Tucked away in the Straits of Mackinac off the mainland just before the magnificent Mackinac Bridge that connects the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan, Mackinac Island is an time trip to the 1800s.
It is here that horses were banned in 1897 (before there were even many cars) and so transportation around the island with its wedding cake mansions, 19th century downtown and luscious gardens and lawns is by horse and buggy or bicycle.
Leave the mainland aboard the Arnold Ferry which departs from both St. Ignace north of the bridge and Mackinaw City just south of the bridge.
After disembarking, take the glossy maroon carriage pulled by big Percherons and steered by a liveried driver up to the Grand Hotel. Built in 1887,and perched on a bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, the hotel is the last word in luxury and romantic appeal. Esther Williams swam in the 1920s luxe swimming pool while filming the 1947 movie “This Time for Keeps” and Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve romanced here in “Somewhere in Time.”
Relax on the white rocking chairs of the Grand’s 660-foot porch, the longest in the world. Stroll through the extensive gardens brimming with flowers and shrubbery including a topiary shaped like their iconic horse and carriage.
Shoot golf on the Grand’s two 9-hole courses, the Jewel just across the street from the hotel and the Woods, at the northern end of the island. For those who want to play all 18, a horse and carriage takes them and their clubs to the other course.
Dining options include the Main Dining Room, a white linen affair that seems to stretch endlessly past rows of windows overlooking the columned porch, the gardens and the waters beyond. Or check out the Woods, known for its Austrian accented flair and its one lane duck pin vintage bowling alley, the cozy Jockey Club next to the Jewel with its outdoor dining, meals on the ramparts at the Revolutionary era Fort Mackinac Tea Room or enjoy sandwiches, coffee and tea at the Carlton Tea Room which also features gourmet food items including the sinful house made fudge.
Stroll to the historic downtown, a bustling place with trendy shops, great restaurants, a cute bookstore and a plethora of museums that celebrate the heritage of this island, once a major fur trading center. John Jacob Astor made one of his fortunes in furs here and his American Fur Company Trading Post founded in 1808, is now the the Stuart House Museum.
Visit the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, housed in an old Indian residential quarters built in the 1820s, for a look at fine and decorative arts inspired by the island through the ages.
Have lunch on the wonderful palisade overlooking the harbor and then take a tour of the island past Fort Mackinac which stands sentinel over the town and the harbor and by such natural attractions as the Arch Rock from the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, the oldest and largest livery in the world.
Rent a horse and ride or drive your own buggy at Jack’s Livery. There are plenty of bike rentals on the island as well and a wonderful (and easy) ride around the perimeter of the island as well as pathways through the more hilly center taking riders to such natural wonders as Arch Rock and several small caves as well as past the fort.
Schedule your time on the island for when they hold their annual late spring Lilac Festival and enjoy the bounteous beauty of these flowering bushes.