Sometimes the allure of romantic Duluth calls our name. Its rich history as a port and railroad town left behind gorgeous historic mansions and brick-paved streets in old downtown. I can’t imagine a more beautiful Northern setting than summertime in the Zenith City.

My wife and I recently got away to Duluth for a romantic retreat. We opted to stay at a historic mansion that has been transformed into a bed and breakfast. The Cotton Mansion sits on the sunny hill, not far from the water and other attractions, and its Old World charm makes it the perfect home base. Here are five stops on the ultimate Duluth romantic weekend.


Va Benne

After a tour of the historic mansion, we headed off to Va Benne, a super cute Italian bistro along the lakeshore. We were able to sit on the lower-level patio dubbed the grotto and watch some sailboat racing. The views of Superior were stunning, and the aromas of Italian cooking were reminiscent of a beloved restaurant along the Amalfi Coast.

We started with the incredibly fresh bruschetta, which had the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. For our main course, we opted for the salmon with microgreens (which, BTW, one of the chefs had grown) and the bistecca with Gorgonzola sauce over angel-hair pasta. Both were delicious, with the bistecca being our favorite.


PortLand Malt Shoppe

After we finished our meal, our waitress directed us to PortLand Malt Shoppe, an adorable walk-up spot just down the street. Although it specializes in malts, the shop also offers a variety of ice creams and floats. The nostalgia of this sweet spot brings back childhood memories of hot summer days. We decided to take ours to go and walked along the Lake Superior path. With incredible luck, we were able to catch a magnificent five-color sunset that reflected up from the water.

Why is this Duluth original seemingly named after a Washington city? The area it’s nestled in used to be known as Portland, and, at the urging of its frustrated postmaster, the towns conferred and merged. The adorable little building dates back to 1929, when it served as a gas station. After that, it had a stint as a dress shop before ultimately becoming a malt shop in 1989.


The Lakewalk 

A full moon was visible as we sipped our malt and strolled along the lake, counting our lucky stars for the perfect weather. Enjoying the historic ambiance of the North Shore Scenic Railroad is a fabulous perk of the lake walk. Built from 1886 to 1892, this area of the railway was dubbed the Lakefront Line. Those inclined to a little activity can take a ride on the train, grabbing a seat in the dome car for a first-class experience.


Bellisio’s

A glass of bubbles is the best way to end the evening during a romantic getaway. Bellisio’s in Canal Park features more than 500 vinos along with authentic Italian cuisine. We sat on the patio, which is prime for people watching. My wife, who adores Prosecco, was thrilled with the wine selection, and we both enjoyed the espresso raspberry chocolate cake.


The Cotton Mansion

We returned from our adventures to the Cotton Mansion, where we settled in for the evening with a game of chess followed by relaxing by the fireplace, feeling like a king and queen. We stayed in the Terrace Suite, which has a beautiful rooftop balcony.

The mansion was originally built for Joseph Bell Cotton, who served as the attorney for the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railroad, the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mines, and the Oliver Iron Mining Company. His role grew as the railroads consolidated, and he later became John D. Rockefeller’s attorney.

Under new ownership in 1998, the property was restored to a more luxurious and classic state then turned into a historic bed and breakfast. With seven guest rooms boasting hand-carved stone, 15th century marble, two-person whirlpools and gourmet breakfasts, it’s quite the romantic experience.