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.

Make A Statement, Shop Local

Thanks to Kristi Trevarrow for her guest blog piece on Pure Michigan shopping.  We love to hear from our audience, so please visit our guest blogger information page to learn how to submit your own story.

Fourth Street Mercantile

As the reality of my ever-growing shopping list set in, I decided to practice what I preach and do my holiday shopping in my downtown. Working in a downtown district, it is easy to be spoiled by the wide variety of businesses, each offering their own distinctive array of goods.  It struck me that many of my friends and family might not be aware of all the great things to be found so close to home, so why not put downtown “under the tree” this holiday season.

With a chill in the air and wallet in hand, off I scurried from shop to shop in search of twinkling treasures.   Exceptional gifts, inimitable objects and bright, smiling faces welcomed me at every stop on my shopping tour.  I could hardly contain my excitement as I marveled at the fantastic items found right in my own hometown.  My holiday shopping list became shorter at every stop, while the number of packages steadily increased.

Haigs of RochesterI encountered handmade items of all kinds including candles, soaps, mittens, toys and chocolates.  I always have good, yet ill-fated intentions of making my own gifts, so this was a welcome find. The merchants were happy to share the stories behind these items – how they were crafted, where were they made and most interestingly, why they chose to offer this product to their customers and neighbors.

Along the way, I discovered many made in Michigan products including Sanders, Cherry Republic, Made In Detroit and Leelanau Coffee. Shopping local and Michigan-made?  That’s a gift giving home run. 

A stop by my favorite bakery for a minute of rest and a white chocolate cocoa inspired me to expand my local shopping mission to include my holiday entertaining needs.  Faster than you can say Kris Kringle, I ordered handcrafted artisan breads for my holiday table.  Just down the street, I stopped at the florist and ordered my holiday centerpiece. And all of this in less than a morning and just a few steps from my door.

I walked out of every store knowing that I didn’t just find a wonderful gift or item, I made an investment in my community. So when you’re out and about, caught up in the holiday hustle and bustle, remember, shopping local is the best gift you can give yourself.


 Kristi Trevarrow is the executive director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority.  If you have some tips on shopping Michigan-made and local, or just want to let Kristi know what you thought of her story, leave a comment below.

Deer Widows Weekend

This weekend kicks off firearm season, the weekend where hunters stream into Michigan’s woods and fields in search of their white-tailed prize.  In the meantime, “deer widows” begin a hunt of their own – looking for shopping deals, weekend getaways, wine tours, and more.

On the hunt for a place to escape to this weekend? 

Check out the hotels and resorts offering special packages and pricing that give you the chance to relax and pamper yourself.

Feel more like bargain hunting? 

Check out the great deals being offered by Prime Outlets in Birch Run, and the Scrapbooking Weekend at the Raymond House Inn in Port Sanilac.

Hunting for a different kind of diversion? 

Well, grab your friends and head to Bay City for Sunday’s In The City, where they showcase all the unique businesses Bay City has to offer, along with holiday decorations and strolling carolers.  Or maybe you’d rather head up to Traverse City for Toast the Season, an event where you are invited to taste and tour up to 16 wineries.  If you’re going to be in the Detroit area, check out The Inn on Ferry Street, offering the “DIA: Let Yourself Go” weekend package that includes 2 tickets to the Detroit Institute of Arts.