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Phoenix
Monday, June 24, 2024

Midwestern Charm

By Misty Milioto

Located just an hour south of Indianapolis, Bloomington, Indiana—along with its neighboring cities to the east, Nashville and Columbus—offers a surprising mix of activities for a variety of travelers. The tri-county area recently launched Project 46, a climate collaboration plan that embraces four common goals: to track and report greenhouse gas emissions; to coordinate local investments and leverage available state and federal funding opportunities; to promote best practices; and to produce an annual community report that demonstrates the impact of these efforts.


Bloomington

Nestled within the Hoosier National Forest, Bloomington boasts the state’s largest lake and plenty of adventure opportunities for nature lovers (including paddle sports and boating, plus hiking, mountain biking, and birdwatching). The city also bustles with art, culture, and a burgeoning brewery and distillery scene. Bloomington is consistently named one of the best college towns in the United States and is home to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.

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Meanwhile, the city’s Center for Sustainable Living is a non-profit that currently supports 12 sustainability projects. Bloomington also is home to numerous art installations made from recycled materials. Furthermore, Walk Friendly honored Bloomington in 2020 for its commitment to improving and sustaining walkability and pedestrian safety. And in 2022, Bloomington received a Gold designation from the national SolSmart program for advancing the growth of solar energy. The City of Bloomington also has several sustainability initiatives, such as Compost Up, Downtown Program, which supports downtown restaurants in composting efforts.

 

Where to Stay

The Graduate Bloomington
, located on Kirkwood Avenue near the Courthouse Square’s shops and restaurants, is a pet-friendly hotel with loads of amenities. In addition to a rooftop terrace, the Hoosier-inspired hotel features beautifully designed rooms and suites (there’s even a Stranger Things suite inspired by character Joyce Byers’ living room), refillable Malin + Goetz bath essentials, bike rentals, a 24-hour fitness center with Peloton bikes and the Poindexter diner serving breakfast and lunch. 210 E. Kirkwood Ave., 812-994-0500, www.graduatehotels.com/bloomington

The Hundredth Hill Artist Residence & Retreat
, set on 50 acres of pristine woodlands and trails, features four private guest residences that have been built using upcycled materials and items harvested from the land. The retreat flaunts a professional recording studio, an open-air barn for performances, and an outdoor stage. It’s geo-thermally heated and cooled and will soon embrace solar and wind-powered additions. Book the Arists’s Airstream and enjoy a queen-sized heated bed, full kitchen, enclosed screened porch, and sunken Japanese soaking tub. 8275 N. Fish Road, www.thehundredthhill.com

 

Where to Eat & Drink

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Downtown’s Fourth Street, also known as International Row, is home to nearly 20 restaurants serving an array of global cuisine from Tibetan, Korean, and Cajun to Burmese, Greek, Indian, and Thai. Try popular spot Anyetsang’s Little Tibet, which offers specials like mo mos (dumplings), kham amdo thugpa (a hearty stew), and temo sha tsel (stir-fried vegetables in a garlic sauce). The restaurant also serves Indian and Thai dishes. 415 E. 4th St., 812-331-0122, www.anyetsangs.com

Upland Brewing Co. has been brewing local beer since 1998 and features a pet- and child-friendly patio that’s perfect for enjoying a pint or two. The brewery also has a robust food menu with items such as nachos, salads, sandwiches, steak, and seafood, plus vegetarian and vegan dishes like the Nashville hot seitan. 350 W. 11th St., 812-364-2337, www.uplandbeer.com

For something a bit stronger, head over to Cardinal Spirits for cocktails, food, and a distillery tour and tasting. Grab a spot in the tasting room and try a bevy of liquors, from the Four Grain Bourbon to the Blackstrap Rum. The distillery also offers canned cocktails — the newest version is a pick-me-up called the Songbird Spiked Cold Brew. 922 S Morton St., 812-202-6789, www.cardinalspirits.com

For those who prefer wine, be sure to visit Oliver Winery. Expect approachable, fruit-forward wines that range from classic varietals to crisp apple ciders and sweet experiments. The winery has been crafting wine for more than 50 years and grows unique grape varieties—such as Catawba, Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, and Vignoles—on its Creekbend Vineyard. 200 E Winery Road, 812-876-5800, www.oliverwinery.com

 

What to Do

Make time to visit Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington, which is home to some of the country’s most esteemed libraries and museums. For example, the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art (designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei) houses ancient gold jewelry, African masks, and works by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. Meanwhile, the Lilly Library—one of the largest rare book and manuscript libraries in the country—has a collection of more than 400,000 books, 100,000 pieces of sheet music, and 7.5 million manuscripts. 107 S. Indiana Ave., 812-855-4848, www.bloomington.iu.edu

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The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center & Kumbum Chamtse Ling Monastery, founded by the 14th Dalai Lama’s brother, Thubten Jigme Norbu, in 1979, serves as a hub for Tibetan Buddhist teachings, Tibetan and Mongolian cultural preservation, and community activities. The center offers meditation sessions, retreats, lectures, and festivals and features a museum, library, and gardens. In addition to incorporating eco-friendly building practices and water conservation measures, the center often includes environmental stewardship in its teachings. 3655 S. Snoddy Road, 812-336-6807, www.tmbcc.org

Nashville

Nashville, a charming artists’ colony nestled between Bloomington and Columbus, is located in picturesque Brown County. The historic downtown is home to antique stores, galleries, and the Brown County Art Guild (featuring works by more than 40 local and regional artists). Pristine natural areas include the Hoosier National Forest, Yellowwood State Forest and Brown County State Park. With more than 1,000 acres of nature to zip line, ATV, or mountain bike, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Where to Stay

Brown County Barn Burner is a one-of-a-kind AirBNB featuring a rooftop patio and four separate units. A total of nine bedrooms can sleep up to 29 guests, and an event space also is available for those wishing to host gatherings (such as yoga retreats). 185 S. Jefferson St., www.bcbarnburner.com

Story Inn, Indiana’s oldest country inn (built in 1851), features 15 quaint rooms and cottages, a gourmet restaurant (with an extensive wine list and refined cuisine), a restored 114-year-old barn, and an underground tavern. Book the Schultz Homestead Back (part of the Schultz Homestead Cottage) and enjoy a queen bed, private bath with jetted tub/shower, mini-fridge, and a porch swing with views of the horse pasture. 6404 Indiana Hwy. 135, 812-988-2273, www.storyinn.com

Where to Eat & Drink

Hard Truth Distilling Co., known for its spirits like Maple Bourbon Cream and Hard Truth Toasted Coconut Rum, also offers tours and activities, festivals, and Hard Truth on the Rocks (a terraced outdoor area with a stage for live music, food truck and bar that operates seasonally). The company also partners with agriculturally focused, not-for-profit organizations that provide resources and support to family farmers. 418 Old State Road 46, 812-720-4840, www.hardtruth.com

 

What to Do

Nicknamed the Little Smokies because of its resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains, Brown County State Park is Indiana’s largest state park. The property encompasses nearly 16,000 acres, and it’s a stop on the Indiana Birding Trail. Be sure to climb the 90-foot fire tower for a breathtaking view. 1801 IN-46, 812-988-6406, www.in.gov/dnr/state-parks

Mountain Tea State Forest is one of the planting sites for the Division of Forestry’s ForestIN program, an effort to plant one million trees by 2025. It encompasses more than 1,153 acres and is a great spot for hiking, picnicking, and birdwatching. www.in.gov/dnr/state-parks

Tour the Brown County Art Guild to learn why it is dubbed the Art Colony of the Midwest. Dating back to the late 1800s, the guild curates its permanent collection, supports and showcases current guild artists, and creates experiences for visiting guests. 48 S Van Buren St., 812-988-6185, www.browncountyartguild.org

Also be sure to visit the Brown County Art Gallery, which is one of the oldest art galleries in the country. In addition to permanent collections and rotating exhibitions, the art gallery offers workshops and events. 1 Artist Drive, 812-988-4609, browncountyartgallery.org

 

Columbus

Located one hour east of Bloomington, Columbus is known for its world-class architecture and public art. In fact, Conde Nast Traveler called Columbus “one of the world’s best cities for architecture lovers,” with designs from the likes of I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen.

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Where to Stay

Hotel Indigo Columbus
Architectural Center is within walking distance of Mill Race Park, the Fourth Street Entertainment District and the Columbus Visitor’s Center. The pet-friendly hotel, which also has its own gallery spotlighting regional artists, features an indoor pool and whirlpool, fitness center, and The Gallery Bar and Bistro. 400 Brown St., 877-846-3446, www.ihg.com/hotelindigo

Where to Eat & Drink

For a fun night out and delicious fare, check out Henry Social Club. Chef/owner Gethin Thomas has created a rotating menu of seasonal dishes focused on homemade breads, salads, pasta, steaks, and more. The sleek interior begs for long conversations while sipping an inventive cocktail or a glass of wine. 423 Washington St., 812-799-1371, www.henrysocialclub.com

Step back in time at Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum, which opened in 1900. The nostalgic ice cream parlor flaunts stained glass mirrors, pre-1900 soda fountains, and a 50-foot mahogany back bar. It also houses a museum room, soda fountain library, and mechanical music library. Zaharakos also has a hefty menu of starters, burgers, sandwiches, and more. 329 Washington St., 812-378-1900, www.zaharakos.com

450 North Brewing opened in 2012 and features 30 taps of beer, cider, and wine. Canned beers range from the Copperhead amber ale to the Citra Nuggets double dry-hopped double IPA. Pair a brew with a salad, sandwich, or some brick oven-fired pizza. 8111 E. 450 North, 812-546-0091, www.450northbrewing.com

What to Do

Since the early 1940s, world famous architects — such as Kevin Roche, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, and others — have shaped Columbus into a virtual museum of modern architecture. Book a guided Architectural Highlights Tour with Visit Columbus to discover how this small Midwestern town became a modern architecture destination. The two-hour tour begins and ends at The Columbus Visitors Center. 506 5th St., 812-378-2622, www.columbus.in.us

While at the Columbus Visitor’s Center, book a 90-minute tour of the Miller House and Garden. As one of the most important mid-century modern residences in the country, Miller House ranks with other notable residences — such as Fallingwater, The Glass House, and The Farnsworth House—as a hallmark of modern design. 506 5th St., 812-378-2622, www.columbus.in.us

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