Cover image: SundaraSpa.com
Looking to avoid winter doldrums, cabin fever or being cooped up during the seemingly endless stretch of a Midwest winter? Consider escaping closer to home and avoid the hassle of lost luggage, delayed flights and long travel times by venturing to an array of great retreats in your own backyard.
There are incredible properties within a three-hour drive of Chicago that will satisfy families with little tykes as well as those with teenagers or college kids home for the weekend.
Here are four properties that will have you and your crew enjoying quality time and creating new memories despite (or in celebration of) the cold and snow:
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
Just an hour and a half from Chicago, the Grand Geneva evolved from its Playboy Club beginning in 1968 to a family focused, full-service resort just a short drive from downtown Lake Geneva. The Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Prairie-style building is located on 1300 acres of scenic property that also encompasses one- to three-bedroom villas, Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark, a full-service spa and fitness center, Mountain Top ski area, and Dan Patch Stables (not owned by the property).
At the Grand Geneva, guests can pay an extra daily fee for use of the Geneva Club, which functions like a club floor, offering complimentary breakfast, afternoon snacks, and an evening happy hour with complimentary beer, wine and batch cocktails served alongside an array of hors d’oeuvres. It’s a luxury, to be sure, but also an added convenience and a dedicated spot in which to unwind.
Spend your time splashing and soaking in the indoor pool and hot tub, or purchase a day pass to Moose Mountain Falls Water Park at Timber Ridge, featuring six water slides (food court and restaurant on property, as well as an arcade). Grand Geneva’s fitness center has a lap pool for adults, a rock climbing wall (additional fee) and basketball courts that kids may use with adult supervision. Adults can unwind with treatments in WELL Spa + Salon’s 19 treatment rooms, and relax in the steam room, sauna or whirlpool.
A daily calendar is filled with activities ranging from bingo and trivia contests (some adult only) to craft projects and movie nights. There is live music by the lobby lounge Thursday through Saturday, and, in Evolve, the resort nightclub, the DJ plays tunes to keep adults on their feet nightly from 10:00 p.m.
Grab coffee, pastries and ice cream at Grand Central Coffee Shop, serving some of the best croissants this side of Europe. Grand Café, adjacent to the lobby, serves three meals a day in a casual setting with an ample menu. Restaurant Brissago and Geneva Chophouse offer indulgent Italian and steakhouse fare respectively with dinner service several nights a week. For a special treat, reserve 90 minutes in an igloo out on the pool deck and cozy up with a heater, blankets, small plates and tasty cocktails (such as the pecan old fashioned). Kids will love the s’mores board with enough innovative s’mores accouterments to keep everyone satisfied.
Burn off calories downhill or cross country skiing, ice skating or snowshoeing at The Mountain Top, with 20 downhill runs and a sledding area for kids. Purchase lift tickets, lessons and reserve rental equipment online. The resort trolley shuttles guests in between the properties and to all attractions onsite. The Mountain Top offers both a cafeteria and restaurant when skiers are on the slopes, with live music on Tuesday evenings.
For a more sedate but no less thrilling adventure, head over to Dan Patch Stables for weather dependent pony, trail, carriage and sleigh rides. Book in advance. If you’ve exhausted everything onsite, head into downtown Lake Geneva to enjoy an array of restaurants and boutique shops. Popeye’s On Lake Geneva is family friendly, with an extensive menu. Top off a meal there with chocolates and fudge from Kilwins Lake Geneva, a short walk away.
For more information, visit www.grandgeneva.com
The Osthoff Resort
Drive two-and-a-half hours from Chicago, a bit northwest of Sheboygan, to reach the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, with a history dating back to 1886. Entrepreneur Otto Osthoff and his wife Paulina visited the region for its reported curative powers when she was unwell, opening a resort nearby after she recovered so others could benefit from a stay there.
Whether or not the area has healing properties, the 20-acre tranquil lakeside setting, with wooded trails nearby, and minutes from a quaint downtown, will rejuvenate at any time of year. Though the original property is gone (and was briefly a music camp in the 50s and 60s) the current resort opened in 1995, the architecture styled after its Victorian predecessor. There are 240 rooms ranging from single- to three-bedroom units in the main building and the north and south wings on either side. Some are ideal for long weekends away, with two-person whirlpool tubs, gas fireplaces and kitchenettes. Other units feature full kitchens for longer stays.
Though the Osthoff is known for warm weather activities focused on and around 290-acre Elkhart Lake, there is plenty to keep guests occupied in inclement weather. The top-notch Aspira Spa contains 16 treatment rooms covering everything from massages and facials to wraps and hydrotherapy. Their Chromatub is one of only two in the country and the only one open to the public. Guests not getting a treatment can pay the $45 daily fee to use the common spa space – indoor and outdoor whirlpools, relaxation lounges, Meditation Sanctuary and spa café.
A fitness room with Precor and cardio equipment and free weights is adjacent to an arcade/game room and across from an indoor pool and whirlpool. Another indoor whirlpool is on the opposite side of the resort. A fully equipped cooking school with room for cooking and mixology classes will open in late winter/early spring.
Dine on property at Otto’s or The Concourse restaurants, the latter with a full-service bar, hours vary. Buffet brunch at Otto’s is a special treat. The Elk Room is the place to be for live music Friday and Saturday evenings, beside the full service bar and roaring fire. Food is served select hours during the week; gourmet coffee bar is available during the day.
Off property, stroll around the tiny town of Elkhart Lake and grab breakfast or lunch at Off the Rail, located in the original train depot. Pick up wine and unique gifts at Vintage Elkhart Lake, with a Winematic Lounge in which to sample selections on tap. Switchgear Brewing Co. serves up 20 taps of locally brewed beer. Gina’s Gifts & Framing/Elkhart Lake Outfitters has outdoorsy apparel and gifts, cute décor and mugs.
Even in winter you can hike on several nearby trails. The Ice Age National Trail has a three-mile segment close to the property, and Parnell Tower Trail offers a bird’s eye view from the tower on a 3.4-mile loop about 20 minutes by car from the resort. Take a sleigh ride on Bultiz Pumpkin Farm’s 40 acres, or head out for a 2-3 mile dogsled ride with Siberian Outpost (schedule well in advance).
For more information, visit www.osthoff.com
Step into many bathrooms in the U.S. and you’ll encounter tubs, sinks, showers and toilets from Kohler, a global company with more than 50 locations, celebrating 150 years in 2023. Its headquarters are in Kohler, Wisconsin, about a two-hour drive north of Chicago.
Walter Kohler opened the American Club in 1918 as a dormitory for single male workers at the Kohler factory. Workers studied to become U.S. citizens and enjoyed a better quality of life – with amenities including a bowling alley, barbershop and pub onsite, three meals a day, a private room, and laundry service. In 1981 it became the 186-room American Club Resort Hotel; the nearby Carriage House and Kohler Waters Spa, and the Inn at Woodlawn, a short drive away, followed years later. Five independent cabins round out the accommodation options.
The American Club and Carriage House, in the Tudor Revival style, are luxurious, but cozy and comfortable. Guests can dine at one of many restaurants, including dinner in the elegant Immigrant Room (jacket required), lunch or dinner in the casual Horse & Plow, and breakfast and dinner in The Wisconsin Room with evening libations in the Library Bar. The Greenhouse serves coffee, tea and ice cream treats in a serene, sunlit space.
In addition, guests can enjoy lunch and dinner at Taverne at Woodlake before or after browsing the boutique shops, lunch or dinner at Blackwolf Run (Whistling Straits restaurant is closed in the winter), or lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch at River Wildlife with a purchased day pass.
Besides dining in the cabin, built in 1865, there are two hiking trails from River Wildlife, one along the Sheboygan River and one across the 500-acre property. (Other trails begin near Blackwolf Run.) From River Wildlife, you can also (with different purchased passes) fish in the river and go hunting with a guide for pheasant or chukar. A tactical pistol and rifle course rounds out the options for those who want to practice on a dedicated course, or stay indoors and just cozy up by the cabin fire.
Winter Wonderland is another great place to embrace the outdoors. It’s open on weekends through mid March and guests can purchase a $10 pass to come and go throughout the day. A cute barn houses seating, a TV, board games and a drink bar where you can purchase hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream and all the toppings or hot cider. An adjacent building stocks six fat tire bikes, snowshoes, cross country skis, ice skates, and two small scale curling lanes with stones and sweepers. You can try your hand at any of it, first come, first served, or head to the outdoor ice rink to skate or play ice hockey.
When the weather outside has you scurrying indoors, head to the Sport Core for fitness classes, swimming, indoor tennis and weightlifting, Bold Cycle for spin classes (fee) and Yoga on the Lake (fee). Unwind at the Kohler Waters Spa in the Carriage House, with separate hot tub, cold plunge pool, sauna and steam room in the men’s and women’s lounges, an indoor pool with waterfall feature and adjacent relaxation areas, and a fourth floor additional hot tub, fireplace and seating. Guests of the Carriage House have access to the common spa space Monday through Thursday, all others and Carriage House guests Friday through Sunday with a treatment.
Down the street from the Carriage House, visit the 36,000-square-foot Kohler Design Center, which opened in 1985 and features a wide array of toilets, sinks, showers and tubs, a museum depicting the company history and an experiential space of finished bathrooms meant to inspire future bathroom design. Bathroom design services are free on site, but products must be purchased online or through a distributor.
For more information, visit www.destinationkohler.com.
Sundara Inn & Spa
For a decidedly adult getaway – think couples, mother/teenage daughter or families with children ages 16 and up (18 and up for unrestricted access to spa treatments) travel three hours north of Chicago to the Wisconsin Dells, and a property that couldn’t be farther from your image of what the touristy destination entails. Tucked into 80 acres of pine forested land, Sundara is about as removed from local kid-friendly attractions as you can get.
Sundara first opened in 2003 and expanded dramatically in 2018. Book a stay in one of 44 rooms and suites, with construction beginning later this year on two four-bedroom luxury villas. The Woodland Retreat rooms are favorites, with a separate bedroom and living room with a fireplace, and a private outdoor screened in patio with a hot soak whirlpool tub and seating area to enjoy the wooded landscape.
Guests don spa robes and slippers after checking in, wearing them everywhere except the co-ed pools and in the workout facility. The digital disconnect policy – no phones, tablets or computers in public spaces – gives guests permission to go off grid and really unwind. The spa is front and center on property, with 27 treatment rooms for all manner of treatments – body, facial and bath – as well as a salon for nails and a Himalayan Salt Room. All guests can enjoy the Purifying Bath Ritual, a self-guided treatment including a rainfall shower and exfoliating treatment, body mist and steam room, hot soak whirlpool and cold plunge pool.
There are two separate waiting/relaxation areas – one for body treatments and one for facials and nails – and there are indoor and outdoor pools and whirlpools open year round (one saltwater pool closes in the winter), plus the Suvela Silent Room. Separate from the spa, near the Woodland Retreat rooms, the Woodland Reflection Room is a quiet place to enjoy yoga and meditation classes or just stare out the window at passing wildlife. Deer frequent the woods outside for the birdfeeders just beyond the one-way windows.
Nava restaurant and bar serves three a la Carte meals a day, you can order room service from an in-room menu, and there is complimentary transportation to several area restaurants. Guests can also grab a bite at the Cambrian Oasis by the indoor pool and a cocktail at the swim up bar. Pick up some culinary techniques with cooking and mixology classes in the large demonstration kitchen near Nava.
Embrace the winter weather by hiking or snowshoeing (bring your own snowshoes) the trails at Sundara, or drive to nearby Mirror Lake, Devil’s Lake and Rocky Arbor state parks. Downhill ski or snowboard at Cascade and Christmas mountains, or try a thrilling ice climb at Governor Dodge State Park or winter zipline at Chimney Rock Park with Vertical Illusions guide service/outfitters.
For more information, visit www.sundaraspa.com.
A winter weekend getaway needn’t have you rushing for the airport. Spend quality time with loved ones at full-service properties close to home for convenience, relaxation and a whole lot of fun.
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