Southern Indiana’s fertile vineyards and historic hotels add to its rural charm

Standing on the shore of Patoka Lake in the southern Indiana foothills, I gaze through a tangle of oak trees at the sparkling blue-grey water, its hue partly influenced by a cloud-dappled azure sky. The lake’s glassy surface, untouched by wind or waves, is as reflective as a mirror and stretches to the opposite shore, where it rises to low hills framed by an uninterrupted canopy of hickory, maple and beech.

Fed by a legion of natural springs and vast at 8,800 hectares, the lake is pristine in every way. With the exception of two marinas, its shores are virtually untouched by any building or development. The lake was not created until 1979, although its limestone and sandstone foundations were laid millions of years ago. Herds of bison once roamed the Patoka River Valley in search of salt licks, but now the land is dominated by white-tailed deer, turkey, and the sly coyote. The sky’s megastars are the magnificent bald eagle and osprey, whose wingspan is measured in feet, not inches.

I spent a few days driving through rural southern Indiana, exploring the lake and countless small towns including Jeffersonville, Borden, French Lick, West Baden Springs, Birdseye, Paoli and Jasper. Why would I end up tinkering aimlessly in Indiana instead of, say, visiting San Francisco or the Serengeti? Mainly curiosity, since it’s one of the few states I hadn’t visited.