A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some excellent places to play.
The Best of Rockford in the Wintertime
BY LINDSEY GAPEN, ASSISTANT EDITOR
The holidays may be over, but wintertime entertainment is just beginning in the Rockford region.
“Whether it’s taking part in outdoor recreation or indoor family fun, there are many interactive ways to explore our region and learn about our culture,” says Andrea Mandala, marketing and communications manager for the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Local events are especially great for enjoying unique and memorable experiences with loved ones.”
Cheer on the Rockford IceHogs as they drop the puck at BMO Harris Bank Center this winter season; enjoy “First Fridays” at the beginning of every month with extended hours at art galleries, shops and music venues in the downtown district; and celebrate the end of the winter season at Meltfest 2016 – an annual event with live music, a 5k run/walk, a group bike ride, ice skating and kids activities on March 26 at Prairie Street Brewhouse.
Between these events, be sure to relish the scenic beauty of Rockford’s parks, recreational paths and forest preserves.
“The Rockford Park District and other local businesses, like Rocktown Adventures, offer great outdoor activities like hiking, snowshoeing, snowboarding and snow skiing,” Mandala says. “Since Rockford is known as the ‘Forest City,’ this is a great place to explore nature and admire the changes of the seasons.”
For wintertime comfort food, Mandala recommends Lino’s Restaurant of Rockford – a longstanding Italian favorite with a menu full of pasta, pizza, veal, chicken and fish, plus nightly specials. In addition to fine cuisine, Lino’s offers a sultry atmosphere with “Jazz Night in Old Italy” every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., featuring performers Eddie B. Jazz trio with special guest musicians.
Another favorite of Mandala’s is Stockholm Inn, which serves up Swedish favorites in addition to traditional American food. Enjoy Swedish pancakes with imported lingonberries, Swedish meatballs and other tasty Scandinavian treats.
“When deciding where to dine in the Rockford region, the two things I look for are authentic menu items that can’t be duplicated anywhere else and establishments run by local entrepreneurs who understand the importance of ‘handmade’ and have a cool story to tell about their business,” Mandala says. “It’s not only the food that draws me in, it’s the ambiance – historic photos hung on the wall, to generations of family members working together in the same kitchen delivering cherished family recipes to their customers. That’s what makes the experience a memorable one for me.”
New establishments in Rockford include The Bees Knees General Store, 118 First St., a trove of antiques, art, bicycles, books and other eclectic finds; Magpie Restaurant, 307 S. Main St., serving up breakfast and lunch; Bath & Body Fusion, 324 E. State St., selling fresh soaps, oils and other all-natural products; and Sienna’s Kitchen, 223 E. State St., great for grilled paninis, gourmet popcorn and Italian oils.
“It’s exciting to witness and be a part of downtown Rockford’s growth and expansion,” Mandala says.
Pamper Yourself with Some FebYOUary Fun at Starved Rock Lodge
BY KATHY CASSTEVENS, MARKETING DIRECTOR, STARVED ROCK LODGE
January and February have something important in common, besides being winter months. Think of them this way, for a change: JanYOUary and FebYOUary. Consider these two months as a time to take care of yourself. You made it through the holidays, so now it’s YOU time. Starved Rock Lodge, in Utica, Ill., is the perfect place to make the most of it. Here are some ideas just for YOU:
Book a winter getaway to Starved Rock Lodge, and choose a room at the historic Lodge or a cabin in the woods. Relax in the warmth of the heated indoor pool and spend some time in the hot tub and sauna. The Gift Shop, Cafe and Back Door Lounge are all under one roof. The Lounge has Leinenkugel’s Starved Rock Signature Ale on tap, plus live music every Saturday night from 8 to 11 p.m. The ambiance of the Great Hall, with its massive two-sided fireplace, is a lovely place to play a board game or sit back with a good book.
Treat yourself to a therapeutic massage. Choose from aromatherapy, Swedish, hot stone or deep-tissue massage in a cozy cabin just steps away from the Lodge. Couples massages are also available. Appointments are necessary and are open to guests and non-guests alike.
Have you ever been on a Discover the Eagles Trolley Tour? Offered in January and February, this tour includes lunch in the Lodge’s rustic Dining Room, followed by a trolley ride with a tour guide and an eagle presentation at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. A fantastic observation deck at the visitor center enables you to see eagles in flight over the Illinois River.
Paint & Wine Classes are offered in the Cafe on Feb. 9 and March 8. This is a fun way to be creative, have some wine and take home your own work of art at the end of the evening.
Cross-Country Ski Weekend is set for Feb. 5-6 at nearby Matthiessen State Park (hope we have snow). Free lessons are offered with ski rental, for a small fee, at the cabin.
Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy winter, and the Lodge has guided hikes each weekend. If you’re up for the challenge, the first Winter MegaHike is on the calendar for Feb. 20-21. Choose either day and you’ll enjoy a guided adventure to all the canyons in one day, a trek that covers about 13 miles!
Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, and Utica’s Winter Wine Walk is on Feb. 13. That’s a perfect getaway weekend for all the wine lovers out there.
If you love photography, enter Starved Rock’s Wonder in the Woods photo contest in one of three categories: wildlife, landscapes or canyons. Deadline to enter is Feb. 16, with a photo show held on Feb. 21, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To learn more about Starved Rock Lodge’s many relaxing activities this winter, visit starvedrocklodge.com.
Winter Revelry in Wausau, Wisconsin
BY LINDSEY GAPEN, ASSISTANT EDITOR
There’s no better way to embrace winter weather than to visit Wausau, Wis. Great skiing, snowboarding and other fun activities await at the city’s crown jewel: Granite Peak Ski Resort, located in Rib Mountain State Park off Wisconsin Highway 29.
“Wausau is beautiful this time of year,” says Vicki Baumann, general manager of Granite Peak. “You’ll never forget the incredible view of Lake Wausau from the top of the mountain.”
Granite Peak has more than 70 runs on a 700-foot mountain, making it a great getaway for snowy recreation. Various family packages, college-student discounts and child discounts are available.
This winter, a Family Festival Weekend occurs Feb. 5-7, during which families can enjoy live music, horse-drawn wagon rides and Saturday-night fireworks. In the midst of all the fun, Mardi Gras Festival happens on Feb. 6, with hurricane drink specials and Cajun food from Granite Peak’s outdoor grill.
“It will be a great opportunity for families to make memories that last a lifetime,” Baumann says.
From Feb. 12-15, Granite Peak celebrates a four-day Presidents Weekend with extended ski hours and live music Saturday through Monday. German Fest, happening Feb. 20, brings German beer and food specialties.
“People usually visit for multiple days in a row,” Baumann says. “Granite Peak has so much to offer, it’s difficult to get the full experience in just one day. Also, there’s always something fun happening in Wausau, so you can ski or snowboard all day before enjoying some great shopping and dining in the city.”
Baumann recommends a stop at Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant, 3607 N. Mountain Road, Wausau.
“It’s a family-owned business that serves delicious Italian food,” Baumann says. “In addition to Carmelo’s, there are so many great places in Wausau to find pizza, steak, burgers – whatever you might be craving.”
As for accommodations, Jefferson Street Inn, 201 Jefferson St., provides a luxurious and cozy overnight stay. Not only can guests take advantage of a complimentary shuttle ride from the Inn to Granite Peak, but they can also enjoy fireplaces, full kitchens, kid-friendly entertainment, an indoor swimming pool, spa service, an on-site restaurant and much more.
“When you arrive in the Wausau area, you’ll be incased in the beauty of the mountains, and the site will knock your socks off,” says Deb Rice, Jefferson Street Inn’s general manager. “We aim to provide the same kind of exhilarating feeling when you first step into the Inn.”
Rice insists that a visit to Wausau is likely to result in a desire to return.
“This city is one of the most fantastic places to visit in the Midwest,” Rice says. “Between the top-notch entertainment, fantastic scenery and endless opportunities to have a good time, you’ll want to make visiting Wausau an annual event.”