Down to Earth Tours study state’s northwest

One of the first things Dave Thorson does, when he stops his 14-passenger bus, is take out a pouch of tobacco and talk about a ritual that goes back thousands of years. We are at the wild and unblemished Totogatic Flowage in northwest Sawyer County, and Dave tosses bits of tobacco in four directions, as(…)

Green Leaf Inn, Delavan, sets eco-bar high

If you presume that sustainable living requires a high degree of personal sacrifice, listen to the developers of eco-serious lodging near the tourism-rich Lake Geneva area. “We want to show people that they don’t have to eat granola bars and camp out to be green,” says Catherine McQueen, who with husband Fritz Kreiss plan to(…)

Milwaukee: Lakefront Brewery makes history

Russ Klisch decided to ferment beer after brother Jim gave home brewing a try. “It wasn’t the worst thing I ever had,” Russ deadpans, but he figured he could do it better. That was 1982, and Russ (schooled as a chemist) today operates an unconventional laboratory in a former Cream City brick power plant. His(…)

Casino slots add more interactive elements

When Potawatomi Bingo Casino tripled its size in 2008, the Milwaukee gaming emporium added 1,300 slot machines, so the total exceeds 3,100. What began as a bingo parlor in 1991 today attracts upwards of 4 million visitors annually – the biggest in Wisconsin and among the biggest in the Midwest. Replacing visions of gray-haired widows(…)

Sap on tap: More of us running for the gold

Time for a tap, and we’re not talking about Spotted Cow or Sprecher Amber. Even though the Olympics have ended, Wisconsin has begun another run for the gold. The annual transformation of maple sap to syrup has started statewide, and Gretchen Grape of Holcombe (Chippewa County) cautiously predicts a strong tapping season. She is executive(…)

Wisconsin introduces roadside culture stands

Consider the phrase “roadside culture stand.” It is more than a place to sell fresh veggies, less imposing than the average art fair booth and all about a new way to elevate the unique bounty that defines Wisconsin. Picture a farm stand on wheels, but one that blends art and agriculture. It functions as a(…)

Full steam ahead for Wisconsin tea lovers

When Katrina Isaacson says “you’ll never see me bring a latte in here,” you sense a level of determination that belies her gentle smile. Johanna May’s Fine Teas, near Wausau, is named after her mother, a much-loved coffee drinker who died at age 46. The proprietor is the mother of four boys, “so this is(…)

Bump-a-thump: Madeline Island’s windsleds

Here’s the question: What happens if you and your brother want a vacation? Answer: Everybody leaves the island. Har, har. Just joking, says Arnie Nelson. Fact is, he and brother Ronnie don’t take off much time during winter. Only about 250 people live on Madeline Island all year, and they rely on the Nelson brothers(…)

GPS + Northwoods + winter spells trouble

Serene Northwoods scenery. Mild winter weather. Leisurely timetable. GPS set. What’s wrong with this picture? The GPS – and our assumption that a road can be driven just because it looks cleared. Two friends and I veered onto lesser-traveled roads because there was no reason to rush during a 325-mile trip from Bayfield to Madison.(…)

L’Etoile, Madison, expands ‘go local’ mission

Chef Tory Miller buys not steaks and chops but whole cows and pigs from local farms, using as much of the animals as possible in his fine dining menus. Such practices are not uncommon for a well-trained chef who truly wants to lessen unnecessary waste while supporting the work of local farmers. Tory is among(…)

Vegetarian dining: Dells, Manty, Brookfield

I am a lifelong meat eater who for years has dined out once a month with vegetarian friends who routinely share their entrees. So I respect and appreciate a no-meat diet. We have many veggie-friendly menus in Madison, including the newly opened Green Owl, 1970 Atwood Ave., which is a 100 percent vegetarian café that(…)

Winter in Wausau: Ice fishing, skiing, bird art

Dave Torkko is rearranging snow when we meet in Wausau, and I tell him about wanting to get to Weston before dark. It’s my hunch that I should use country roads to proceed most quickly, and he agrees, offering directions that begin one block away. Then he eyes my puny car and seems to reconsider.(…)

Boutique bowling, tiny alleys, new museum

Is bowling about to take on a new attitude in Wisconsin? Opening this month are the first boutique lanes in Madison’s downtown campus area. “Boutique,” in this case, means leave your bowling bag, wrist brace and blue-collar vibe at home. Neon lights and glow-in-the-dark pins don’t describe the unconventional intentions of proprietors Michael Hierl and(…)

Places full of holiday spirit in Madison

In search of the holiday spirit? Head to Madison, but don’t let mall Santas, early-bird specials and tinsel-tinged storefronts saturate the day. When I need a yuletide boost, these six places provide it in a one-of-a-kind way. — Holiday Fantasy in Lights at Olin-Turville Park, entrance at John Nolen Drive and Lakeside Street: Drive into(…)

New book examines 10 grand opera houses

Turn back the clock 80 to 100 years, and a night out meant dressing up for a brush with opulence, refined entertainment – or both. Our ancestors imported crystal and marble to marvel each other on a grand scale, creating opera houses that defined and later challenged a community’s commitment to the fine arts, vaudeville(…)

Wild rice theme of B&B recipe contest

At least 8,000 lodging units accommodate visitors to Wisconsin Dells, and the sea of beds includes mega resorts, multi-bedroom condos, standard motel rooms – and the country quiet of what David and Nancy Bowman offer. The innkeepers since 2003 have operated Bowman’s Oak Hill Bed and Breakfast, two cabins and three rooms in their home.(…)

Rhinelander: Here’s why the Hodag city’s hip

The odometer of my new car all too quickly hit 10,000 miles this month, and only 2 percent was out-of-state driving. I rack up mileage while in search of the odd and interesting, but nobody knows the inside scoop about your hometown better than you. I mention this routinely during talks about my travel books,(…)

Wellspring: farm hostel, retreat center, CSA

When I met Jeff Schreiber, he was taking a break from the vegetable harvest to prepare lunch for his work crew. That meant roasting Brussels sprouts and simmering a pot of carrot-ginger soup. For dessert: sweet potato pie. To drink: tap water. Simple, nourishing and down-home. This is the vibe that permeates Wellspring, an organic(…)

Lutefisk brats catch Travel Channel attention

When I tracked down our TV star, he was squirting lime juice onto a raw kingfish heart, then popping it into his mouth. Just another day at work, in the Caribbean, and this snack was kids’ stuff. The namesake of “Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World,” which airs on the Travel Channel, has drunk raw pig’s blood(…)

Canoe Bay Resort, Chetek: remote luxury

When you love something, you take care of it. This is what Dan and Lisa Dobrowolski have done with 280 acres in Rusk County. They share it, too, but not in a haphazard, flamboyant or casual manner. Three miles of hiking trails meander into the woods, toward little Lost Lake. Kayaks and canoes skim 50-foot-deep(…)