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American road trip

Forget Florida, New York or Las Vegas… There’s a new US experience to be had in and around the Midwest that appeals to foodies, families and popular culture addicts alike. DEBBIE ATTEWELL gets behind the wheel to go exploring

With 50 states, there’s a whole lot of America to discover, so why pin yourself down to just one? Driving is easy in an automatic with air con and the roads outside cities are wide, free flowing and easy to navigate with the help of a satnav. With the new direct flights to Detroit from London opening up the area known as the Great Lakes, we planned a whirlwind adventure that took in the states of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana and the cities of Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, tasting our way around each area as well as experiencing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Amish Country, the Indy 500 racetrack and a host of other unforgettable treats.

1 Put your hands up for Detroit

A far cry from its reputation of a down-at-heel city with no prospects, Detroit has undergone an energetic regeneration with dozens of new independent businesses and start-ups popping up everywhere. The vibe is young, creative and energetic, with friendly faces everywhere. The city is clean with no big chain stores allowed, which makes for a fabulous place to explore boutique-style shops, farm-to-fork restaurants and a buzzing cafe and cocktail culture. The once-dangerous alleyways are slowly but surely being reclaimed and repurposed, such as The Library Collective in the Belt district, a social space housing trendy bars, and graffiti art on every available space.

Don’t leave without…

Visiting

THE MOTOWN MUSEUM (motownmuseum.org). Take a trip down memory lane with this fun guided tour through Berry Gordy’s home and original recording studio for Motown Records. Sing along in Studio A, where Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 recorded music.TWO JAMES SPIRITS AND ENJOYING THE SPIRIT TASTING TOUR (twojames.com). As the first licensed distillery in Detroit since Prohibition, Two James is hidden inside an industrial building in Corktown. It has local artists’ work on the walls and a circular bar to perch against while tasting bespoke cocktails, and for just $15 (£12.40) on a Friday evening or Saturday/ Sunday afternoon you can learn how the distilling process works while enjoying a tipple or three!

Eating at

FOLK (folk detroit.com). The place for breakfast/brunch/lunch with its seasonal, locally sourced dishes.WRIGHT & COMPANY(wrightdetroit.com). Take the lift to the second floor of this Queen Anne-style commercial building and step into the eclectic restaurant space, which mixes all ages and dress codes. Order as many of the tasty small plates as you think you can eat and explore the exciting cocktail list for a relaxed night out.

Staying at

SHINOLA HOTEL (shinolahotel.com) for the ultimate in luxury with cloud-soft beds to sink into after your long flight, tasteful decor and calmly efficient service. It’s a treat to savour.

2 Destination Cleveland

About two hours into your drive from Detroit towards Cleveland is Cedar Point amusement park (cedarpoint.com) on the edge of Lake Erie, which makes it a great place to stop and break the journey. With 70 rides – including 18 world-class roller coasters – across 364 acres with plenty of kids’ areas and live shows as well as a mile-long white-sand beach and swish marina, you should allow at least a day to explore. From here it’s only another hour to Cleveland itself.

Don’t leave without…

Visiting

THE ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME (rockhall.com), where the greatest stories and biggest names in rock’n’roll are all honoured. Even better, the hall follows the history of popular music so you can see how each artist inspired another while you lose yourself wandering through the donated costumes, handwritten song sheets, guitars and other priceless paraphernalia of anyone who is anyone in the world of music. Fabulous.

WEST SIDE MARKET (westsidemarket.org). Spend a good hour or two perusing the stalls of this 100-year-old market space. One of the first indoor markets in the US, it remains home to 180 vendors selling everything from seafood, meats, fruit and veg, baked goods, dairy, flowers, spice and nuts.

Eating at

LUCKY’S CAFE (luckyscafe.com). Nestled in the artsy neighbourhood of Tremont is this quirky find with huge home-cooked breakfasts where you only need order one dish between two. Lucky’s also bake their own bread and pastries and grow tomatoes and herbs on-site. Weekends are always busy with queues out the door and down the street so plan a weekday visit if time is tight.

Staying at

DRURY PLAZA HOTEL CLEVELAND DOWNTOWN (druryhotels.com). Located in the impressive former Board of Education building, this hotel is within walking distance of everywhere in the city. Unusually for the US it also includes a free hot breakfast, sodas and popcorn, and free Wi-Fi, which is always welcome.

3 Step back in time in Amish Country

The route from Cleveland to Columbus is pleasantly rural. Enjoy a stop or two as you drive through Amish Country, passing horses and buggies on the way. Head to Millersburg and stop off at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center (behalt.com) to learn about these noble people. Eating at any Amish establishment guarantees organic, high-welfare produce as they refuse to farm intensively or using pesticides.

4 Carry on Colombus

Well laid out and with an open, welcoming feel, Columbus is a city on the up. The riverfront has a fabulous landscaped path that’s part of a huge urban green space complete with the Splash Pad, an interactive waterfall area, sculptures and green spaces. A positive energy envelops the city – from the beautiful German Village to the North Market area and the ultra-cool Short North Arts District.

Don’t leave without…

Visiting

FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY (fpconservatory.org). This institution showcases an array of exotic plants, a breathtaking butterfly house and a stunning children’s sensory garden.

Booking

A COLUMBUS FOOD ADVENTURES SHORT NORTH ARTS DISTRICT FOOD TOUR (columbusfoodadventures.com). These walking tours start at 11am and you’ll need to go hungry as you’ll take in the market and another five or six outlets too.

Eating at

BASI ITALIA (basi-italia.com). This hidden gem of a restaurant is tucked down a Victorian side street in the Victorian Village. It’s small, casual yet hugely welcoming – expect clean, simple Italian fare with innovative twists.

FOX IN THE SNOW (foxinthesnow.com). No trip to America is complete without tasting a cinnamon roll – and these are the best. Soft, fluffy and huge, when paired with a freshly ground signature coffee, that’s breakfast sorted!

Staying at

HILTON COLUMBUS DOWNTOWN. Perfectly situated for exploring Columbus, this modern hotel has good-sized beds, great showers and accommodating staff.

5 Chill out in Cincinnati

Famous for its chilli and beer – there are 18 breweries in the Over-the-Rhine district – it would be a crime not to try both! A huge sports city, it is home to one of the oldest baseball clubs in the US, the Cincinnati Reds, founded in 1881. Game days see downtown packed with fans for pretty much the whole day, which makes for an electric atmosphere. As you walk or drive through the city, you can’t fail to spot some of the 160 building-sized murals painted by artist apprentices in a variety of styles, some of which are simply breathtaking.

Don’t leave without…

Booking

A QUEEN CITY UNDERGROUND TOUR (americanlegacytours.com). This $35 (£29) walking tour starts at street level before moving to a crypt and tunnels.

A RHINEGEIST BREWERY TASTING TOUR (rhinegeist.com). Learn how the craft beer industry works, how it’s made and taste samples of current brews as well as ones not yet released.

Eating at

SOTTO (sottocincinnati.com) This rustic Italian gem is warm and romantic, with innovative food and a real homemade vibe.

MAPLEWOOD KITCHEN AND BAR (maplewoodkitchenandbar.com). Light, airy and with refreshingly healthy fare, such as its brunch options, bowl food or heavenly sandwiches.

Staying at

THE RENAISSANCE CINCINNATI DOWNTOWN HOTEL (marriott.co.uk). With its understated boutiquey feel, your stay here will be ideal for recharging your batteries after a day’s exploring. Flat-screen TVs, huge beds, lovely linen and a 24-hour gym – what more could you want!

6 Relax in French Lick, Indiana

Bidding Cincinnati goodbye, it’s a straightforward three-hour drive to French Lick, a township in Orange County, Indiana. Known for its mineral springs, scenic railway and local basketball legend Larry Bird, it has a charming accent and relaxed pace of live.

Don’t live without…

Exploring

Pataoka Lake (patokalakemarina.com) by boat. Look out for eagles, catfish, ospreys, bass and sunfish at this lake in Hoosier National Forest. A tour in a climate-controlled boat takes two hours, with a stop at the Patoka Lake Winery for a wine slushy – heaven on a hot day!

Booking

A trip on theSCENIC RAILWAY (frenchlickscenicrailway.org). Book the Wild West Hold-Up ride and your train will be ‘attacked’ by the Lost River Renegades hoping to rob the ‘payroll strongbox’ on the train. Great fun at just $20 (£16) per adult.

Staying at

WEST BADEN SPRINGS HOTEL (frenchlick.com), which has a 200ft atrium that lights
up at night. Rooms are grand and beautifully proportioned.

7 Southern Hospitality in Indianapolis

Heading up towards Indiana’s capital, stop at the Oasis Diner (oasisdiner.com) in Plainfield. This 1954 diner is all you imagine it would be from the barstools to the little booths and huge portions of food such as the local grilled tenderloin on a brioche bun and homemade shakes and sodas. Take some cherry or pumpkin pie to go as you just won’t be able to fit it all in!

Don’t leave without…

Visiting

THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY (indianapolismotorspeedway.com), home of the Indy 500 and Indycar Grand Prix. The museum (indyracingmuseum.org) houses dozens of iconic cars. On race days, buy access to the drivers’ garages and Gasoline Alley.

Need to know

GETTING THERE: Delta has daily flights from Heathrow to Detroit. Return flights cost from £648 plus £175.22 in taxes. Free in-flight entertainment and in-flight messaging via WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger (delta.com).

WHAT’S THE DAMAGE? £2,335 per person for 10 nights, based on two sharing a room and travelling in early October, including Delta flights to Detroit and a two-night hotel stay in each of Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and French Lick (vacationstoamerica.com). Midsize car hire: affordablecarhire.com.

VISA: You’ll need to buy an ESTA visa in advance for $14 (£12) at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

WEATHER: Summers can be very hot and winters very cold so go in spring, early summer or autumn, when it’s warm and moderate. Storm and tornado season is May to June. Whenever you go, check the weather forecast first.

SEE: greatlakesusa.co.uk for more information and suggested itineraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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