If you want to get out and see southeast Minnesota, Dan Butterfass is the man to call.
Butterfass’ Rochester Tour Company, launched five years ago, has a lineup of tours for groups from minivan to motorcoach size. The tours are surprising in their diversity and can be customized to fit a group’s interests and time constraints.
The most popular, the “Old Man River” Mississippi River Valley Tour, is a loop with stops at a lock and dam, the largest family-owned toy store in the country, the National Eagle Center and a creamery in Wisconsin. Those with more time could add a paddleboat cruise or a stop at a cafe on Lake Pepin, where water-skiing was born.
Next in popularity is the Days Gone By Amish Country Tour, where visitors spend time with three to four Amish farmers or craftspeople in one of Minnesota’s largest Amish settlements, 30 minutes from Rochester. New to the tour in 2011 will be lunch at an Amish farmhouse.
And of course those who are interested in the history of Rochester will enjoy Butterfass’ city and countryside tour, which typically begins at the Mayo Clinic’s downtown campus and makes stops at the historic homes of the Mayo brothers, Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie. The tour also goes to Assisi Heights, home to the order of nuns who partnered with Dr. Mayo to open what would become Mayo Clinic. Assisi Heights, modeled after a monastery built in Assisi in the 1200s and high on a hill overlooking the city, “is my favorite place in Rochester,” said Butterfass.
“People associate Rochester with the Mayo Clinic,” said Butterfass, a teacher, writer and amateur historian. “So when they come here they expect to see the Mayo Clinic and learn something of its history and how it operates. We compare and contrast between Mayo Clinic then and now, and talk about how it developed.”
The Rochester city tour can end with lunch and a wine tasting at Salem Glen Winery, one of the new wineries that is making the region “like New York’s Finger Lakes,” said Butterfass.
Winery stops can also be added to the Mississippi River Valley tour, or, groups can opt for a winery tour along the Great River Wine Trail. The burgeoning Minnesota wine country is the result of the University of Minnesota’s success in coming up with grape varieties that will flourish in spite of Minnesota’s tough winters.