Get a taste for art, history and local flavors on this prairie tour through the greater Champaign County area. From a thriving downtown district to the laid-back Amish country, you’ll discover artistry woven into the landscape amongst an award-winning culinary scene.
Duration: 2 Days
This Itinerary is Ideal For: All ages
Hitch a ride on the Illinois Central Railroad, which once ran through a popcorn field in the small town of Monticello. Originally named the Monticello Railroad Company, the Central Division line was chartered in
1861, with construction completed in 1870. Through the Monticello Railway Museum, the line’s long history is on display, with dozens of locomotives and equipment dating back to a caboose from 1891. You’ll enjoy lunch on the historic railcars as they bring you into Monticello’s Courthouse Square. This recently named National Historic District is overflowing with shops, restaurants and galleries ready to explore. Enjoy a glass-blowing demonstration at Prairie Fire Glass and take home the unique artwork as a keepsake from your visit.
Travel down the road to one of Illinois’ Seven Wonders—Allerton Park & Retreat Center, listed in the National Register of Historic Places and named one of the American Institute of Architects’ 150 Great Places in Illinois. Built as a private residence in 1900, today Allerton Park and Retreat Center today is a historical treasure owned by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Befitting a splendid Georgian manor house, the formal gardens feature extensive plantings and over 100 ornaments and sculptures for your group to discover.
Following this scenic tour, you’ll discover the artistry of brewing from Riggs Beer Company. This family-owned business utilizes corn, wheat and barley from the family’s farmstead, founded in 1874. Get a brewery tour and enjoy the German-style beers before heading to dinner in downtown Champaign. In this vibrant district, you’ll find over 40 locally owned bars and restaurants that helped earn Champaign-Urbana become Midwest Living’s Greatest Midwest Food Town. Snap a picture with the Roger Ebert statue outside of the historic Virginia Theatre or check out the new Outside of Ordinary mural outside the Champaign County Welcome Center to see a depiction of the area’s unique attractions.
Start the day at Flesor’s Candy Kitchen in Tuscola, where sisters Ann and Devon make candy fresh daily. In a store opened in 1904 by their grandfather, the sisters treat guests to homemade flavors, from made-from-scratch ice cream to caramels, toffee and buttercreams. Just down the street, you’ll take time to discover local talent at The Vault Art Gallery, a cooperative featuring more than 50 artist-owners. The historic building features a variety of media—paintings, sculpture, photography, jewelry, ceramics, fiber art—plus vintage and antiques.
You’ll end your trip in the Amish country around Tuscola and Arthur, home to over 2,000 members of the
Amish Community. Meet your step-on guide at the welcome center in downtown Arthur, where your tour begins. See horse-drawn buggies, Belgian horse-pulled field equipment, roadside stands with fresh produce, and one-room schools with pony carts lined up in the driveway and grass lot ball diamonds full of Amish children at recess. Tour the Woodworking Trail, where you’ll hear from the artisans creating stunning pieces, from cabinetry to furniture. You’ll likely see this artistry on display in the home of an Amish family. Take your seat at one of the long tables, and after you’ve taken a moment for a silent prayer, your host will begin serving a delicious home-cooked meal. Last but not least, you’ll explore the family’s farm to see the fruits of their daily work. Learning the ins and outs of Amish culture, you’ll be amazed at how similar their life is to yours, minus one thing—electricity.