Fall colors at the Fernwood Botanical Garden. For more photos, check out the gallery »
DISTANCE FROM CHICAGO: 95 MILES
Harbor Country, that group of small Michigan towns along the lake, has for decades been a close-by getaway for Chicagoans. Now there is a new option a little farther inland: Buchanan. Set amid rolling hills and vineyards and featuring a wide range of architectural styles, this charming old mill town has a tiny shopping district recently re-developed by several Chicagoans and ex-Chicagoans. They have awakened this sleepy burg, transforming it into a magnet for home décor shoppers. As it turns out, Buchanan is also a great place to sample world-class wine, eat good food, and revel in the fall colors.
Alan Robandt and Thomas Jolly Home & Garden, two well-known Chicago antique dealers, were the pioneering businesses in town. In his Buchanan outlet, Jolly (who still has a store on Kinzie Street near the Merchandise Mart) offers English country antiques and 20th-century pieces suited for vacation homes. Robandt’s shop is filled with vintage and antique furniture and accessories with a slight industrial edge. But man can’t live on vintage alone, so there is also Front, a delightful shop packed with fun modern accessories from Marimekko, Alessi, Kartell, Iittala, Taschen, Votivo, and more. Think bright colors and bold shapes.
As for nonshopping attractions, Pears Mill (121 S. Oak St.; open Saturdays through Labor Day) is a functioning 1850s water-powered Greek Revival gristmill along McCoy Creek. Housed in a midcentury Prairie-style building, the three galleries of the Buchanan Art Center (117 W. Front St.; 269-697-4005) display work by local artists.
Hungry? For such a small town, there are lots of dining options. Situated inside a 1947 soda fountain store, the newly opened Buchanan Sweet Shop offers ice cream and panini, while nearby, the similarly named Sweeties Sweet Shop has sandwiches, popcorn, and candy. Set in a lovely restored bank building with original mosaic tile, marble walls, and soaring glass windows, Union Coffee House serves up arabica coffee and loose tea, along with sandwiches, salads, and baked goods. For a more substantial menu—barbecue, steaks, salmon, sandwiches, salads—try Wheatberry Restaurant & Tavern. For breakfast, locals recommend the Back Door Cafe, where I’ve had excellent asparagus omelets in the spring.
You could spend several hours in the shops, galleries, and restaurants here, but you will want to get out and enjoy the autumn scenery. In nearby Niles, the Fernwood Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve (269-695-6491) has lots of maple, tulip, sassafras, and sycamore trees for looking at wonderful fall colors on foot; the Doris and Dick Richards Ecology Trail leads to a viewing dock on the St. Joseph River. Keep going on the little-traveled Wilderness Trail if you are feeling energetic (though none of the trails are very long or strenuous). Lunch at Fernwood’s café is a treat (salads, panini, soup, shrimp artichoke pizza), especially if you can eat on the deck or terrace. The Autumn Air Festival (October 2nd and 3rd) features children’s activities, food, and live music in the garden.
Wine lovers will want to check out the September 11th tour of Buchanan’s Avonlea Vineyard. From Fernwood, a bus takes you to the vineyard, which provides grapes for Wyncroft Winery, an under-the-radar outfit that supplies wine to Alinea, Charlie Trotter’s, Blackbird, Green Zebra, Everest, and other top Chicago restaurants. James Lester, the owner, gives a tour and talks about growing grapes, and then you head to the no-frills winery in Buchanan to sample the results. The outing concludes at Fernwood with a dinner featuring Wyncroft wine pairings. (Contact Fernwood for reservations. If you can’t make the event but want to visit Wyncroft, call ahead; the place is open by appointment only.) Other nearby wineries are the Round Barn in Baroda and Tabor Hill in Buchanan, where you can enjoy lunch while looking out over the vineyards.
Eventually you will want to head toward Lake Michigan for overnight lodging; try the Marina Grand Resort in New Buffalo or choose between the Gordon Beach Inn and the Inn at Union Pier, both in Union Pier. (Buchanan also makes an excellent stopover on the way to or from Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, which is just 25 minutes away.) The densely wooded countryside west of Buchanan is the perfect setting for fall drives, and scenic Warren Woods Road will take you the 22 miles back to Red Arrow Highway and the lakeshore. En route, take a detour north on Boyle Lake Road, a narrow byway that curls beneath a canopy of trees so richly adorned in autumnal hues it may inspire thoughts of becoming an ex-Chicagoan and relocating to pretty little Buchanan.
The Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Club has mapped out 16 self-guided cycling routes (from 5 to 60 miles) that take riders through Harbor Country, up to Warren Dunes State Park, and into the area around Buchanan. Pick up the guide at the Dewey Cannon Trading Company in Three Oaks (3 Dewey Cannon Ave.; 269-756-3361).
Unless otherwise noted, all addresses are in Buchanan.
Gordon Beach Inn 16220 Lakeshore Rd., Union Pier; 269-469-0800, gordonbeachinn.com
Inn at Union Pier 9708 Berrien St., Union Pier; 269-469-4700, innatunionpier.com
Marina Grand Resort 600 W. Water St., New Buffalo; 269-469-9900, marinagrandresort.com
Alan Robandt 114 E. Front St.; 312-560-7482
Front 207 E. Front St.; 269-695-0230
Thomas Jolly Home & Garden 107 E. Front St.; 312-595-0018
WINING & DINING
Back Door Cafe 115 N. Red Bud Trail; 269-695-1332
The Buchanan Sweet Shop 205 E. Front St.; 269-695-5533
Round Barn Winery 10983 Hills Rd., Baroda; 800-716-9463, roundbarnwinery.com
Sweeties Sweet Shop 259 E. Front St.; 269-695-3337
Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant 185 Mount Tabor Rd.; 800-283-3363, taborhill.com
Union Coffee House 115 E. Front St.; 269-449-1820, unioncoffeehouse.com
Wheatberry Restaurant & Tavern 15212 N. Red Bud Trail; 269-697-0043, wheatberrytavern.com
Wyncroft Winery/Avonlea Vineyard 269-409-1855, wyncroftwine.com
Photograph: Phil Devore