Five new books guide Midwest travelers

Shopping for somebody who loves the Midwest, particularly Wisconsin? Out of all the new travel books that crossed my desk this year, here are five favorites.

101 Things To Do In Door County by Richard R. Rusnack II (Rusnack Publishing, $13) — When heading to Door County this year, I was glad to slip this compact paperback into my duffle bag. It is a fun and fast read.

More playful and personal than a compendium, this book should not be mistaken for the traditional travel guide. There is insider talk and recommendations, plus reminders of the familiar – scattered advice that is compiled in no logical sequence.

Consider No. 31: “Get lost in the reeds of Kangaroo Lake’s north end,” a reference to an area only accessible by boat and, preferably, a guided kayak tour.

Rusnack, an Ellison Bay resident, also challenges his readers to embark on a progressive dinner: Start with cocktails at Gill’s Rock at the Shoreline and end with dessert crepes at Mr. Helsinki in Fish Creek.

What is the oldest grocery store in the county? Where are the best farmers’ markets? What is the Hairpin Run? The author is eager to share his secrets.

Great Wisconsin Romantic Weekends by Christine des Garennes (Trails Books Guide, $19) – What is romantic to you? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a pretty place to picnic or an elaborate suite with a whirlpool for two. A lot of special, spicy, heart-melting and heart-pounding ideas make this a nice inspiration for many kinds of people – brie eaters in candlelight to adventurers hiking by moonlight.

Use this book to get just a germ of an idea, or as a complete reference for a three-day getaway (there are 21 such itineraries). Learn how to forget about the kids for a while, during balloon to carriage rides.

There are ideas about where to eat, sleep – and get married, if that is the goal. Not to play favorites with Door County, but if that’s a sentimental location, check out Page 49 (where to buy the ring, propose, exchange the vows, whoop it up afterward).

The Complete Grand Illinois Trail Guidebook by Todd Volker (FirstServePress, $20) – One of the longest biking/hiking trails in the nation is the Grand Illinois, a loop of more than 500 miles that encompasses the lakefront path in Chicago, plus Galena and Moline on the Mississippi River.

A dozen parks are near or along this multi-purpose trail, whose components include former stagecoach and railroad routes. The project links 12 trails and 45 municipalities, from Richmond and its antique-rich shops to the north, to Ottawa and LaSalles’s wealth of state parks to the south.

Most of the terrain is flat, the author says, with the exception of hilly Jo Daviess County (Galena area). He explains trail surfaces and attractions, suggests places to stay and eat, canoe and linger.

This is a book that tries to do it all, a gallant attempt to answer whatever question might enter your head when contemplating a 500-mile journey by foot or bike. To learn more about the trail, go to www.www.dnr.state.il.us.

America’s Byways of the Midwest by Mobil Travel Guide editors (Mobil Travel Guide, $17) – A new series of scenic driving guides was published this year by the company that has long been known for its travel advice and ratings.

These byways are “roads that tell stories” because of the scenery and sites they pass. It is a great way to get off of the interstate and take travel at a more leisurely pace.

The Midwest edition of this series covers the most well-known drives in 10 states. In Wisconsin, the editors devote themselves to the 249-mile Great River Road.

Restaurant and lodging recommendations are minimal, and curious, not the book’s strong suit. For the 249 miles in Wisconsin, for example, only five motels in La Crosse and three in Prairie du Chien are mentioned, and most of them are chains.

This book is a stronger reference for historical background and tourist stops. All routes mentioned are in the federal government’s National Scenic Byways Program (there are such 96 routes in 39 states).

The three other Mobil guides in this series are about the West Coast, Mountain Region and All-American Roads.

The Slow Food Guide to Chicago Restaurants, Markets, Bars by Kelly Gibson and Portia Belloc Lowndes (Chelsea Green Publishing, $20) – The next time you feel hunger pangs while in Chicago, consider seeking a memorable meal instead of a quick kick of convenience.

Slow Food USA is devoted to preserving the foods that are a part of our cultural heritage. This book, the second installment of a series (New York City was the first), describes more than 500 places where what you eat is something special: homemade, artisan made, rooted in tradition and/or ethnically influenced.

African to vegetarian cuisine, barbecue to wine bars, bread bakeries to seafood markets are mentioned here, with notations about cost ranges, long-standing specialties and neighborhood locations.

There is a home for nondescript shacks as well as posh surroundings. All are a cause for celebration and preservation.