Spring comes early in the Ohio River town of Madison, Indiana. Bulbs poke from the soil, leaves unfurl, and visitors arrive, ready to shed their parkas. Spend a day in Madison's historic downtown, and then take a country drive to explore the nearby parks, farms and estates. Just don't forget to roll down the windows for a fresh breath of spring air.
Click through our slides for suggestions on what to do, where to eat and where to stay for a spring getaway in Madison.
Weeping cherry trees bloom outside Lanier Mansion, which is open for tours year-round.
Hanging flower baskets and pretty window boxes greet visitors in Madison (population: 12,000, 75 miles southwest of Cincinnati). American flags snap along downtown blocks listed on the National Register of Historic Places and housing dozens of shops and restaurants.
A visit has to include truffles from Cocoa Safari (cocoasafarichocolates.com) and a stroll among the beautiful handcrafted furniture at Madison Table Works (madisontableworks.com). History buffs and visitors who love small towns will enjoy the museum and train depot at Jefferson County Historical Society (jchshc.com).
The next slides highlight more of our favorite stops in Madison and the surrounding area.
Attractive gardens complement this 18th-century red-stone building in downtown. Stop in to taste the 16 dry, semisweet and sweet wines. The strawberry blush is lovely with grilled chicken. (812) 273-2409; lanthierwinery.com
A robust calendar of activities at Clifty Falls State Park (2 miles west of Madison) offers wildflower walks throughout the spring, while seven hiking trails let visitors get up close to the veillike waterfalls that dot the park. Stick to the north end of the park, away from the power plant that disrupts the view along Clifty's southern end. (812) 265-4135; in.gov/dnr/parklake/2985.htm
The annual Madison in Bloom spring garden tour in May includes Lanier Mansion, a state historic site with stunning gardens (pictured) that stretch to the Ohio River. Admission charged. (800) 559-2956; visitmadison.org
Whether you're looking for plants, a stroll among gardens, lunch or wine (blackberry is a favorite), you'll find it at Stream Cliff Herb Farm, Indiana's oldest herb farm. In Commiskey, about 20 miles northwest of Madison. (812) 346-5859; streamclifffarm.com
Established in 2000, Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, north of Madison, sprawls across 50,000 acres on what was once the U.S. Army's Jefferson Proving Ground. Though it does not yet have hiking trails, visitors are able to fish, hunt, view wildlife, take tours and attend special events.
The refuge opens for the season in mid-April; guided tours are available. The park is open Mondays, Fridays, and the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. (812) 273-0783; fws.gov/refuge/big_oaks/
Twigs and Sprigs Tea Room The blueberry chicken salad (pictured) is a favorite at this busy spot at Stream Cliff Herb Farm, 20 miles northwest of Madison in Commiskey. (812) 346-5859; streamclifffarm.com
Madison Coffee and Tea Company Ltd. You'll find beans from around the world, plus huge muffins, cozy seating and free Wi-Fi. (812) 265-9200
The Red Pepper Deli In an old service station, this cafe serves up soups, salads and sandwiches, including the Madisonian, a turkey-ham-roast beef combo on a hoagie roll. (812) 265-3354; redpepperdelicafe.com
Bishop Hill Guest House (pictured) This cottage, built in 1870, sits on a ridgetop just east of Madison, offering a quiet getaway in an atmosphere that blends history, luxury and nature. Rate is $200 per night, two-night minimum. (765) 763-7276; bishophillguesthouse.com
Clifty Inn In Clifty Falls State Park, this remodeled value option offers comfortable lodging and a dining room with a view of the Ohio River. From $102. (877) 563-4371; in.gov/dnr/parklake/inns/clifty
Madison Vineyards Estate Winery and Bed and Breakfast The look and decor feel like a suburban home, but the warm hospitality, the exceptional food and the quiet setting make it a great stay. From $120. (888) 473-6500; madisonvineyards.com
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2011. Prices and other details can change; please check specifics before making travel plans.)