We sent novelist Camille Bordas on a journey across Illinois. (Check it out here.) But you don't have to devote a whole week to seeing the state. Here are three easy getaways.
A Fancy One-Nighter
327 miles roundtrip
Galena, in the bucolic northwest corner of the state, was voted one of America’s top 10 charming small towns by TripAdvisor for good reason: cobblestone streets, quaint shops, elegant restaurants, and quirky yet refined lodging options, such as the two-year-old Jail Hill Inn (319 Meeker St.; from $295 a night), housed in the former county jailhouse. The artisanal distillery Blaum Bros. (9380 W. U.S. Highway 20), 10 golf courses (including the General at Eagle Ridge Resort, a Golf Digest Top 100 course), and impeccably curated clothing and accessories boutiques like Elle & Becks (205 S. Main St.) make for a posh weekend.
Where to stay:Another luxe option, the smartly renovated Goldmoor Inn (from $305 a night), offers a serene antidote to frilly, frumpy B&Bs.
Where to eat:Fried Green Tomatoes (213 N. Main St.) is inarguably Galena’s most august dining institution, serving its eponymous dish (as well as prime steaks and seafood) in a building that once housed the leather shop of Ulysses S. Grant’s father.
Also do this:On the way home, visit Eshelman Pottery in Elizabeth (238 N. Main St.), the source of exquisite handmade tableware seen in, among other places, Grant Achatz’s Chicago restaurant Roister.
An Antiques and Architecture Weekend
630 miles roundtrip
National Geographic named the intersection of Maine and 16th Streets in Quincy—a small riverside city that’s home to many pre–Civil War homes—one of the 10 most architecturally significant corners in the country. What’s more, the town has—count ’em—four designated historic districts. Make Quincy your base to explore other picturesque river towns, like Nauvoo, and then drive an hour or so inland to spend a night in Pittsfield, where Abraham Lincoln argued cases as a young lawyer and where pickers find bliss at the 5,000-square-foot Country Fixins Primitives Antique & Craft Mall (8 E. Industrial Park Dr.).
Where to stay:The handsome William Watson Hotel in Pittsfield (105 E. Washington St.; from $85 a night) occupies a nicely restored antebellum building constructed by none other than the town’s founder.
Where to eat:The 90-year-old Maid-Rite in Quincy (507 N. 12th St.), one of the first franchises of this beloved Midwestern diner, is justly famous for its loose-meat sandwich ($2.45)—basically a dressed-up Sloppy Joe—and its strict no-tipping policy.
Also do this:Coin collectors, and those who aspire to be, will enjoy Pike County Collectibles in Pittsfield (125 N. Madison St.). It’s not all coins, though—author Camille Bordas bought a winsome glass jar filled with marbles that she now keeps on her writing desk.
Five Days of Hiking and Wine
659 miles roundtrip
The hilly, lush terrain of Illinois’s narrow southern tip—much of which is covered by the 289,000-acre Shawnee National Forest—will surprise many flatlanders from farther north, as will the abundance of vineyards, nearly a dozen in all, strung out along a U-shaped route called the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail (shawneewine trail.com). Most are open to the public for tastings, and a few, like the Von Jakob Winery & Brewery in Alto Pass (230 Highway 127; from $99 a night), offer lodging, too. The forest offers numerous hiking trails, including the popular Cave-in-Rock and Rim Rock, as well as the Garden of the Gods Wilderness, a spectacular formation of otherworldly sandstone pillars and bluffs.
Where to stay:Split the drive by overnighting at the McGrady Inn in Charleston (803 Sixth St.; from $99 a night), in a gorgeously repurposed former church. Once you’re way downstate, for full forest immersion, book a treehouse at the Timber Ridge Outpost & Cabins in Karbers Ridge (timberridgeoutpost.com for directions; from $175 a night).
Where to eat:The Red Onion in Equality (166 W. Lane St.) serves tender steak kebabs, surf and turf platters, and a locally famous slow-roasted prime rib (Friday and Saturday only).
Also do this:The tiny arts haven of Makanda is home to offbeat galleries and studios—and happens to be the onetime home of Paul Simon (the U.S. senator, not the singer).