Southern Indiana truly begins when you start seeing tobacco, either in the fields or drying in the barn. And Madison, Indiana, is a true charm by the river.

Madison, Indiana: Charm by the river

The flat farmland of Central Indiana gives way to rolling terrain. And finally the roads become steep as you descend into the Ohio River Valley. Each year my wife and I make the two-hour drive from Indianapolis to visit friends in Madison, gaze at the Ohio River, explore the new shops and restaurants that have opened over the past year — and revisit some of our old favorites.

Founded in 1809, Madison flourished with the coming of the steamboat, and the town’s historic buildings rose just a few blocks from the river. Located midway between Louisville and Cincinnati, Madison honors its river heritage with its historic downtown, vintage homes and seasonal festivals that celebrate its history and culture.

Madison’s Downtown

Madison’s Downtown and Hilltop districts have several chain motels, inns and B&Bs, but we like the wilderness setting of the Clifty Inn at nearby Clifty Falls State Park. Its winding roads and trails twist around deep canyons and sheer limestone cliffs, with many places to pull off and take in the scenery and its namesake waterfall near the park’s north entrance. Enjoy the food at the inn’s Falls Restaurant, then find a comfortable chair and take in the expansive Ohio Valley. Be patient and wait for a passing towboat on the river transporting coal, grain, stone or fuel.

Less than 10 minutes from the park entrance, Madison’s downtown begins at the historic Broadway Fountain across from Trinity United Methodist Church. The fountain remains a focal point in Madison. It offers a shady resting place after a day of sightseeing and shopping. The downtown area offers a wide range of clothing and décor shops, restaurants and boutiques.

Free parking is available in lots and on the street in downtown. Also cafes such as the Downtowner, Hinkle’s Hamburgers, Scoops Ice Cream, Cocoa Safari candy store and the Red Roaster coffee shop are conveniently spaced along Main Street to accommodate weary shoppers. Three wineries on the Indiana Wine Trail are in Madison, including Thomas Family Winery. It offers live music on Saturday nights and has a bakery with hearth-baked breads.

Downtown and Hilltop Information

To gather the latest information about the Downtown and Hilltop, we pick up a free copy of the Roundabout. It is a monthly newspaper covering current news and activities across Southeast Indiana and Northern Kentucky. As a matter of fact, the Roundabout is widely available in regional motels, shops and restaurants.

Ten minutes west of Madison, Hanover College is Indiana’s oldest private four-year college and its alumni include actor Woody Harrelson. Above a bend on the river is what Hanover students call The Point, offering the most spectacular view in Indiana. There’s no better place to bid farewell to the Ohio Valley.

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