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Sparkle & Shine in Galena Country

Experience the elegant side of Galena Country 

As the sky turns orange and the sun sets behind the Mississippi River, a hot air balloon slowly rises into the air over Galena Country. Expansive views of the hilly landscape come into focus, with church steeples popping out above the tree line and scenic rivers and lakes appearing in the distance. In fall, it all glistens in the stunning bright gold and red light. When the balloon floats back down to the ground,the pilot from Galena on the Fly pours everyone a glass of champagne and offers a toast. “May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.” Everyone clinks their glasses and takes a sip. Balloon rides are one of the most popular activities in this small, western Illinois town, best known for its 19th-century vibe and historic Main Street shopping.

Visitors from across the Midwest come to peruse more than 100 locally owned craft, candy, antique and jewelry boutiques in a long stretch of 150-year old orange and red brick buildings. Yet Galena has evolved into much more than just shopping. It’s also now a popular destination for an elegant getaway and for couples seeking a romantic spark. That clearly exists here—the town of roughly 3,400 hosts more than 400 weddings a year as well as countless marriage proposals and anniversary celebrations. A nice way to begin an upscale visit to Galena is at Stonedrift Spa at Eagle Ridge Resort. The 6,000-square-foot spa, made up of quiet, private rooms, pampers guests with comfy robes and luxurious treatments such as an exfoliating body scrub with a Vichy shower (a row of showerheads placed over a massage table). Playing 18 holes on one of the resort’s championship golf courses, horseback riding through the Galena Country or taking a dip in the indoor pool can be part of the day as well.

The best way to feel Galena’s sparkling sunshine is to slowly paddle down the Galena River. Fever River Outfitters rents canoes and kayaks, with or without a guide, for peaceful floats past pretty trees and foliage. Call ahead to have a gourmet snack or meal waiting, post-paddle, in an ice-packed basket from Galena River Wine & Cheese. The adorable and fun-to-unpack baskets are filled with foods of your choice. That could be high-end charcuterie using locally made meats, fresh cheese curds or toffee, a glass jar filled with spiced pecans or a selection. of little Italian cookies. Drinks are tucked in there too, like single-serving martini or sangria cans, a nice bottle of wine or even a $100 bottle of champagne. For a special touch, ask the friendly husband-and-wife owners, Julie and Bryon Taylor,to tuck a little note in the basket for your sweetheart to discover. On a budget? Their shop’s “cheap-date wine bin” is an old-fashioned copper sink filled with good bottles of wine under $10.

More sparkle is found at Rustic River Finds, which sells one-of-a-kind, handmade jewelry. If looking for a new outfit, purse, jewelry, or scarf to wear around town or on a date, Carlotta's Studio, is the place. The boutique offers a unique style they coin “Farmhouse Chic.” Romantic activities are a subjective thing, but for some, it’s sitting in Adirondack chairs and sipping a glass of Galena Cellars wine at the castle-like Goldmoor Inn. Follow that with dinner at the hotel’s swanky dining room, with lovely views and a savory menu of entrées like salmon en croute and beef Wellington.

Galena’s food goes far beyond simple country cookin’. Candlelight adds elegance to meals at General’s Restaurant in the DeSoto House Hotel, where gulf shrimp wrapped in bacon is among the house specialties. Meat lovers can indulge with a chateaubriand or hearty steak at the old-school Log Cabin Steakhouse. For extra wow, order the Greek styled flaming cheese Saganaki appetizer, which is set aflame tableside to shouts of “OPAAAA!” For a European bistro feel, cozy Fritz and Frites serves nicely prepared German and French dishes like escargot and pork schnitzel. Timmerman’s Supper Club provides panoramic sunset views of the Mississippi along with delicious food and drink. Galena’s Main Street is set aglow in December.

The Night of the Luminaria and Living Windows, early in the month each year, lets visitors walk or ride a trolley to see the sidewalks lit up with thousands of luminarias. Peek in store windows to see dozens of animated, holiday-themed window displays. The weekend prior, catch the fireworks at the annual Holiday Fire in the Sky. If the weather’s not cooperating, you can still bedazzled by PT Murphy’s Magic Show. The town teems with romantic bed & breakfasts, unique luxury hotels like the Jail Hill Inn, a renovated jail and full-service resorts like Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa. “We do a lot of custom packages, like a wife who wants to do something special for a husband, or a husband who wants to do something special for a wife or proposals,” said Eagle Ridge resort spokesman Colin Sanderson. “Galena is just awesome that way.”

In Galena Country, the past is alive and the present is just as lively because originals never go out of style. Explore all there is to see and do by browsing the latest visitors guide and be sure to book your accommodation early! 

Written by Jamie Bartosch for VisitGalena.org