Frankenmuth, Michigan – a little slice of Bavaria in the Midwest

Last Thursday evening I suddenly had the urge to take the family on a short trip for the weekend. We decided to avoid flying, and also to avoid heading North to the Wisconsin Dells like most people in Chicago do this time of year.

Instead, we loaded up the family truckster and drove 300 miles east to Frankenmuth Michigan.

Frankenmuth is often referred to as “Little Bavaria”, and is the only city outside Germany that has been officially sanctioned by the city of Munich as an official Oktoberfest location.

The village is about 25 miles north of Flint, so you don’t get the feeling you are completely isolated from civilization. Frankenmuth is home to several tourist attractions including Bronners Christmas Wonderland, the Bavarian Inn, the Bavarian Belle and the River Place shopping center.

Frankenmuth has several hotels, but to get the “real” Bavarian experience, you really need to stay at the Bavarian Inn Lodge. This 355 room hotel has grown from a modest motor lodge, into a large resort with multiple restaurants, 5 swimming pools, shops and a massive entertainment center with the “worlds largest Bavarian themed mini golf course”.

%Gallery-29916%Each room is named after a resident of Frankenmuth, and you can select from various rooms, including pool access rooms, whirlpool suites and river view rooms. You drive up to the Bavarian Inn through an impressive hand build covered bridge which was commissioned by the Zehnder family in 1978 (The Zehnders own most of downtown Frankenmuth, including the Inn). Summer room rates are between $150 and $250 a night.

During the summer, you can enjoy their Biergarten on the front porch, often accompanied by live entertainment. No stay in Frankenmuth is complete without dinner at the restaurant that started the family tradition; Zehnders. This restaurant is the second largest in the country, and the largest family owned, just be sure to show up early, as weekend waits can be over an hour. If Zehnders is too busy, try the Bavarian Inn restaruant just across the road (another Zehnder family restaurant!).

If the idea of a large 355 room resort doesn’t feel right, you can go with one of the many other accommodations in the village; the Marv Hertzog hotel, Zehnders splash village, a Marriott Springhill Suites or one of 23 other hotels, B&B’s or camping sites.

Downtown Frankenmuth has plenty to do; you can take a one hour ride down the Cass river on the “Bavarian Belle” ($9), you can do some shopping at the River Place shopping center where you will find 34 stores offering everything from sports memorabilia to fudge. You’ll also find stores on Main street, but almost every other store seems to be devoted to making and selling more fudge. If you like cheese, you won’t want to miss the Frankenmuth cheese haus, just be sure to pick up some bacon cheese spread, or some of their famous chocolate cheese.

Before leaving Frankenmuth, you should make some time to visit Bronners Christmas Wonderland. Bronners is the largest Christmas store in the world, and is open 361 days a year. It was founded in 1945 by Wally Bronner (who sadly passed away in April of this year). Bronners is the kind of place that you have to see to believe. It is surreal to wander through close to half a mile of decorations, lights and trees in the middle of summer. The total store area covers 5 and a half football fields. At night the entire place is lit up with close to 700 animated figures. One of the highlights of the store is their ornament decoration department, where you can have your purchases hand decorated by a Bronners artist.

Frankenmuth is about 300 miles from Chicago, 330 miles from Indianapolis, 90 miles from Detroit and 240 miles from Cleveland. Unfortunately, the road to Frankenmuth (from most destinations) is quite boring, but thankfully you’ll pass at least one Michigan winery every 30 or 40 miles where the passengers of legal drinking age in your car can sample some excellent wines.