Just 17 miles across the bay from my kitchen, the village of Ephraim in Wisconsin's Door County is a charming enclave of white clapboard houses and churches, galleries, eateries, fudge shops and harborside parks.
Door County is a peninsula - an island, really - that juts northeastward, separating the bay of Green Bay from the waters of much larger Lake Michigan. It is known for its cherry orchards and farm markets and for its lovely harbors and resorts - and its villages.
When I first discovered Door County as a teenager - in those days, many teens from my town found summer jobs as waitresses and busboys - I was intrigued by the colorful place names north of bustling Sturgeon Bay: Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Sister Bay, Gills Rock, Northport, Baileys Harbor, Jacksonport and Institute.
Perhaps the most picturesque of Door County's villages is Ephraim, sandwiched between bluff and shore, just north Fish Creek and south of Sister Bay. With its harbor on the bay and its pristine white cottages and shops spilling down the hillside, Ephraim - the name means "doubly fruitful" - feels like a touch of New England in Northeast Wisconsin.
Settle by Moravians in 1853, Ephraim's population of 300 celebrates Fyr Bal, the Swedish welcome to summer, every June with bonfires along the shore and a celebratory spirit throughout the village. Ephraim is a dry community, and my observation is that it is the most family-oriented of Door County's villages.
Because of its long-time popularity as a vacation spot for urban midwesterners, Door County is crowded in summer. Finding a lunch spot in mid-July can be next to impossible. We prefer to visit in shoulder season - spring or fall - when traffic is light and resort rates are low. The photo above was shot mid-week in mid-May, a relatively sleepy time on the Door peninsula.
Door County offers opportunities for boating, golf, shopping, eating and gallery hopping. Especially in summer, cultural opportunities abound. You can see a play, attend a concert, watch a potter at work, or take a course in watercolor or weaving - and much more.
We like to visit galleries and play mini golf. Trying new restaurants - everything from outdoor bistros to traditional supper clubs - is essential, but we also pack a hamper of picnic foods. Visiting Door County farm markets, which offer a plethora of cherry products, is a must. In the past dozen years, a number of wineries have opened on the peninsula, and their tasting rooms are worth a visit.
In spring there is a palpable sense of excitement as the peninsula gears up for the busy summer season. In fall, the wind down begins as the marinas empty of boats, summer staff goes off to school and shops begin to clear their shelves of summer merchandise. It's a bittersweet season but still lovely, especially when the leaves are at peak color in early October.