It was the perfect day. Lake Huron looked more like the Caribbean than a Great Lake and the sky was an impossible shade of blue. As I stepped off the ferry, I could immediately sense Mackinac Island was something special. This was not how I had imagined Michigan. Truthfully, none of Michigan seemed to be what I was expecting. We'd driven from the Detroit airport to the northern portion of the lower peninsula and had yet to spy a single auto factory or snowflake.
From the ferry, the island looked like a giant swatch of green dotted with bits of white spires. Hundreds of bicycles lined the dock, waiting to be rented. As we disembarked and stepped onto Main Street, I felt like I was in a Norman Rockwell painting or in the setting of a famous movie. Wait a minute. I was in the setting of a famous movie.
Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-in-naw) is the crown jewel of Michigan. It's where the 1980 blockbuster Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve, was filmed.
During the island's busy summer season, charming Victorian houses and historic churches welcome visitors from all over the world. Flowers of every color line the narrow streets and framed paintings are displayed on posts creating an outdoor art show. There’s an 18th century fort perched above the town and charming little shops selling T-shirts, fudge and other yummy sweets. There are no cars or other motorized vehicles on the streets. Transportation is by foot, bike or carriage. Your luggage is delivered to your hotel, just like in the 19th century, by horse and carriage.
Our carriage chauffeur took us the long way to see some of the homes and gardens nearby before dropping us at Mission Point Hotel. Half a century ago it was a university, but after renovations the campus became one of the most popular lodging choices in Mackinac. The piano player set the mood as he played Elton John near the bar area. I ordered a rye Manhattan. Nearby, Traverse City grows some of the best cherries in the world, and that’s really part of what makes a good Manhattan. I wasn’t disappointed.
The fudge created on this island is world-famous. Back in the days when sugar was scarce and expensive, only the elite could afford this luxury. Mackinac sweet shops catered to the rich tourists who visited the island and throughout the following century perfected their candy-making skills.
Now that sugar is plentiful and anyone can afford “brown gold,” local shops churn out free samples and entertain while they mix, stir, and cut the creamy confection into decadent slices right before your eyes. If you don’t like chocolate, don’t despair. There’s saltwater taffy, caramel popcorn and lots of other sweets to choose from. Ryba’s (the local favorite) paired our fudge tasting with champagne and caramel turtles. Mmmmm.
The Grand Hotel, which was founded in the 19th century, was the filming location for Somewhere in Time. It’s an amazing world-class hotel with beautiful gardens, horse-drawn limos, and lots of art throughout. Peruse the Impressionist gallery near the entrance of the hotel or grab a bite at the restaurant—it looks like a gigantic French bistro sprawled across the first floor.
The hotel has a unique character and one-of-a-kind decorated rooms. Its timeless look could pass for a modern retro-hotel or be equally at home in the late 1800s. In Somewhere in Time, Reeve's character transports himself by hypnosis from 1980 to 1912. Very little of the set needed to be altered because it was such a perfect fit.
Every October, fans of the film flock to the hotel for the Somewhere in Time Weekend to meet actors from the film, learn about the making of the movie, enjoy period-themed parties, or play golf on the island’s world-class course. Mackinac is the only golf course in the country that uses horse and carriage to transport golfers between the two nine-hole courses. Now that is a great golf bragging story.
Above the town is Mackinac Fort, a former fur trading lodge and gated historical area full of old buildings, including the oldest free-standing building in Michigan, dating back to 1780. Actors are on hand in traditional garb to tell about the fort’s rich history. Dine at the sidewalk cafe on the edge of the cliff or watch a cannon firing ceremony. The fort is poised above the harbor and it’s difficult to find a better view anywhere. Mackinac Fort was the second National Park created in the U.S. and remained that way from 1875 to 1895. Michigan was able to regain control of the island and it became Michigan’s first state park. Most of the island is preserved forest.
The most popular pastime in Mackinac is to rent a bicycle and discover the island. it’s literally a bike mecca with roads and trails that traverse the state park and circle the entire island. Arch rock is a beautiful geological formation on the east coast. There’s a butterfly house and the Mackinac art museum that both are worth a visit. Almost a dozen outdoor replicas of famous paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts are installed throughout the island. Art enthusiasts and those who enjoy a good scavenger hunt will have a great time finding them all. If you don’t feel like pedaling, rent a horse and carriage for an hour or two. There are over 500 horses on the island and you might get to meet them all.
I can’t say enough great things about this fantastic spot in Michigan. It’s like going back in time. Breathe the fresh air, eat a bite of fudge and relax in a place that has no brakes screeching, horns honking or traffic jams. Drink a classic cocktail at the Grand Hotel and have some delicious scallops at the Mission Point Resort. Take off your shoes and have a picnic in Marquette Park. It doesn’t get any better than this.