A Living Relic of the Gilded Age
The first thing ferry passengers spot as they approach Mackinac Island is the rambling white Grand Hotel, perched larger than life, high atop a hill sheathed in emerald green lawns and untold thousands of blooming flowers.
There are other hotels on this small time-locked island (whose name is pronounced “Mack-in-awe”), but Grand Hotel – the prototypical Great Lakes resort, which local authorities tout as the largest summer resort in the world (with some 380 rooms) – sets the tone. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Family run with a Midwestern friendliness, the immense white Greek Revival palace lives resolutely and proudly in the past. It was built in 1887 during the post-Civil War Gilded Age, when rates were $3 a night for vacationing Midwestern moguls, and the hotel still indulges its modern-day guests as if they were moguls themselves. Its stately, 660-foot-long pillared veranda, surely one of the world’s largest porches, is perfect for watching magical sunsets play on the Mediterranean-blue waters of the lakes.
The hotel’s gracious turn-of-the- century feel, seldom found in the United States, permeates the entire 3-mile island, 85 percent of which is protected as a state park. In a state where the auto industry rules, cars are banned here, and travel is by bicycle or horse carriage only (there are more than 500 horses on the island). Hollywood has made use of the hotel and its time-weathered ambience, using it as the backdrop for the 1980 cult-classic film Somewhere in Time and Esther Williams’s 1949 This Time for Keeps.
The hotel named its 220-foot, 500,000-gallon pool after the actress. Swimming laps (or getting about by bicycle) will help burn up the calories you gain sampling the local dense fudge, an island specialty. Even the potentially banal vanilla and chocolate are ultra-delicious, and that’s not even mentioning the cranberry, maple syrup, and turtle alternatives.