Winding along the eastern rim of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, it’s easy to get lost in views of cool white sailboats bobbing on Caribbean blue water. The drive goes by quickly, giving way to swooping rows of apple orchards, an outdoor brewery, a cheese cave. Don’t be surprised when you begin asking yourself, “Am I still in the Midwest?”
The answer is self-evident when you arrive at Hillside Homestead, a restored 19th century farmhouse whose elegant Shaker simplicity belies its expansive proportions. Once inside, though, your question will shift from location to time period as proprietor Susan Odom shows you through the kitchen, offering cake from the sideboard of a Hoosier cabinet filled with vintage china and tea from a kettle simmering on a six-burner iron wood stove. If by chance you’ve bought a bottle from the nearby cider mill, you can place it in the icebox that holds a ten-pound frozen cube with a block of what appears to be freshly churned butter cozied against it.
Hillside Homestead will banish all previous notions of the stuffy historic B&B, where you pick your way through dusty bric-a-brac and pray that the furniture doesn’t break underneath you. The history that inhabits this 19th century house is meant to be lived in. Between trips through the surrounding countryside, the parlor offers chances to explore a past century with a pump organ, oscilloscope and popular novels from the turn of the century. Animal lovers will have plenty of company, with heritage breed poultry, pigs and sheep roaming the grounds. You can also borrow a bike from Susan to travel the winding roads through Michigan’s apple country.
The guest rooms are appointed with the homespun elegance of braided rugs, gleaming hardwood and cozy chenille. The most modern touch is the bathroom’s deep cast-iron tub, which offers the antique aesthetic with mercifully modern plumbing.
Susan Odom’s twinkling eyes and hearty laugh make her the ideal docent in this history tour. Her impeccable immersion in history (even to the point of wearing period dress during breakfast service) is foremost an exercise of her personal love of history; no demands are made of the guest. But Susan’s enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge make the experience irresistible. You’ll find yourself lingering at the table, and it won’t be only because of the rosemary and clove sausage, velvety egg toast, spicy apple butter and maple-cured bacon. It’s all indeed created from start to finish by Susan herself – raising and butchering the hogs, stewing the apples and yes, churning the butter – based off recipes meticulously researched from antique cookbooks and restaurant menus.
While Hillside Homestead is wonderful to experience at any time of year, autumn is when the region truly comes into its own. Crisp mornings give way to sun-drenched midday where the clouds chase each other across the sky, causing an interplay of shadows over the orchard that is perfect to watch from the porch over a mug of hot coffee or cold local beer. The charming villages of the Leelanau Peninsula and the urbane attractions of nearby Traverse City vie with the natural wonders of Sleeping Bear National Monument and the sugar-white shores of Lake Michigan to keep you as pleasantly busy as the day is long. When the evening creeps over the horizon, a visit to one of the area’s hidden kitchens is best ended by a glass of wine and freshly baked dessert which Susan, supreme hostess that she is, has left out for you in the kitchen.
Hillside Homestead, 3400 Setterbo Road, Suttons Bay, Michigan 49682
Tel: +1(231) 271-1131
The farm is located 4.9 miles from Lake Michigan’s Suttons Bay and 5 miles from the town of Lake Leelanau.
Type of Hotel: Historic Farmstay
Number of Rooms: 4 guestrooms and complimentary Wi-Fi
Come prepared to bask in nature and the pleasures of the simple life – rooms at Hillside Homestead do not include televisions or other electronic devices, and Internet is accessible only on the ground floor.
Price Band: Medium
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
The Connoisseurs are Chelsea Batten and Bryan Thompson, two global travel writers based in The United States. Find them at TheConnoisseurs.us
Photographs courtesy of Hillside Homestead