Just southwest of Madison sits a quaint town blanketed by rolling green hills, peaceful pastures and a palpable Swiss influence. New Glarus has earned a reputation for being the "Little Switzerland" of America, and the affectionate nickname makes a lot of sense -- the town was originally settled in 1845 by a band of Swiss pioneers who fled Canton of Glarus in Switzerland during an economic crisis.
With its beer gardens, Chalet-style architecture and penchant for polka, its no wonder thousands of tourists -- including many Swiss natives -- come to experience the rich Swiss heritage of this Wisconsin village each year. And at only about a two-hour drive from Milwaukee, it's a perfect destination for a summer weekend getaway. Here's the scoop on Swiss Town, USA, which, in our opinion, puts the "fun" back in fondue.
WHERE TO STAY
During the warm months, you can't beat a night out under the stars in New Glarus Woods State Park. And at $15 a site, you can't beat the price either. New Glarus Woods has 18 drive-in campsites in the Lead Road Circle Campground for RV, pop-up or tent camping, and 14 walk-in sites for tent camping 50 to 1,000 feet along a paved trail from the parking area. The walk-in campground is less than a mile from the edge of downtown New Glarus and is the start off point for the 23-mile long Sugar River Bike Trail.
New Glarus Woods State Park
W5446 County Highway NN
New Glarus Woods
Hotels/Bed & Breakfasts
If the great outdoors isn't your idea of a vacation, there are plenty of four-wall lodging options in the New Glarus area. Whether you're looking for a quiet retreat, a weekend of romance, or a more active adventure, you will find it here.
Albany House Bed and Breakfast
405 S. Mill St.
Some of the highlights include the Joshua Wood Master Bedroom, which has a fireplace, and the Eagles Nest, which occupies the entire third floor. Albany House is a good place for groups.
Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn
1090 Severson Rd.
Dawn and Gary Bahr offer romantic and elegant Victorian-style accommodations on a 120-acre estate of woods, hills, views and private hiking trails. Cameo Rose is rated one of the prettiest B&Bs in the country. Their breakfast is simply awesome, and though the B&B is more "new construction" than advertised, its basement level whirlpool suite is quite nice. And it's located in the UFO capital, Belleville!
801 Hwy 69
The Chalet Landhaus is built in traditional Swiss style-with a perfect blend of modern convenience and old-fashioned Swiss decor to give you a touch of Switzerland close to home.
Hoch Haus Bed & Breakfast
218 2nd St.
This is turn-of-the-century living in the heart of the New Glarus village, complete with Swiss/German breakfast buffet.
Swiss Aire Motel
1200 Hwy 69
The Swiss Aire Motel is located right along the Sugar River Bike Trail and has a nice picnic area.
WHERE TO EAT
New Glarus is known for its savory Swiss cuisine and there are no shortage of restaurants, pubs and cafés lining the historic streets. Here are a few highlights.
518 1st St.
Charming Old World atmosphere and hospitality in the heart of New Glarus. It looks like a bar, but is one of the two restaurants best known for New Glarus' most famous cheesy staple: fondue. It also claims to have the world's biggest urinal in the men's room but it will have to duke it out with Leff's over that one.
New Glarus Hotel Restaurant
100 6th Ave.
Built by Swiss immigrants in 1853, the New Glarus Hotel has long been landmark known for its fine Swiss Cuisine, atmosphere and entertainment. You can't stay in the hotel part anymore, but this might be the best spot to experience an authentic dinner. You might not think that boiling cheese is worth about $30 (for two), but we dare you to finish your complete meal. With soup, salad and rolls, the fondue is out of this world ... and more than enough to bring home in a doggie bag. Check out the regular live polka on weekends.
New Glarus Bakery
534 1st St.
As nationally featured on the Food Network, this little bakery continues with its old-world recipes to produce the most flavorful homemade breads, cookies and pastries just as it did back in 1912.
WHERE TO DRINK
Do the words Spotted Cow mean anything to you? New Glarus is probably best known for its award-winning brewery, made famous by the deliciously popular Spotted Cow beer (among many, many others with fun names like Totally Naked). But, that's not the only local libation worth the two-hour trip from Milwaukee.
New Glarus Brewing Co.
Cty Trk W & Hwy 69
The brewery brews six year round beers, some seasonal beers and there are always a few extra surprises that are only available in New Glarus. The self-guided brewery tour is free with a $3 sampling fee at the end. And don't foget your T-shirt that proudly boasts, "I got Totally Naked in New Glarus!"
226 2nd St.
The small, family-owned winery offers a wide selection of reds and whites, some dry and traditional, others sweet from the fruit of rhubarb or cranberry. The winery doesn't offer a tour like the brewery does, but it does do an excellent job with its free wine tasting session, where you are welcome to sample one or all 13 varieties -- from red, to white, blush, dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet -- all year round.
Puempel's Olde Tavern
18 6th Ave
This is one of the oldest taverns in New Glarus, and with walls covered in 1913 folk art murals and antique accents, a stop here is a true step back in time. And of course, they've got New Glarus beers on draught.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO?
New Glarus is never short on activities. Whether you prefer hitting the hills, taking to the trails, spending the day shopping, or having fun at festivals, there is something guaranteed every weekend this summer and well into fall.
Biking: New Glarus is also the starting point for the 23-mile long Sugar River Bike Trail.
Shopping: Galleries, Swiss Imports, jewelry and more. Here are some local faves.
Sugar River Gallery
105 5th Ave.
Here you'll find local and southwestern fine art and crafts, as well as vintage reproduction and southwestern jewelry, books, pottery, Navajo folk art and furniture.
130 5th Ave.
Here you will find 14 local artists represented, northwoods and garden decor, Lang gift items, Minnetonka Moccasins, and birding supplies.
Roberts European Imports
102 5th Ave.
This small shop specializes in Swiss, German, Austrian, Norwegian, and Russian imports, imported directly from artists and craftsmen.
Festivals: New Glarus is known for its abundance of ethnic festivals throughout the year. Here's the 2007 schedule:
June 8-10, 2007
The 6th Annual Roger Bright Memorial Polkafest with free music and dancing the entire weekend.
June 22, 2007
Lions Chicken BBQ
June 22-24, 2007
Heidi Festival/Taste & Treasures: Heidi Festival weekend is filled with great food, entertainment, music, and fun for the whole family.
July 13 & 15, 2007
Old Fashioned Maxwell Street Days features a wide range of merchandise at special prices from downtown shops. Garage sales throughout the community will offer treasures needing a new home.
August 4, 2007
Fire Department 105th Anniversary -- Festival and Dance.
August 5, 2007
Swiss Volksfest (Swiss Independence Day).
Aug/September 31-2, 2007
Wilhelm Tell Festival -- It's a live theater presentation with intricate costumes and a lively cast that includes goats, cows and horses. Performances are staged in a beautiful outdoor setting, just a short distance from downtown New Glarus.
Sept. 3, 2007
Schuetzen Fest -- The traditional Swiss Schuetzen Fest is revived this year with small-bore (.22) shooting competition open to the public.
September 22, 2007
Kilby Supper (Swiss United Church) offers visitors a taste of community life.
October 5-7, 2007
Oktoberfest is a multi-event weekend in New Glarus, with many activities throughout the weekend including live music in the festival tent, kids games, rides and great food.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”