Back Roads Ramble
South of Indianapolis, Indiana's level farm country begins to dip and roll. Two-lane roads twist to ridge tops where you can see for miles, then, they plunge across misty hollows. Much of this region remains undeveloped, with vast wilderness tracts that include Brown County State Park and Hoosier National Forest. Start this roughly 90-mile tour in Nashville, a haven for artists and crafters (65 miles south of Indianapolis).
Cruising south to the forested Ohio River Valley, you'll discover that time seems to stand still in the communities of Madison and Vevay. Majestic Gothic Revival estates and fanciful "Steamboat Gothic" mansions, with columns and ornate trim, recall the golden days of paddle wheelers. During that era, those towns thrived on a brisk river trade.
Many of the fine old buildings have been lovingly preserved and now house inns and restaurants, as well as shops selling antiques and crafts. Allow time to linger as you ramble the hills and trace the proud history of these engaging river towns.
Soft hills cradle picturesque Nashville and dominate the surrounding countryside, which first caught the eyes of artists almost a century ago. Today, nearly 100 artists call Nashville home. The four-square-block town boasts 300 crafts and specialty stores, galleries and artists' studios. Handcrafted creations pack the Brown County Craft Gallery, and local artists' works hang at the Brown County Art Gallery, Brown County Art Guild and Waldron Gallery.
Some credit early 1900s landscape painter T.C. Steele with founding the art colony. Eight miles west of Nashville, visitors can tour Steele's hilltop cottage, the House of the Singing Winds, as well as his barnlike studio and gardens.
Return to Nashville and savor an old-fashioned dinner at the Nashville House.
Drive two miles southwest on State-46.
Brown County State Park
Follow the winding blacktop through Indiana's largest and most visited park to Hesitation Point, one of six scenic overlooks. Ten miles of hiking trails skirt two lakes, scale hills and descend into dense forests at the 15,500-acre preserve. Anglers and pleasure boaters explore nearby Monroe Lake, Indiana's largest manmade lake. The southeastern shore borders 13,000-acre Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area within Hoosier National Forest. Wind your way five miles up Tower Ridge Road to Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower, take a deep breath, and climb 123 steps for a panoramic view of woodlands.
Backtrack to Nashville.
Brown County Country Roads
From Nashville, two-lane blacktops meander into the surrounding hills through some of the Midwest's prettiest countryside. You'll see old-time red barns clinging to hillside pastures, and some of Brown County's 500 historic log cabins peeking from the woods. State-135 winds south to tiny Story (population: 7), where the tin-sided former general store houses the Story Inn, with a good restaurant and simple guest rooms. North of Nashville on State-135, watch for Covered Bridge Road. Cars still cross the century-old Beanblossom Covered Bridge - it's rickety-looking, but deemed sound. If you feel adventurous, drive across. After less than a mile the gravel track rejoins State-135. Nashville is just four miles south.
From Nashville, drive 20 miles east on State-46.
A showcase of 20th-century architecture lines Columbus' brick-paved streets. The American Institute of Architects ranks the city sixth in the nation for innovation and design. Columbus boasts more than 50 buildings designed by noted architects such as Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei. Regular bus tours of the landmarks depart from the downtown visitors center.
Betty and Gerald Manning grow perennials and herbs at Stream Cliff Herb Farm in Commiskey (30 miles southeast of Columbus via State-7, then State-3). Themed display gardens and the Twigs and Sprigs Tearoom surround a stately 1830s brick farmhouse.
From Commiskey, drive two miles south on State-3, then 10 miles east on State-250 to State-7, then south eight miles.
Ornate iron fences enclose pretty gardens and grand estates that date to the town's golden days as a 19th-century river port. Towering bluffs border a compact grid of streets. The historic district claims 133 blocks, almost the entire downtown. Some buildings, such as the columned 1844 Lanier Mansion and its gardens, are open for tours.
Take time to wander among the numerous antiques shops and three malls. Structures from yesteryear also house the Victorian-decorated Schussler House bed and breakfast and a collection of other inns. In the wooded bluffs less than three miles west of downtown, trails overlook 75-foot waterfalls at Clifty Falls State Park.
Drive 20 miles east on State-56.
Swiss immigrants settled this Ohio River town surrounded by bluffs (pronounced Vee-vee) in 1813. A walking tour explores the quiet four-block downtown, passing by stately 19th-century homes that powerful river barons built. The Switzerland County Historical Society Museum occupies an 1860s church.
For more information on area attractions, contact: Brown County Convention & Visitors Bureau (800/753-3255). Columbus Area Visitors Center (800/468-6564).