The mighty Mississippi snakes its way through the United States for some 3,700 kilometres, and for a snapshot of these unique wetlands and lakes, wildlife, fishing, boating and river life, The Winetattoo drove The Great River Road for 300 kilometres through the state of Wisconsin, stopping off at tiny towns like Stockholm and Alma that still cling to their immigrant Swedish and Swiss roots, to the early French fur trapper posts of Pepin, La Crosse and Prairie du Chien.
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While fishing enthusiasts (Clements Fishing Barge), canoes and kayaks (Island Outdoors) venture out onto the great river itself, both the banks spread out into immense wetlands like Tiffany Bottoms or the Wayalusing Sloughs (pronounced Slews), a maze of tiny streams and estuaries that are a wildlife paradise. There are even some vineyards clinging to the hills above the river, like Villa Bellezza and Danziger, where we tasted curious indigenous grapes like Frontenac, Marquette and St Croix, cloned to survive in cold climates.
For quirky experiences, in sleepy Alma, don’t miss a visit to Pearl River Jewellery, a unique boutique selling genuine pearls fished right here in the Mississippi, while after a tour of the fur trapper museum in Prairie du Chen, head straight to Valley Fish and Cheese, one of the last artisan smokehouses on the Mississippi where you may see live snapping turtles – they bite your finger quicker than rattlesnake – caviar sturgeon eggs and delicious smoked catfish
The best place to pair Wisconsin’s famous cheeses with wine is Nelson Cheese Factory, whose wine list is as good as any Parisan bistrot. For eating out, you cannot beat burgers and fries at local roadside bars like Red Ram, The River Rats and Wooden Nickel Saloon, while in the evening stop-off at a traditional Supper Club, like the welcoming Anker Grill, for a classic Brandy Old-Fashioned cocktail followed by a juicy steak or the Friday Night special fish dinner.
There is cheap and cheerful camping everywhere, chic bed&breakfasts like the romantic Blue Door Inn and Castle La Crosse, a lavish 19th century folly built by a Scottish lumber Baron, or the rustic but idyllic wooden cabins of Eagle’s Rest Roost that nestle right on the bank of the mighty Mississippi.