Are you looking for something different to do than the usual “go to the movies and hit the nearest watering hole,” or “visit a park and then go to lunch” or “let’s visit a bed and breakfast”?
Your search ends here.
Southern Illinois is teeming with hidden gems like Aviston’s Hidden Lake Winery & Banquet Center. Nestled in the quiet wooded charm of the “Silent Forest,” the winery is off the beaten path, offering a peaceful respite for those city dwellers.
Abounding in local lore, when visitors approach the gate before parking they’ll notice the sign above says “Silent Forest,” which is said to have been well known to those who hunt deer and wild mushrooms. Bootleggers once even hid their still back in these woods to dodge the “revenuers” in the early 1900s.
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Legend has it that Indian spirits can be seen to roam here at night accompanied by the songs of frogs, crickets, owls and distant coyotes, and continues to enchant and entertain guests even today.
On a busy Saturday, 300 people frequent. Although the establishment is open year-round, there is a lull period from December to March.
Hidden Lakes is located at 105 Wellen Road just outside of Aviston, a small Clinton County rural town with a population hovering just above 2,000. It is not seen from the main road leading to town, so be sure to follow the signage leading to the delightful winery.
“We try to stay as local as possible when it comes to hiring, as well as our local community involvement, and our charitable endeavors,” said Ashley Litteken, general manager and events coordinator at Hidden Lakes.
Litteken said for years the winery has been a major player in the Aviston’s American Legion and The Sons of the American Legion Talent Show & Black Tie event.
“It’s something we are very proud to be apart of hosting the event the helps local kids show off (his or her) skills to earn scholarships to go to college,” Litteken said.
Fond of beer, too? Hidden Lakes has you covered.
Litteken said the winery has a partnership with Excel Brewing Company, a local soda and beer brewing company established in 1936 in Breese, Ill., just up the road from the winery on Old U.S. Highway 50.
With its award winning products, Hidden Lakes have made a substantial footprint in the world of wine bringing home over 30 medals from IllinoISwine State Fair Competition and Mid-American Wine Competition from Desmoines Area Community College.
“Our wines are produced with locally-grown fruit and bottled here in our cellar. Guests can enjoy a glass of wine (or other beverage if desired) in a tranquil setting with old friends, or perhaps with new ones,” Litteken noted.
Hidden Lakes has been open since 2005, and is the perfect spot for many different types of people to wet their palates.
Whether you are just passing through the area on Interstate 64, or if you want to revel outdoors in nature with the lakeside patios and gazebos, or inside the charismatic indoor Barrel Room, or the classy and refined Champagne Hall, reception halls and banquet center called the Estate, there are many things to do.
With its sprawling woods and two lakes, plus the Majestic Falls, it’s hard not to be drawn to it’s beauty. The popular and quaint venue caters to all ages, mostly over the age of 21.
But children are welcome too, especially during events such as the upcoming Mother’s Day Brunch from 10 a.m to 1 p.m., Sunday, May 8 — but, be sure sure to keep those little hands busy and away from the libation.
Children can also tag along with parents or grandparents visiting for a relaxing day or evening by the lake, or even outdoor live music that’s offered April through October. While mom or dad, or gram or gramps peruse the in-house brewed wine lists for tasting, children can enjoy whatever lunch or dinner special is available for the day.
Lori Zurliene, hostess in the winery tasting room and gift shop area for two years, says there’s plenty to do at Hidden Valley like taking walks, sit by the lake or the waterfalls when it’s warm, listening to featured live tunes, enjoying conversation with nature’s melody softly in the background or staying the night or a few days in one of the log cabins on site.
“We actually had a middle aged couple come in this weekend who said they live about an hour away, and they just wanted to have an intimate (staycation) without the huge cost or distance of other possible destinations,” Zurliene said.
They told me ‘we didn’t even know this place existed, but we are so happy we found it. It’s the perfect getaway.
Lori Zurliene, Hidden Lake Winery hostess.
Clad in a T-Shirt with the phrase ‘Turning moments into memories,’ Zurliene said her and the other workers love to bring smiles to the faces of visitors because they want their time spent to be memorable.
According to Zurliene, the couple visited more than once to enjoy the wine by one of lakes on the property. Although they could’ve stayed overnite in one of the cozy cabins, Zurliene said the couple opted to lodge at the Original Springs Hotel located at 506 N. Hanover St. in Okawville, which is no more than a 20 minute drive from Hidden Lake.
Member of the National Register of Historical Places, the century old hotel, mineral spa and restaurant was established in 1867, and the current building was erected in 1893 after a fire destroyed the structure in 1891. Analysis of water samples sent to St. Louis, Mo. in 1867 showed very strong medicinal qualities, comparable in quality to the famous Carlsbad Baths in Germany and to the renowned waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas, though not hot when coming out of the ground, according to local historical records.
One local Breese, Ill. resident Hannah Kolmer, 22, said her family and friends have been frequenting the establishment for years, but as she’s aged she’s grown to appreciate the aesthetic quality of the grounds.
But familiarity isn’t the only factor that brings her back time and time again — it’s the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.
Kolmer said, as she tastes some strawberry wine with her friends, that she takes advantage of the indoor areas and covered pavilions and porches to protect her from rain if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
It’s just so beautiful back here, and you wouldn’t think or know it unless you see it for yourself. I come night or day, and even when the weather is crappy.
Hannah Kolmer, of Breese.
On the blue-sky and sunny afternoon last Saturday, Kolmer accompanied a large group of people for a wedding ceremony and reception too.
“It’s a great place for parties too,” Kolmer added.
After 10 years of bringing cheer to the lives of visitors and event patrons at Hidden Lakes, Litteken said she isn’t going anywhere.
“I love what I do,” Litteken said in between meeting with couples interested in the winery as a wedding venue.
‘Sip, savor and relax,’ are words of wisdom from the experts at the Tourism Bureaus in southern Illinois when looking for a destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
Located in Swansea, Ill., IllinoiSouth Tourism has lots of resources for individuals looking for fresh ideas for a staycation. Southernmost Illinois Bureau of Tourism is based in Anna, which is south of Carbondale.
There are over 100 wineries in Illinois, and 19 in the 22 counties throughout the 10,000 square miles of IllinoiSouth region, according to Jo Kathmann, president and CEO.
There are so many varieties of wineries and breweries in our region. More locally, Hidden Lake Winery is very much like your ‘mom and pop’ establishment with an incredible landscape and rolling vineyards.
Jo Kathmann, IllinoISouth Bureau of Tourism.
Depending on the individual, whether you’re fond of local brewed beer, or in-house wines, Kathmann said the patrons and products are as varied as the wineries, from dry and sweet, red or white to lush and plush to comfy mom and pop sites — all you have to do is get in the car, go and bottom’s up.
▪ Mother’s Day Brunch, Sunday, May 8, call for Reservations
▪ Father’s Day BBQ, Sunday, June 19
▪ Luau “3rd Annual,” Saturday, July 16
▪ Winestock “10th annual,” Saturday, August 13
▪ Bluez Fest “2nd annual,” Saturday, August 27