It could have been the long stretch of sand at the town park. Or the shoreline scenery in the state park next door.
And it might well have been the woven rugs and pottery, all locally made, at the church-run crafts centre.
But my lasting impression of little Madeline Island, way up in western Lake Superior, is the nod and smile of welcome from a white-whiskered gent sitting at the bar in one of the watering holes in La Pointe, Madeline’s only town.
Twenty-one kilometres long and three to six wide, Madeline is the largest of Wisconsin’s 22 Apostle islands and the only one not part of the National Lakeshore that bears their name.
It’s also the only one with a permanent population – a whopping 309.
The summer one is estimated at nearly 3,000. But it was unseasonably wet, windy and cold when I arrived late last June, and cottage-renters and beach-goers were thin on the ground.
So strangers like me were easily spotted by the regulars hunkered down at The Pub Restaurant & Wine Bar, part of Inn on Madeline Island.
When the sun emerged, so did some of the things that make Madeline special.
Big Bay State Park. I passed several cyclists on the way there. It’s 11 km from the La Pointe but it’s flat and there’s a bike lane on Middle Road. Figure on a 30- to 40-minute ride. The park’s Point Trail Loop leads from the parking lot to a rocky shoreline where visitors picnic and sunbathe.
Big Bay Town Park. More than three km of public beach. Kayaks and canoes can be rented, and there’s a lagoon for fishing and bird watching.
Madeline Island Museum. Housed in three buildings, two of them cabins made of hand-hewn logs, it contains artifacts from native Americans, fur traders and Jesuit missionaries. The gift shop sells local jewelry and Ojibwe crafts.
Madeline Island Golf Club. An 18-hole, par-71 course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Woods Hall. Save your shopping for this spot, beside the Church of St. John’s United Church of Christ. Crafts are taught and studio space provided. Everything in the shop was hand-made by islanders.
The rugs ranged from simple rag ones starting at $30 to larger pieces with more complex patterns. Open from the last weekend in May through mid-September.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Madeline Island Ferry Line goes every half-hour in summer, takes 20 minutes to cross. www.madferry.com. Tip: It’s much cheaper to park on the mainland and travel as a foot passenger. Bicycles can be rented on the island.
Lodging: I stayed at The Inn on Madeline Island. www.madisland.com. Some cabins and condos are also available on a per-night basis.
Food/drink: The Pub Restaurant & Wine Bar is good. Cafe Seiche, featuring organic, locally grown stuff, was also recommended for supper. Whitefish is the catch of the day just about every day. Wisconsin beers to look for include Leinie’s Original and New Glarus Spotted Cow.
Weather permitting: Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, a ramshackle outdoor bar with rickety tables and chairs and fairy lights, partly sheltered by a canvas roof. The yard’s littered with metal sculptures and hand-painted signs with sayings such as, “People who don’t change their minds don’t have them,’’ and “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.’’