,” but if Sleeping Bear Dunes is the most beautiful place in the country then Old Mission Peninsula should by rights be able to claim to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
This is my fourth trip up here in as many years. As a native Michigander, traveling “up North” (that directionally imprecise catch-all moniker used to describe the entire northern half of the state plus the Upper Peninsula by everyone who lives within 100 miles of a state border that isn’t Wisconsin) is a rite of passage and summertime tradition. Around here, they call it God’s Country.
During the summer, it sparkles with every conceivable shade of blue; sapphire and cerulean on a clear, sunny day; pale lapis in hazy light; brooding indigo in the rain. The sky transforms from rosy pinks and pastel yellows at dawn to turquoise smudged with glowing white by day to fiery oranges and reds and deepening violets at sunset. Trees and vines are brilliantly green.
The winter landscape is reminiscent of the massive glaciers that cut this Paradise straight from cold rock. The vines and trees are bare, coated in a layer of perpetual snow. Even on clear days, dusty powder dances lazily across the landscape that’s like an untouched frozen tundra. The world is white. The sky is gray. The water is an impossible silver.
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|2 Lads Winery and tasting room.|
Old Mission Wineries: 2 Lads Winery, Black Star Farms Old Mission Tasting Room, Bowers Harbor Vineyard, Brys Estate, Chateau Chantal, Chateau Grand Traverse, Peninsula Cellars
More Food and Drink:
7 Monks Taproom: So new you can still smell the paint drying, 7 Monks serves beer from around the world, including a solid show of rare Michigan brews, as well as all seven authentic Trappist ales brewed in ancient monasteries in Belgium and the Netherlands. The beer flows from 46 taps with gastro-brasserie food to compliment it.
The Cook’s House: Even other area chefs call the Cook’s House the best restaurant in Traverse City. Chef Eric Patterson serves regional new American cuisine, sourced 100% locally in the summer and 80% in the winter. His 28-seat restaurant (which recently acquired a full liquor license) is always full, but is well worth the wait.
Peninsula Grill: For casual fare, the Peninsula Grill offers classic American grill cuisine of serious excellence (try one of the flatbreads), along with a solid selection of local wines and beers. Longtime bartender Johnny even promises he’ll remember what you drink for next time.
TASTES of Black Star Farms: Try the Matterhorn Grill Dinner, where you’ll grill up fresh vegetables and sausages in the Swiss DIY style, then pour melted raclette cheese from the Leelanau Cheese Company (located in Black Star Farms) over top. Their aged raclette was named “Best Cheese in North America” by the American Cheese Society cheese competition in 2007.
Trattoria Stella: Two-time James Beard-nominated Executive Chef Myles Anton describes the menu as “northern Michigan Italian.” They make everything in-house from scratch, including the breads, pastas and desserts. In the last year Anton has even started butchering his own animals. “It’s the next level of feeding locally,” he says. “It’s turned into this revolutionary thing in my life and my cooking, and does awesome justice to the animal.” They have won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since they’ve been open thanks to Amanda Danielson’s meticulous organization of her wine list, balancing a robust selection of wine from nearly every region of Italy with probably the largest selection of Michigan wines of any restaurant in the state.
Also: Amical, Bardon’s Ice Cream, Bay Leaf, The Boathouse, Folgarelli’s Market and Wine Shop, North Peak Brewing Co., Patisserie Amie, Phil’s on Front, Red Ginger, Right Brain Brewery
Chateau Chantal: Sometimes the floral look can be pulled off in a way that is charming (and not in that way when people say “charming” just to be polite): at Chateau Chantal the rooms are all designed around a particular French impressionist painting, so you get floral patterns that aren’t offensive to your eyes or age range. Each suite has its own color theme: Rosé = pink, Merlot = purple … it’s like Sesame Street’s House of Seven Colors! (But, you know, classy.) The Inn is also connected to their tasting room, and guests are free to conduct their own wine sampling after-hours (again, this is northern Michigan, where people still believe in the honors system). Chateau Chantal boasts what might actually be one of the most stunning patio views in the state, and they also host prix fixe seven-course wine dinners every Wednesday and Friday through October.
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa: About 15 minutes from the base of Old Mission is the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, a beautiful 900-acre property with three golf courses, tennis courts, a full spa and a private beach club. (GTR was named one of the 75 best golf resorts in North America in 2009/2010 by Golf Digest and one of the top 50 tennis resorts in the country by Tennis Magazine in 2000 and 2002.) Aerie Restaurant & Lounge is located on the 16th floor with OMG views of Grand Traverse Bay (have dinner at dusk and watch the sunset over the bay). Certified Executive Chef Guillermo Valencia brings a new Latin fusion to Aerie’s menu while still emphasizing local, seasonal products. Boys get golf, girls get pampered , you still get that big hotel feel and you might even find a wild turkey roaming around in the parking lot but it’s cool, it’s all part of the northern Michigan experience.
Also: Chateau Grand Traverse, Holiday Inn West Bay, Park Place Hotel, Wellington Inn
Hotel Indigo coming soon
Want to see more? Check out these three Flickr sets: Traverse City 2009, Traverse City 2011, Mission Table