Downtown Madison shines on a sunny Saturday in June. (Niki Kelly/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
Downtown Madison shines on a sunny Saturday in June. (Niki Kelly/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

I have taken my fair share of shots at the “IN Indiana” slogan and the recently unveiled but underwhelming road signs that encourage visitors to discover Indiana.

But I got a reminder this past weekend that we Hoosiers need to keep discovering our own state.

Born a Buckeye, I moved to Indiana in 1996 and quickly fell in love with Fort Wayne. I moved to Indianapolis a few years later and am now a full-fledged Hoosier. (You can’t get rid of me.) I have traversed all over Indiana — for stories, family excursions and girls’ trips.

But somehow, I had never discovered Madison or Clifty Falls State Park.

If Hallmark is looking to shoot on location, you can’t beat this picturesque town of about 12,000.

My sister and I first met for lunch at the Downtowner, a delightful little café with great sandwiches and homemade sides. Then we spent hours walking up and down the tidy sidewalks. Dozens of cute shops line the main drag, calling you in with old-school window displays.

It’s almost like you are in another time, with independent appliance and books stores alongside home décor, clothing, antiques, ice cream, candies and coffee shops. The coolest toy store I have ever seen — McWhiggins Wonder Emporium — takes up one corner. I’m sure there is a nearby big box store but no way I’m going there with all these locally owned businesses with wonderful wares.

Adding to the ambiance, a number of them have shop cats who purr and love to be petted. (But don’t touch Dash’s head at Ditto’s!)

Houses a few blocks over have so much character and are all well-maintained. A farmer’s market around a beautiful fountain completed the day.

You can also run, walk or bike along the river; take a cruise, visit a winery or head to Clifty Falls State Park for serenity and nature. We stayed at the Inn, which overlooks the river. What a great place to have a glass of wine, read a book or meditate.

Discovering Madison after 27 years in the state made me think of other great places to visit or things to do in Indiana.

Here are my five favorites — and I would love to hear yours:

  • The Parke County Bridge Festival runs October 13-22 this year. Everyone knows about the crafts, art, antiques and flea markets in Bridgeton, Rockville and Mansfield. And I enjoy those along with yummy fair food. But I encourage everyone to pick a bridge route and drive it, discovering the namesake of the festival. The Blue Route is my favorite.
  • French Lick is pricey but worth a weekend splurge for a special occasion. I have done the tours of both West Baden and French Lick, learning some wonderful historical facts. West Baden’s dome is stunning and almost feels like you have been transported. The restoration of both hotels is something for Orange County to be proud of, and I am always amazed at Hoosiers I meet who haven’t been there.
  • Indiana is home to some wonderful Amish communities that are great to visit, especially Shipshewana and Middlebury in northern Indiana. Buggy tours, auctions, hand-crafted Amish products, wonderful food and more awaits your visit.
  • Don’t miss out on Indiana’s caves. I have been lucky enough to do several in southern Indiana and have a few favorites. Indiana Caverns in Corydon has a fair amount of stairs but is the 7th largest cave in the U.S. and the payoff is a small boat ride at the end with knowledgeable guides. Marengo Cave in Marengo also isn’t to be missed, complete with the Penny Ceiling.
  • The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo remains a special place in my heart. When I lived in the city, I would go there regularly with friends and always enjoyed it. Don’t let the word “children’s” make you think it’s a small petting zoo. It has distinct sections, including an African Journey and Australian Adventure. I also happen to know if you accidentally stay past closing they are really nice about it.
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