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Scooting about the hills of Galena
By Mike Michaelson | Midwest Travel

Fever River Outfitters provides a single source for kayaking, hiking, canoeing and scooters.

 

Visit Galena's wineries Italian-style, via rental motor scooter.

 

Charles Fach is a master potter and innkeeper.

 

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Published: 7/19/2008 10:38 AM

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Buongiorno! You're sitting astride a motor scooter, the morning sun warm on your arms, the breeze pleasantly cool as you head for vineyards and wineries tucked into rolling hills.

Although your mode of transportation is decidedly Italian, these most definitely are not the hills of Tuscany.

You are riding through the unglaciated hills of Jo Daviess County, site of two wineries close to the highest point in Illinois (Charles Mound, 1,235 feet) - not exactly mountainous, but a pleasant change of scenery in prairie-flat Illinois. The sporty motor scooter is a rental machine from Fever River Outfitters, which recently added a fleet of 18 motor scooters and electric bicycles to its collection of rental kayaks, canoes and bicycles.

Riding with a small group, you'll guide your scooter along remote country roads through verdant, undulating countryside to the Galena Cellars Vineyard, about a dozen miles from town. There, you'll taste fine wines and kick back on a veranda furnished with comfortable wicker, maybe enjoying a glass of award-winning Frontenac Port, matching it with a highly compatible partner, dark chocolate. Shuttle transportation will take you back to Galena. Cost of this outing is $65 per person. (Reservations are required; spots fill fast.)

Another motor-scooter adventure takes you along lightly traveled country roads to New Diggins, Wis., site of a historic lead mine. Enjoy live music, food and beverages at Anton's and The General Store (a rustic saloon and beer garden) before taking advantage of a shuttle service back to town.

Although Galena - with more than 150 shops and galleries - is a shop-till-you-drop destination, it also attracts visitors interested in outdoor adventures. Fever River Outfitters is ready with the equipment you'll need as well as knowledgeable guides.

If you're short on time, but want to sample a little of everything, try the Variety Pack that includes a guided paddle, bike and hike with a picnic lunch. You also can opt for a bicycle ride to the vineyard (with a shuttle back) or a guided kayak or canoe tour along the Mississippi backwaters where you'll dip your paddle into waterways abloom with white-flowering water lilies and yellow lotus lilies.

Lunch and paddle/pedal packages include your choice of four grilled panini packed in ice, along with potato chips, cookies and bottled water. Try the Milano (just to keep you in that Italian mind-set), a combination of sliced ham, smoked turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, red onions and Roma tomatoes with Dijonnaise spread.

If with your visit to Galena you're pleased to acquire new skills, such as powering a kayak and riding a motor scooter, hang on, because there could be more to come.

Culinary knowledge awaits at the Great Galena Cookery where owner/instructor Patricia Lehnhardt leads hands-on recreational cooking classes that focus on creating a dinner for up to eight people (which the chef wannabes then sit down to enjoy and receive recipes to take home). Locally, the charming and talented chef is known as "the Martha Stewart of Galena," though that description is by no means pejorative.

The Great Galena Cookery has teamed up with Stone House Pottery to offer Glaze & Graze, a two-night experience that includes decorating and glazing your own dinner dishes under the tutelage of master potter Charles Fach and taking a hands-on cooking class. The culinary school is housed in a complex that includes an art gallery, pottery and art studios and even a small - but highly interesting - bed-and-breakfast. Charles Fach, who offers free pottery demonstrations on weekends, is innkeeper (and also makes a mean omelet), along with wife Sandra of Abe's Spring Street Guest House, which provides two unique suites. Fach, a key player in Galena's renaissance, arrived in 1971, when Galena was sleepy and known as "the town that time forgot."

A typical dinner is The Food of France. It features watercress soup, warm goat cheese salad, salmon in parchment, spinach gnocchi and French chocolate cake. Herbs are picked fresh from a garden right outside the door.

Lehnhardt's Great Galena Peddlery in the heart of downtown sells herbs, spices, teas and eclectic culinary accessories, including Brazilian soapstone cookware. "It cooks evenly," Lehnhardt explains, "and holds the heat." She is the author of "Beans, Rice, Grains: Cooking With Stone."

Also with a strong interest in the culinary arts is One Eleven Main, a restaurant incorporating locally produced foods. Appropriately, owners pays homage to local producers and food artisans by decorating this stylish new restaurant with artistic photographs - displayed in handsome frames of local walnut - of food-producing partners: cheesemakers, farmers, chocolatiers and other talented purveyors.

Examples of Midwest fare created with flair are mac and cheese gussied up with smoked Wisconsin provolone and Darlington white cheddar with an herb Parmesan crust, and slow-roasted Iowa pork with Galena Canning Company BBQ sauce, melted white cheddar and apple-smoked bacon. The menu also features such Heartland favorites as chicken and mashed potatoes, meatloaf, stroganoff and goulash.

Another fine lodging choice is the made-over Ramada Galena. It offers 72 rooms and suites, indoor pool, sauna, fitness room, day spa/salon and outdoor deck overlooking 20 manicured acres and a tranquil pond. It provides complimentary breakfasts.

MikeMichaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets."

If you go

Information: Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, (877) 464-2536, www.galena.org; Illinois Tourism, (800) 226-6632, www.enjoyillinois.com.

Mileage: Galena is 160 miles northwest of Chicago.