MACKINAC ISLAND, MICHIGAN – The pace of life is slow on this turtle-shaped island. Cars are banned (except ambulances and fire trucks), so the only horsepower you’ll see on the handsome streets is the four-legged kind pulling delivery wagons.
The only way to get to this treasured island that rises out of Lake Huron is by ferry. The doll house homes painted cotton candy colours are surrounded by lush gardens and stand behind white picket fences — they all look like they’ve jumped off a Norman Rockwell canvas.
The quaint inns and B&Bs with the wraparound balconies invite visitors to curl up in their white wicker rockers on a summer’s evening and escape into the pages of a romantic novel.
Mackinac has been a favourite weekend retreat for Canadians for many decades. With its proximity to Toronto (about a 10-hour drive) and Detroit, the island is a refuge from the pressures of modern life.
Even the air here seems fresher: no gasoline combustion engines mean less pollution. Flowers abound in gardens and baskets filled with flowers hang from lamp posts.
The only thing you worry about here is stepping in horse manure.
Left: The island is full of doll house homes. Right: Gardens abound on Mackinac island.
Mackinac brings out the child in us — the fudge and ice cream shops along Main St. and Market St. leave a sweet impression. And the ice cream vendors willingly scoop up samples for you to try before buying.
One ice cream shop owner tells me she does so much business during the summer months, she doesn’t have to work in winter, which is a good thing, because the ferry doesn’t run when the snow flies.
There’s lots to see on this tiny piece of Michigan real estate — parks, museums and stately hotels, like the legendary 385-room Victorian-style Grand, which has welcomed U.S. presidents, movie stars and giants of American industry over its storied history. The 1980 movie Somewhere in Time was filmed at the Grand.
The best way to see the visual delights this island offers is by bicycle. You can bring your own, or rent one for around $8 (U.S.) for four hours.
Fort Mackinac is the island’s biggest tourist attraction. Weekend soldiers wearing British uniforms recreate what life was like here when the fort was built in 1812. Kids love the musket firing and cannon drills and there’s even a re-enactment of a prisoner trial.
Left: Natural bridge is a natural beauty.
The streets are shaded by giant oak trees and families picnic in the parks. Kids love flying their kites while parents spread blankets on the manicured lawns and sip cool drinks. The only sounds here are that of children laughing, wind chimes playing on the porches and horses’ hooves clip-clopping down Main Street.
After a short bike ride from the centre of town, I come upon Arch Rock, a limestone formation standing out from the azure water of Lake Huron. Along the shore, people pile stones into statues and frolic in the cool surf.
On the way back to town, I see a wedding party — the bride and groom look like the Royal Couple perched high in their open carriage seats, waving to well-wishers.
A fairy-tale wedding in a fairy-tale place.