Little Bavaria

In Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” Christmas isn’t just a one-day celebration. From its warehouse-sized Christmas store to its tiny replica chapel, Frankenmuth takes the joy of the holidays into the winter months and throughout the year.

Trimmed in ribbons and pine rope, Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn towers over this onetime mill town along the Cass River like a castle straight from the pages of a Christmas fairy tale.

I love the storybook atmosphere that enfolds this Thumb community, from alpine-style buildings that line the business district to the covered bridge and peak-roofed cottages converted to shops along Main Street. The sidewalks and doorsteps look freshly scrubbed, and everyone says “hello.”

Bronners CHRISTmas Wonderland

Bronners CHRISTmas Wonderland

Above the gingerbread-trimmed inn, the clock tower’s 35-bell carillon peals twice daily, and the Pied Piper and other storybook characters pop out from behind a bronze door at the top. I can’t say I knew this when I arrived. I just followed the shoppers gathering at its base despite a cold wind carrying snowflakes.  The swirling white seems like part of the show!

We’re all glad to put down bags stuffed with parcels from dozens of stores lining the surrounding streets. One store sells Christmas sweaters. In another, I watched cooks shaping huge slabs of gooey fudge. Local crafters’ works fill Schnitzelbank Woodcarving Studio, and comforters crowd Zeilinger Wool Company.

The Bavarian Inn and the sprawling white-frame Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth serve the family-style chicken dinners that have brought travelers to town for generations. By mid-morning, the aroma of the fried chicken and trademark stuffing has me thinking about lunch, but there’s more to see first.

Lighted displays lead the way to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, Frankenmuth’s landmark giant year-round Christmas store that’s the size of four football fields. Inside, 350 trees sparkle with miles of lights amid more than 50,000 kinds of ornaments, trimmings and gifts.

I purposely end my visit at the non-denominational Silent Night Chapel, a replica of a historic church near Salzburg, Austria, where the carol first was performed. Founder Wally Bronner built the chapel on the grounds so that the spirit of the holidays would live on in his complex and the town. It does, especially at this quiet little shrine.


Barbara MorrowBarbara Morrow has written and edited travel articles for Midwest Living since 1989, including articles about every part of Michigan. Barbara also directs the editorial content and direction of Michigan Travel Ideas, the official Pure Michigan Travel Guide.