There is no question that regional road trips have become extremely popular this year – with many folks focusing on what is right in their own backyard for ‘staycations.’ For plenty of regional travel ideas, check-in every Wednesday for a Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup on themed topics showcasing several destinations across the southern portion of the state. This week we’re focusing on the best place to grab a drink! So make a date with your friends, bring your masks and get ready for a road trip!
Shawnee Forest Country in Southernmost Illinois
Travel the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail of Southernmost Illinois through forests and farmland. Just when you think your GPS must be wrong, a sign points to a nearly hidden driveway. Suddenly a stuccoed Tuscan villa, glowing gold in the afternoon sun, appears before row upon row of grape vines. It’s Blue Sky Vineyard, one of 11 wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
Blue Sky’s building, modeled after a 400-year-old Tuscan villa, offers outdoor terraces overlook the vineyards and hilly countryside. After a few glasses of wine and a meal on a chilly autumn evening, it’s comforting to snuggle up in two suites upstairs and dream of the Shawnee Hills.
The oldest winery on the trail is Alto Vineyards. Its first release in 1988 sold out in three days. The following year the winery won its first medals in international competition and helped put Chambourcin, a dry, full-bodied red, on wine lovers’ radar. A second and third generation stepped up as Alto Vineyards racked up more than 500 national and international awards.
Von Jakob offers a variety of wines ranging from dry, complex reds to sweet and fruity dessert wines. It became the first winery in the state to produce a White Oak Port. It also brews beer on site and serves daily lunches as well as dinners in its Grill & Pub on Fridays and Saturdays. Two houses near Von Jakob Vineyard’s tasting room contain five suites that can be booked individually or as a whole house.
Enjoy a drive on the winding, hilly road leading to Pomona Winery. Instead of grapes, Pomona uses other fruits to make its wines. Kir, a best-selling aperitif inspired by the French bar drink, blends apples and black currants. Blueberries and strawberries transform into dessert wines while several varieties of apples become semi-dry and semi-sweet wines.
Enjoy Mt. Vernon
While there are several great places to grab a drink, like the Frosty Mug Bar & Grill in Mt. Vernon, one thing that really stands out are the options for margaritas! With four authentic Mexican restaurants, Mt. Vernon can boast quite a selection. Each place seems to have its own niche and following.
This year, El Rancherito of Mt. Vernon is celebrating 25 years! They are saying cheers with this brand-new concoction, Rosita’s Margarita, which comes with a commemorative glass while supplies last. Rosita’s Margarita! Rosita’s Margarita is a refreshing margarita made with gold Jose Cuervo tequila, amaretto, grenadine syrup, pineapple juice, sugar rim, topped with fresh fruit! El Rancherito goes through almost 100 gallons of margaritas in a normal week! They use their own recipe house lime margarita, available frozen or on the rocks, in sizes from small to Margarita Tower! Eight other flavors are available and all pair well with chips and queso.
Agave has its own twist on the margarita! In addition to eight flavors on the rocks or frozen, they also offer “The Skinny” which is made with hand squeezed limes and lemons, 100% agave tequila, and your choice of agave nectar or sweet n low sweetener. Low in carbs but fresh in flavor. The Golden Margarita is their house margarita with a twist of fresh orange juice with Grand Marnier orange liqueur.
Downtown, Guero’s offers a variety of margaritas and has a special way to try them with the Margarita Sampler that let’s your table get four different flavors to mix, match and refill while they last! Try the peach, mango, strawberry or special lemonade margarita with your tacos and guacamole!
Last, but certainly not least, La Fiesta comes in with a whopping 20+ flavor choices for margaritas as well as top shelf margaritas that will really make your chicken fajitas sizzle! From blue raspberry to strawberry and everything in between, La Fiesta margaritas are on fire whether you get them frozen or on the rocks!
There are so many great places to grab a drink in ILLINOISouth that you’ll have to come back multiple times to hit them all! To start off, there are 19 breweries that make up the Southern Illinois Beer Trail. Eleven of those establishments fall within ILLINOISouth’s territory, and they all offer up their own unique twist on beer and more! Starting north and heading south; you can visit Excel Brewing Company in Breese, Peel Brewing Company in O’Fallon, 4204 Main Street Brewing Company in Belleville, and Millpond Brewing & Incubator in Millstadt. Once you cross into Monroe County, there is actually a amongst the breweries – and Stumpy’s Spirits is a must-stop for fans of vodka, bourbon and more! As you head south from there more beer awaits you, including at Stubborn German Brewing Company and Hopskeller Brewing Company – both in Waterloo. On into Randolph County you have White Rooster Farmhouse Brewery in Sparta, Lieferbrau Brewery in Red Bud, and St. Nicholas Landmark in Chester – in Perry County the other St. Nicholas location in Du Quoin is also a fantastic spot to visit.
If wine is more your thing, then the Carlyle Lake Wine Trail in our Central Region is just the place for you! Each location on the trail has something to please any pallet, from sweet wines to dry wines – and European-style wine all the way to Rose`. The best thing about these wineries is location – each has a unique outdoor experience from patios overlooking a lake, to close-up views of watching horses frolick behind a fence line.
Unwind in Effingham… Spend a long weekend away exploring local hot spots, getting in touch with your senses and indulging in a few local brews and elixirs. Effingham offers a taste of luxury without the hustle and bustle of the big city… Just what the doctor ordered, right? To truly experience this small town’s rustic charm, grab a table on the patio at Tuscan Hills Winery, an old-world winery with an authentic European flair. Sample from more than ten different blends, unique to Tuscan Hills, or enjoy an excellent variety of sangrias, seasonal beers, liquors or non-alcoholic beverages. Feeling a bit… ‘hoppy’? If craft beer is what you’re thirsting for, you won’t want to miss a stop at Effing Brew Company in Downtown Effingham! This local brewery’s handcrafted menu of craft brews and domestics such as – the Chadillac IPA and the Tuetonic Knight Belgian Wheat – pairs up deliciously with their pub-style fare. Of course, if what you’re missing are the vibes of the big city, we can supply. Visit Village Wine & Spirits, also in Downtown Effingham, and find a table on their rooftop deck. Choose from the area’s largest and finest selection of premium wines, spirits and luxury beers – and the bright lights of the big city won’t feel so far away. Visit Effingham… It’s what you’re craving.
*Disclaimer – Due to mitigation orders that may be put on businesses, please make sure to call ahead to any of these establishments if there’s a possibility that they may not be open.