Travel – Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

By: Suzanne Ferrara

It’s the sort of place that many are not aware exists; Chicagoans call it God’s Country. Once you feast your eyes on the breathtakingly gorgeous terrain and serene natural beauty you completely understand and will make certain of this. The pristine lake formed by glaciers is the draw for visitors who instantly find their cares and worries melt away once they arrive in this wonderland for all seasons.

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is a snapshot of a Normal Rockwell scene. You will feel so at home as the warm people envelop you and make feel like you’ve lived there your entire life. The area offers so much to see and do, and once you visit, like the tens of thousands before; you will want to come back time and time again. It truly is like a home away from home.

The crown jewel of Elkhart is the Osthoff Resort, a AAA Four Diamond, all-suite hotel perched on the bank of Elkhart Lake. The resort, originally built in 1885 has incredible views, as it is surrounded by a lake beach, cedar trees, water features plus a myriad of walking trails. Just a few steps from the resort there is a quaint village market square with unique, locally-owned shops and restaurants housed in buildings dripping with history, some of which have grand, turn-of- the-century wooden bars.

Winding around the resort, through the village and over the hills, are signs marking the historic open road-racing circuits of Elkhart Lake which date back to 1950; and yes, despite the fact that public road racing was banned by the state legislature in 1952, tradition lives on in these parts. Racing continues in Elkhart at Road America, a premier circuit road race course that opened in 1955 and has scores of races from motorcycles, Indy cars, to classic cars. The four-mile rolling track is internationally known, and serves as a favorite among racing professionals and celebrity drives. Got a need for speed yourself? Try out Road America’s racing school.

There is something to be said about taking part in activities while you’re surrounded by all of this natural beauty. Elkhart Lake offers a plethora of things to do on and around the lake. First and foremost, the Osthoff Resort under the management of Lola Roech, here you will find everything you could possibly imagine. Like the resort, Lola, a native, exudes hospitality along with “all” of her employees, which adds to the warmth of the Elkhart Lake experience. You’ll know without a doubt, you are in very capable hands and there’s something very special here.

This 40-acre luxury resort boasts one of the Midwest’s premier spas, Aspira, which is nestled on the shores of the legendary Elkhart Lake. This spa has grand suites with fireplaces, private whirlpools and showers, a breath-taking meditation sanctuary and a yoga studio. Aspira’s architectural and interior design follows the premise of the Feng shui philosophy of balance, peace and harmony, and the spa’s unique holistic approach pays homage to Elkhart Lake’s healing and restorative powers (a belief which dates back to the indigenous peoples.) The glacially-formed, spring-fed lake has attracted many seeking physical healing from various ailments for more than a century. Many still come here to rejuvenate their minds and renew their spirits with the clear turquoise waters of the lake, here they find solace at Aspira.

Their signature massage, Sacred Waters, is derived from the waters of Elkhart Lake which the Native Americans considered sacred and powerful. This warm water treatment is sure to melt away your worries and relax the entire body. Another example of the spa’s use of the area’s natural wonders is the Cedars Massage, a therapy involving fresh cedar, picked daily from the lake shore, which is used over the body and emits a fresh, intoxicating scent. Three of the Osthoff’s massage therapists studied under world renowned physical therapist John Barnes and are trained in the Myofacial Release Approach.

The Elderberry facial is also a must. Dried elderberries and chamomile flowers from the resort grounds are ground right in front of you, thus guaranteeing its freshness. The concoction releases an extraordinary scent and creates an anti-oxidant exfoliation cream of the purest form. There are more than fifty treatments from which to choose at the Aspira Spa, and that does not include hair and makeup services. You will not leave this spa feeling the same way you did when you entered, and you certainly will lose track of time and your sense of place.

Would you like to eat the same savory meals that King Louis XIV and centuries later Napoleon Bonaparte ate at their tables? Well not only can you enjoy the historically traditional cuisine that was served in wealthy French homes for hundreds of years, but you can make it yourself!
The Osthoff has its own cooking school, “L’ecole de la Maison, where resort Chef Scott Baker teaches students how to make traditional tried-and-true French recipes that have been passed on for centuries. And you don’t have to be a serious cook to attend the classes; Baker will make a complete novice feel comfortable making dishes like Mushroom Veloute with Duxelles Crostini. Students can also create the recipes of legendary French Chef Auguste Escoffier, a culinary legend who updated many French cooking methods in the late 1800s.

The cooking school is patterned after a very large traditional French kitchen and has every tool you will ever need to make that perfect dish. Chef Baker even has assistants who organize all the tools and ingredients you will need and best of all they clean up the mess. Baker’s philosophy is to let students do as much as they can on their own, and guests can choose the specific cooking class they wish to attend.

To say these hands-on cooking classes are a fun experience is an understatement; in the end everyone is proud and somewhat surprised by the delectable French dishes they created at the Osthoff. Enjoying the five-course meal or dish you prepared with fellow students and friends at L’ecole de la Maison is the perfect way to end this memorable cooking experience.

If you love outdoor adventure of every kind, Elkhart Lake has some amazing possibilities. The Osthoff offers dozens of activities such as kayaks, pontoon boat tours and biking; while on the water, the natural features of the lake alone are breath-taking and large freshwater fish abound. The resort also has indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, arcade, gift shop and two restaurants. Lola’s on the Lake, the resort’s signature restaurant, serves a variety of dishes sure to impress even the most discerning palate. The resort’s Otto’s Restaurant is casual fare and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. A must-try is: Otto’s mouth-watering Baked Berry Pancake, a delicacy unique to the area.

The Elk Room, a resort favorite has an Old Faithful Inn feel with wooden beams, natural stone and a large fireplace in addition to mesmerizing views of the lake thanks to the floor- to-ceiling windows. There are also several seating areas and a bar which serves hand-crafted cocktails, craft beers and an extensive wine list of fine wines.

The Osthoff Resort is both very romantic and family friendly, and appeals to everyone. The accommodations are spacious and the suites have balconies overlooking the natural splendor of Elkhart Lake. Rooms are meticulously kept with fireplaces and full kitchens which will make you feel right at home. Plus for a unique shopping experience head to the Village Square, which is walking distance from the Osthoff. All of the shops and boutiques here are locally owned and carry special items, many of which you won’t find anywhere else. There are a wide variety of retail businesses including Nordic Accents, Two Fish Gallery and Sculpture Garden to Lieutenant Dave’s Area 51 Vintage Shop. Be sure to stop at the Off the Rail Café, a local favorite which is housed in Elkhart Lake’s original railroad depot.
You don’t have to go to Napa Valley to have an extensive wine-tasting experience and education. The Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop and Tasting Bar is sure to please with over 150 wines hand-selected by owner Jaclyn Stuart, an award-winning certified sommelier; Stuart pairs Wisconsin cheeses and assorted aged Balsamic vinegars, which are sold in her shop, at each wine tasting.

Enjoy more spirits at The Back Porch Bistro at the Victorian Village Resort with picture-perfect views of Elkhart Lake. This place is a local favorite for a nightcap and delectable desserts. You can get great hand-crafted cocktails, including specialty winter libations, like the Holiday Mule, which is actually a refreshing concoction any time of year.

After eating dessert “before” dinner, travel just a few blocks to the Paddock Club restaurant. The Paddock Club is in a beautifully restored historic building where you can watch the bustling activity in the open-style kitchen from a turn-of-the-century bar. Be sure to try one of their homemade pasta dishes for your entrée and then the Panna Cotta, a light, vanilla bean custard for dessert.

The resort itself is practically one-stop shopping for recreation and relaxation. Despite the seemingly endless list of amenities to partake in at the Osthoff, the only thing you’ll eventually desire is… for your visit to never end. You will certainly leave with an extended list of fun and relaxing memories and the
yearning to return.

Elkhart Lake is not only loved; it’s beloved by locals and generations of visitors. Once people discover it, they come back time and time again, many for the rest of their lives. With its Norman Rockwell charm, breath-taking natural wonders, deep history and legendary anecdotes, Elkhart Lake is a destination that offers an experience like no other.

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