Blooming Travel

Places that will put a spring back in your step.
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Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden
Photography by Michele Yanga

In one of my favorite childhood travel memories, I’m immersed in a riot of color somewhere in the center of a field of tulips that seemed to go on for miles. I’m not tiptoeing, mind you. In wooden shoes, you clomp. I still can’t visit a Holland gift shop without the temptation to buy a new pair, a tangible memory of the real draw: a patchwork of color and life after many months in a black and white world. Here are five places that similarly cause spring spirits to soar.

Tulip Time Festival, Holland: Like those ever-cool shoes of wood and the value of family time, Holland’s Tulip Time festival traditions haven’t fundamentally changed since those first 100,000 tulips were planted in 1929 and a local biology teacher suggested that Holland adopt the tulip as the city flower, a reminder of its close ties to the Netherlands. It’s grown a bit. Today, 6 million bulbs are planted and some 1,400 Klompen dancers take to the parade route streets — far more than those first 12 who performed to “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone.” May 5-13; tuliptime.com.

Lilac Festival, Mackinac Island: Sometimes, a dog and pony show is literally that — and more fun than you can imagine. That is the case with Mackinac Island’s Lilac Festival, which holds an Epona and Barkus Parade, and even a blessing of the animals to which islanders bring turtles, dogs and horses, often bedecked in necklaces of purple blooms. There are dances highlighting various ethnic roots, a food festival featuring island chefs and guided walks amid the fragrant lilac blossoms. Four hundred varietals share heady scents that mingle with the trademark smells of fudge — and horse. June 8-17; mackinacisland.org.

Blossomtime Festival, St. Joseph: This royalty-heavy event includes 22 queen contests, and royalty even holds a place of honor in a blessing of blossoms. But the blossoming of orchards of peaches, grapes, apples and more has been the highlight since 1891 when the Graham and Morton Steamship Company offered special rates from Chicago for orchard blossom tours. The first queen was crowned in 1924, and today’s highlight is the Grand Floral Parade of floral floats, ala a mini Rose Bowl Parade. May; blossomtimefestival.org.

Blessing of the Blossoms, Traverse City: The original blossom blessing started in 1910 as a religious service, but it evolved to combine religion and tourism. At one time, it was held on the beach, where participants sent blossoms afloat. In 1928, the Blessing of the Blossoms was renamed the Michigan Cherry Festival (now the National Cherry Festival), but the humble beginnings still are celebrated as part of a weekend of wine tastings and appetizers amid pillowy white blossoms. The Saturday wine event is followed by Sunday’s blessing of the year’s crop, the fields and those who work them — and free cherry pie. May 20, Chateau Chantal, wineriesofomp.com.

Peonies in Bloom, Ann Arbor: The garden is festive, if not a festival per se, when North America’s largest collection of heirloom peonies blooms on the main campus of the University of Michigan. The exotic tree peonies at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum bloom in shades of yellow and lavender in mid-May, and the world’s largest collection of heirloom varietals (white, pink, red and peach) follow for a couple of weeks post-Memorial Day. Take a self-guided tour or sit amid them while watching Shakespeare in the Arb, which holds moveable scenes with the peonies as a backdrop. peony.mbgna.umich.edu


Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer and author. Her first book, “101 Things to Do in Traverse City Before You Die,” is available April.

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