The charms of Southern Wisconsin

Picture postcard farms. Black-and-white cows grazing in rolling green pastures. Beer, cheese, pasties and brats. Welcome to Southern Wisconsin.

Here's a sample of towns where you can feel the charm (with mileage from Chicago).

Mineral Point, Iowa County (195 miles)

When lead was discovered here in 1828, Mineral Point became the boom-town capital of Wisconsin's rip-roaring lead district. The mines are gone, but their rich legacy of Cornish culture, history and architecture remain prominent in this picturesque community.

Miners from Cornwall, England, arrived in the 1830s and '40s, introducing such culinary delights as pasties (a meat, potato and onion pastry) and saffron cake. And skilled Cornish stone masons constructed beautiful stone cottages and buildings, many of which survive today.

Self-guided walking/driving tours offer glimpses of these architectural gems. At Pendarvis State Historic Site, guides in 19th Century attire provide tours of charming stone and stone-and-log cottages and homes dating from the boom-town days.

Shoppers delight in Mineral Point's antique and specialty shops, and the large number of artists' galleries and studios.

Lodging: Brewery Creek Inn, 23 Commerce St., offers five luxury rooms with private bath, some with fireplace, and many amenities on the second and third floor (no elevator) of a restored 1854 limestone warehouse. 608-987-3298; www.brewerycreek.com

Mineral Point information: 608-987-3889; www.mineralpoint.com

Mt. Horeb, Dane County (168 miles)

Rich in Norwegian history, Mt. Horeb is the self-proclaimed Troll Capital of the World. Trolls? You know, those ill-tempered creatures from Norse mythology.

Mt. Horeb's trolls, however, form a friendly, wooden welcoming committee along Main Street, renamed the Trollway. Many are the work of master troll carver Mike Feeney.

Specialty shops featuring imported gifts, antique malls and eateries, offering such delights as Swedish rye bread and Norwegian lefse, also line the Trollway.

And there's the Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum, a mustard lover's paradise exhibiting more than 4,300 bottles, jars and tubes of prepared mustard from more than 60 countries.

A short drive west is the village of Blue Mounds and Blue Mound State Park, with camping, hiking and spectacular scenic views. There, too, is Cave of the Mounds, noted for its beautiful and delicate underground formations.

Close by is Little Norway, an outdoor living history museum whose historic buildings house a vast collection of Norwegian artifacts and antiques.

Lodging: Mt. Horeb's Arbor Rose Bed & Breakfast, 200 N. 2nd St., has four rooms with private and shared baths in a Victorian home. 608-437-1108; www.bnbadvisor.com/inn/139

Mt. Horeb information: 888-765-5929; www.trollway.com

Monroe, Green County (136 miles)

Famed as a cheesemaking community, Monroe has a downtown that surrounds a historic square and the city's architectural showpiece, the 1891 Romanesque-style courthouse with a 120-foot clock tower.

Stroll the neat-as-a-pin square to enjoy a Swiss-flavored version of Middle America. Baumgartner Cheese Store and Tavern is a Midwest icon, the place for a Swiss or Limburger cheese sandwich and frosty local brew.

Two blocks southwest of the square is the Huber Brewery, founded in 1845. Tour the brewery, then sample the product. Reservations required--call 608-325-3191.

One block west of the square is the Monroe Arts Center (MAC), housed in a beautifully restored Gothic-style church dating from 1869. MAC features changing exhibits of work by local and regional artists, and presents a wide variety of concerts and performances.

Lodging: Victorian Gardens Bed and Breakfast, 1720 16th St., offers three rooms with private bath in an 1880s Victorian house. www.innsite.com/inns/A100230.html

Monroe information: 608-325-7648; www.monroechamber.org.

New Glarus, Green County (156 miles)

Set in the rolling hills of northern Green County, this quaint village was founded by Swiss immigrants in 1845.

New Glarus continues to nurture its rich heritage through charming Swiss-style architecture and Old World taste treats. Local shops carry items ranging from Swiss cowbells and cuckoo clocks to cheese and chocolate.

Learn about local history at the 14-building Swiss Historical Village, which documents Swiss immigration and life in 19th Century rural Wisconsin.

As northern terminus of the scenic, 23-mile Sugar River State Trail, New Glarus draws bicyclists from throughout the Midwest. Bike rental is available at local trail headquarters.

New Glarus Woods State Park, 1 mile south, has a paved walking/bike path to the village and offers hiking trails, picnic areas and drive-in and tent campsites.

Lodging: My Friend's House B&B, 513 6th Ave., offers three rooms with private and shared baths in a 1911 Tudor style home. 608-527-3511; www.discoverourtown.com/WI/NewGlarus/Lodging/118099.html

New Glarus information: 800-527-6838; www.swisstown.com

Brodhead, Green County (127 miles)

With its wide, tree-lined streets and rambling Victorian homes, Brodhead is reminiscent of the storied "good old days" of the mid-19th Century. Bicyclists know the Sugar River town as the southern gateway to the Sugar River State Trail. Bicycles may be rented at Earth Rider Cycling, 929 W. Exchange St.

Items from the past fill the Brodhead historical museum, downtown in the former Milwaukee Road depot. A diesel locomotive and a caboose are on display, along with other railroad memorabilia and local history exhibits.

For a taste of nature's autumn bounty, visit the Ten Eyck Orchard, 3 miles west of Brodhead on Wisconsin Highways 11 and 81. Set on a farm that has been in the same family since 1839, the orchard offers many varieties of apples.

Lodging: The bicycle shop includes Earth Rider Hotel, with five luxury, bicycle-themed rooms with private baths and numerous amenities. Non-bicyclists are welcome. 608-897-8300; www.earthridercycling.com

Broadhead information: 608-897-8411; www.brodheadchamber.org

Ft. Atkinson, Jefferson County (127 miles)

Named for a fort built during the infamous Black Hawk War of 1832, this Rock River city is rich in Native American history.

The Hoard Historical Museum's Native American Artifacts Room has more than 4,000 archeological artifacts detailing the prehistory of American Indians who lived in the Jefferson County region. Other exhibits focus on the Black Hawk War, Abraham Lincoln's connection to the county (he was a soldier during that war), birds, tools and trades. The Lincoln-era library contains more than 1,400 volumes.

Lodging: La Grange B&B, 1050 East St., offers three rooms with private and shared bath in a converted 1928 barn decorated in French Country style. 920-563-1421; www.1928barn.com

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