Recreation & Destinations

NWQ Getaway Guide, Holiday Edition

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A great weekend’s journey is hours away. Here are some excellent places to visit.

The elegantly decorated Ellwood Mansion, in downtown DeKalb, is a favorite destination for many who visit DeKalb County during the holiday season. (DeKalb County CVB photo)

Embrace the Best Holiday Traditions

By Pat Szpekowski

Treasured traditions that reclaim the nostalgia of days-gone-by are celebrated throughout the holiday season in DeKalb County. Visit this largely pastoral destination to experience a scenic road trip, family-friendly activity, or shopping adventure to capture the vibrancy of the area and unexpected memories.

Enjoy holiday adventures that promise a little bit of something for every taste. The season comes alive for families to easily check off lists of new playful things to do from Thanksgiving right up to Christmas.

A popular, can’t-be-missed downtown DeKalb holiday tradition is the annual tour of the elegantly decorated 1879 Ellwood Mansion during a three-day Open House from Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. This grand event features live music as guests tour the historic three-story mansion of the late Isaac Ellwood, who played a central role in the development of the barbed wire industry.

Tour guides will be stationed on all three floors and the basement level to share the fascinating history of the home and the Ellwood family. A visit from Santa and refreshments in the visitors center provide the perfect atmosphere to warm up. The historic mansion is situated on 10 acres of parkland in the heart of DeKalb.

Sparkling holiday lights will beam throughout DeKalb County to help renew the spirit and connect with family and friends.

Santa kicks off holiday activities in downtown Genoa on the evening of Dec. 7 with a special jingle bell parade and tree lighting ceremony. Kids of all ages can partake in a variety of merry activities including free wagon rides, a live petting zoo, warming fires, Christmas caroling and holiday music. Enjoy free hot chocolate, cookies and coffee to enhance the holiday mood.

Delight family and friends with a free carriage ride in downtown DeKalb on Dec. 8.

There will be plenty of time to shop for unique gifts as friendly local business owners provide tasty treats and revel in the spirit of one-on-one, personalized customer service throughout the season. Grab your friends and make it a fun Saturday holiday treat.

Once the shopping is done and it’s time for a break, nothing can beat the vibrant dining culture of DeKalb County with a varied mix of American and international cuisine. The pub scene is alive with the sound of music, but DeKalb County also is home to wineries, local breweries, bottlers and distilling artisans who serve up craft beers and sodas, ales, porters, barley wines, IPA’s and more.

Whiskey Acres Distilling Co., the only estate distillery in Illinois, is located in DeKalb. A new visitors center opens in December with expanded retail space and educational exhibits. Visit and learn the fascinating story of three farm owners. Then, surprise someone on your holiday list with the gift of a handcrafted, distilled spirit from this true farm-to-bottle distillery.

Kids will squeal with delight when they see more than 300,000 lights and holiday figurines during a magical evening ride on Pete’s Train in the town of Waterman. Step right up and board the train for family fun from Nov. 24 through Dec. 23. The Holiday Lights Train rides past Santa and his reindeer, giant toy soldiers and candy canes, streetlights, angels, jumping reindeer, a snowfall and much more. Sip hot chocolate and savor popcorn in the shelter house while warming by the fire.

Don’t delay. Plan your holiday tour of DeKalb County now, and make the most of the season.

For more information, visit dekalbcvb.com.

Stop by the windows of Graham’s Chocolates, in Geneva, during the Christmas Walk and watch the first candy canes of the season crafted right in front of you.

Kick Off the Season in Downtown Geneva

By Stefanie Dell’Aringa

If you’re looking to make holiday memories while shopping, sightseeing and taking in history, downtown Geneva is the place to go. Festivities kick off Dec. 7 and 8 with a Christmas Walk, Holiday House Tour, lights, roasted chestnuts, live nativity and dazzling storefronts welcoming shoppers with holiday refreshments. And that’s only the start of the season.

The 72nd Christmas Walk, held Friday at 6 p.m., includes a tree-lighting ceremony and the arrival of Santa with his trusted elf on a horse-drawn carriage.

Santa Lucia, the Swedish symbol of the season, arrives with her attendants and hands out Pepperkaker (Norwegian gingerbread) cookies.

“Santa Lucia is always admired by the little girls,” says Laura Rush, communications manager for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the house tour and Christmas Walk. “They want pictures with her and her attendants. It’s something that gives a little nod to our Swedish heritage.”

Third Street is closed off, allowing people to wander safely and take in the sights and sounds of the season.

“Most shops will stay open late and usually have something festive going on,” Rush says.

The Holiday House Tour features five decorated homes. The event grows in popularity annually, says Rush. Tickets can be purchased at the Chamber’s office, in select stores or at genevachamber.com.

“The Holiday House tour event may sell out,” Rush says. “Visitors who take the tour get to see beautiful homes that are decorated for the season. Many walk away with ideas for their own homes or items for a wish list. It’s a great outing to begin the holiday season.”

The Holiday House Tour has been held for 51 years and has been hosted by various groups including the Garden Club and most recently the Chamber of Commerce.

Thousands of people are drawn to the event, and only a certain number of tickets are printed. Both events have become tradition for locals and out-of-towners alike.

“Those who grew up here bring their families downtown and take the same picture under the tree that they took as a young child,” Rush says. “The House Tour brings in generations – grandmas, moms, daughters – and groups that have done it for 25 years,” Rush says.

Proceeds help to decorate Geneva for the holiday season and fly Santa in from the North Pole. The City of Geneva is a huge supporter and partner with the Chamber.

“Our Christmas Walk is the beginning of the holiday season for many, as is the Holiday House Tour,” Rush says. “Seeing the smiles on the little ones’ faces when Santa arrives is just priceless.”

If you plan to eat out while you’re visiting, it’s best to make dinner reservations ahead of time, says Rush. This is one of the busiest weekends of the year for downtown businesses.

While the Christmas Walk is family-friendly, the House Tour is not suited for small children. Tickets for the tour cost $35 per person, and strollers and pets aren’t allowed.

While you’re downtown, be sure to visit the stores along State Street and Third Street. Many of them will host “live window” displays, with people staging a holiday-themed scene for all to see.

“Geneva invites residents and guests to shop, dine and even stay in Geneva,” Rush says. “Let us show you what makes the holiday season in Geneva special, unique and unforgettable.”

For more information about Christmastime activities and holiday shopping in Geneva, call (630) 232-6060 or visit genevachamber.com.

Through November and December, The Geneva Inn, in Lake Geneva, serves up a daily holiday tea that comes with an assortment of delectable treats. (Cory Ritterbusch photo)

Setting a Scrumptious Holiday Table

By Pat Szpekowski

Ihake up the holidays and get in the mood for feasting, fun, and family-style gatherings at The Geneva Inn.

This picture-postcard lakeside escape is located on the shores of Geneva Lake, in southeast Wisconsin. It has carefully blended its renowned heritage of first-class hospitality and award-winning cuisine by crafting new festive get-togethers to lure in friends from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve with a whole lot of surprises in between.

“We have planned several exciting new events to bring cheer to all during this holiday season,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager. “Guests are invited to ring in the holiday cheer and the New Year in grand style at The Grandview Restaurant and Supper Club with our mouthwatering signature selections.”

Spend time with family and friends in a warm atmosphere enjoying a delicious Thanksgiving dinner without the fuss and the cleanup. The gratifying family-style feast features a spread of craveable favorites, such as a fall-inspired salad, roasted turkey and spiral ham, and comfort food classics like mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, sausage stuffing, traditional green been casserole, Brussels sprouts and cranberry/orange compote. Save a little room for pumpkin, apple or pecan pie to crown the meal.

How about a relaxing and quick getaway to imbibe a “Holiday Tea”? The menu, served every day in November and December from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., is replete with three courses of freshly prepared pure delights. A sandwich course showcases a mini focaccia with ham, tarragon aioli, arugula and goat cheese, and a mini cucumber dill served on pan de mie. Kids can tastefully enjoy a Nutella and banana, or PB&J, on pan de mie. The second course revels with a blueberry scone and a lemon Madeline, served with lemon curd Devonshire cream and raspberry jam. The grand finale third course tops off the tea-time tradition with a seasonal macaron and small brownie. Pick a favored brewed tea to enhance the flavors.

“On Sunday, Dec. 16, we will be hosting a Santa’s Brunch Buffet from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.,” adds O’Dempsey. “Santa will be right here in front of the fireplace for a perfect photo op, and carolers from the local Badger High School will entertain us with holiday tunes.”

The full holiday buffet menu offers innovative brunch selections at five stations. Enjoy carved beef tenderloin with a foie gras butter and sage sausage-stuffed goose. Move to the hot station with more than 10 selections including “Christmas potatoes,” eggnog French toast, pasta primavera, spiral ham and more. Have an omelet made to order with favorite toppings. The cold station offers a Grandview cob salad, assorted fruits and massive seafood display. Macarons, tiramisu and a hot chocolate bar round out the sweets table.

The planned New Year’s Eve gala promises to be an event to remember.

“We’re celebrating 2019 like it’s 1920 at The Geneva Inn,” O’Dempsey says. “It will be a classic evening and a unique throwback in time as we head into the new year with a five-course dinner, live music and a champagne toast at midnight. Our special hotel package will include all of the New Year’s Eve festivities, including a champagne and appetizer reception in the main lobby.”

If these temptations aren’t enough, a New Year’s Day brunch will be served from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will offer favorite buffet spreads, a haven of fresh-baked goods, and complete bloody mary bar fixings to help guests gently sip their way into the New Year.

For more information on The Geneva Inn, call (262) 248-5680 or visit genevainn.com.

Master cheesemakers have been producing curds at Shullsburg Creamery since 1938.

A Slice of Americana in Shullsburg, Wis.

By Sara Graves

Driving into Shullsburg, Wis., on County Road U, the letters “GH” have been spray painted in white on the pavement of the remote highway.

Locals know, of course, that “GH” stands for Gravity Hill. Pop your car into neutral here, and it will roll backward up the hill at speeds around 20 miles per hour. It’s a phenomenon found several places around the United States, with a few theories about possible explanations.

“Gravity Hill is near an old cemetery that’s no longer there,” says Cory Ritterbusch, founding member and executive director of Advance Shullsburg. “Some say spirits are pushing the car uphill.” He admits that this is one of the more far-fetched of possibilities.

Another theory is that the car moving uphill is an optical illusion; that the hill slopes downward. Others say there’s magnetic pull due to the significant source of lead under the ground. Shullsburg was one of the busiest mining towns in its heyday, so who knows which of these hypotheses is correct.

What is correct about this small town is that there is a real pride radiating from the locals, creating a magnetic pull of friendliness to anyone who visits.

“Shullsburg has a very strong sense of place,” Ritterbusch says. His nonprofit organization focuses on bringing tourism to the area and highlighting the vivacious spirit of the town itself.

“The school my kids go to was built in 1900,” he explains. “Shullsburg Elementary School is such a source of pride, which is evident by the excellent maintenance of the limestone building.”

Streets in the northeast corner of town are all named after the virtues by which founders believed residents ought to live. The corner of Peace and Happy Street lies not far from the intersection of Mercy and Faith.

While wandering these streets, watch out for all-terrain vehicles cruising the roadway. With hundreds of miles of trails in the area, it’s not unusual to see any of the 1,200 Shullsburgians riding their ATV on any one of the town’s designated roadways.

Shullsburg’s only commercial strip, Water Street, is one-third of a mile long. Visit the Shullsburg Creamery, where master cheesemakers have been making curds and other kinds of cheese since 1938. Peruse their “legendary” gift shop and load up on artisanal cheese, local beer and various tchotchkes. Eat the traditional mining town fare, a pasty, at The Burg, Water Street Pub or Water Street Cafe. Better yet, try one at all three establishments and see how they compare.

“Pasties are native to mining towns,” Ritterbusch explains. Pockets of dough are filled with meat and potatoes and usually cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven. Miners’ wives would cook these hearty, hand-held delicacies, wrap them in paper and cloth, and place them in the miners’ overall pockets where they would stay nice and warm until mealtime.

Running into a biker of either the motorcycle or bicycle persuasion is not unusual on the windy thoroughfares in and around Shullsburg. Lafayette County is known for having no straight roads, and the nearby town of New Diggins is a favorite place among bikers, especially in the summer and fall.

Marvel at the autumn colors by kayaking or canoeing down one of Shullsburg’s paddling streams. The rivers Fever and Pecatonica are intimate waterways surrounded by thick woods, rocky banks typical of the Driftless Region, and farmland where, according to Ritterbusch, “You don’t see people, you see cows.”

Spend the weekend at one of Shullsburg’s independent lodges or inns, explore this little slice of Americana, and maybe leave with a bit more Goodness and Wisdom than you came with.

Tour the many seasonal ice falls and other features of Starved Rock State Park, near Utica, Ill., with guided hikes that depart from the Starved Rock Lodge every weekend in winter. (Kathy Casstevens photos)

Why Wait for a Weekend to Escape?

By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge

A winter getaway to Starved Rock Lodge is beautiful inside and out. Located near Utica, Ill., the canyons, bluffs and seasonal ice falls around Starved Rock State Park and Lodge create amazing backdrops for photos.

The historic Lodge is decorated for the holidays inside and out. A massive, two-sided fireplace crackles with glowing logs that warm the winter air and welcome guests from near and far. Mid-week overnight packages are detailed on the Lodge’s website. Holiday buffets (on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) make family get-togethers easy and fun. Reservations are necessary.

The rustic Main Dining Room is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday brunch is a guest favorite. Local musicians liven up the Back Door Lounge every Friday night from 8-11 p.m.

“A Taste of Texas” is this year’s theme for the Lodge’s annual New Year’s Eve party in the Great Hall. The Overnight Party Package ($495) includes overnight accommodations for two guests, open bar, party favors, photos by the fireplace (additional cost), hors d’oeuvres, buffet dinner, live entertainment in the Great Hall, a champagne toast at midnight, late check-out, New Year’s Day Brunch, plus a chance to win a $1,000 travel voucher. The Party Only Package is $275 (for two) and does not include the overnight stay, brunch or contest.

If a wedding is in your future, attend the Lodge’s annual Bridal Expo on Sunday, Jan. 6, from noon to 3 p.m. Starved Rock Lodge was the destination for more than 140 outdoor weddings last year, with the beauty of Starved Rock State Park setting a backdrop for stunning photos.

Sled Dog Demos return to the Lodge on Jan. 13 and Feb. 17, and again they’ll be hosted by Free Spirit Siberian Rescue. See real sled dogs run just west of the Visitors Center and attend free seminars in the Lodge. Dogs will also be available for adoption.

Eagle Watch Weekend is set for Jan. 26-27, with exciting and free “Birds of Prey” shows and hands-on exhibits in the Great Hall. Educational seminars will take place at the Lodge and the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. Eagle Trolley Tours offered during January and February include lunch and a guided tour aboard a Starved Rock Trolley to see migrating bald eagles.

Guided Winter Hikes depart from the Lodge each Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.

In the quiet of winter, cozy cabins set peacefully in the woods provide a getaway that can be truly restful and rejuvenating. And best of all, an indoor pool complex is just a few steps away with a pool, hot tub and two saunas. Massage therapists are available by appointment. Some guests enjoy just reading a book or playing cards in Great Hall, warming themselves by the massive fireplace.

Learn more about Starved Rock’s many winter events at starvedrocklodge.com.

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