“They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of Life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming.” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
What’s the antidote for stress?
A lakeside retreat
My journey began in southeastern Michigan as I traveled west to Wisconsin and ultimately Elkhart Lake, about an hour outside of Milwaukee. I didn’t know much about Elkhart Lake when I set out on this Midwestern road trip, however, it has been a draw for many since the late 1800’s and I was eager to discover the allure of this lakeside haven. In fact, long before it became a ‘tourist’ area, Native Americans called it “the chosen spot” and once I arrived I could see why. Beautiful cedar trees stand tall along the shore of this deep spring-fed lake and they believed that the lake had restorative and spiritual powers.
Early Days at the Lake
In the late 1800’s when tourism was just beginning at Elkhart Lake, families would arrive and remain at the lake for the summer season. Routing the tracks through the Village of Elkhart Lake created opportunities for the area and visitors would arrive from Chicago and Milwaukee and men would return to the Lake on the weekends to reconnect with their families. It certainly must have been a nostalgic and romantic time.
However, with more resorts opening in the area, gambling arrived in the 20’s and then raids in the 30’s and 40’s, which ultimately banned gambling in 1945. It wouldn’t take long though for something new to arrive and in the early 50’s open road racing began and it helped bring the community together after the Depression and the war. Sports car drivers traveled to Elkhart Lake for the first race in 1950 (3.35 miles for the first race), then in 1951 it increased to 6.5 miles and the same in ’52. Due to safety concerns, 1952 was the last year for open road racing. One of the best bars on the racing circuit was the Stop-Inn Tavern, located at Siebkens Resort, which happened to be my home for this journey. Paul Newman, Mario Andretti, Al Unser and many others were known to race in the area and visit the Stop-Inn. Since I love driving, especially cross-country, I was delighted to see the memorabilia at the Stop-Inn, which is still a go-to place while at the lake. The area is rich in history with vintage race cars showing up to be seen and admired and signs that remain in the area marking the historic circuit with names like Hard Left.
Although open road racing ended in 1952, it wasn’t long before racing would continue with the opening of Road America in 1955. It started out with 525 acres and has grown to 640 acres. It’s known as ‘America’s National Park of Speed’ and it’s a main draw in the area. Road America offers a natural terrain with grassy rolling hills and a number of motorsport activities, go-karting, geocaching and more. Do you love speed? If you own a sports car or high performance vehicle you can drive your own vehicle on one of the best courses in the country.
There are many private homes and cottages on the lake, however, there are a number of resorts, too. In addition to family owned Siebkens Resort, which is celebrating 100 years this year, the Osthoff Resort also has a storied past.
The Osthoff Resort
The Osthoff overlooks the pristine lake and has 245 suites, a cooking school (L’ecole de la Maison), several restaurants and the relaxing Aspira Spa. For years I wanted to experience Aspira as there was something about the area that intrigued me and much of it had to do with the Native American influence. While this was the main intention of my travels to Elkhart Lake, I soon realized that there was much more to discover in this magical place.
Otto Osthoff, a German entrepreneur, opened the resort in 1886 and it was a respite for many years for travelers seeking luxury and entertainment. It was sold in the 50’s and used as a drama and arts camp before being purchased in 1989 when it was redeveloped as a condo resort.
One of the best experiences during my stay was the cooking class at L’ecole de la Maison. I love to cook and had an opportunity to learn more about French Bistro cooking and add a few more recipes to my repertoire. French cooking always seemed difficult to me, however, the chef and his team created a fun environment and our food was amazing. In addition to the French Bistro class, you can learn more about French Desserts, Pasta and Sauces, Italian Trattoria cooking and more. Our French Bistro course was about 4-hours, however, shorter workshops (2-3 hours) and longer two day courses are offered.
Healing Waters at Aspira Spa
Several years ago I met Lola Roeh, General Manager of the Osthoff Resort, at an International Spa Association (ISPA) Media Event and it was my first introduction to Aspira. I felt an immediate connection to Lola and Aspira Spa and from that point on this spa was on my own bucket list.
Aspira means ‘infused with spirit’ and the spa certainly provided a healing oasis during my journey. The Meditation Sanctuary was one of the most beautiful I’ve experienced and Aspira also offers yoga, guided meditations, movement classes, and private sessions. For my spa service, I experienced ‘Sacred Waters’ as I knew that Native Americans looked at the lake as restorative and sacred and I set my intention to connect with that healing energy. My therapist brought the water from the lake back to the spa, it was heated and placed in deerskin pouches and used throughout my service. I found the service to be deeply relaxing and one that I’d recommend. One other service to mention is the Cedars Massage. Native cedar is an herb used by Native Americans to protect and purify. I’ve always felt a connection to Native American traditions and that is the reason I felt compelled to visit Aspira since its opening nearly 10 years ago.
Food & Wine
Elkhart Lake offers a stellar list of dining options from casual like the Back Porch Bistro at the Victorian Village Resort to fine dining like at Lola’s on the Lake at the Osthoff Resort. These restaurants offer a seasonal menu with locally grown ingredients and two of them, Paddock Club and Lake Street Café, have earned Wine Spectator awards. There’s a camaraderie that is evident as you meet the owners of these establishments and I believe it has helped them grow and thrive over the years. The food at each of the restaurants I dined at would make fellow foodies and wine lovers happy they visited Elkhart Lake.
Travel is about engaging in new activities where we can explore our creativity and maybe even find something new that we’re passionate about. I found Elkhart Lake to be one of those places where you can explore and experience more than you could have imagined. A lakeside retreat every now and then is good for your soul.
Where to Stay
The Osthoff Resort
Victorian Village Resort
Where to Dine
Back Porch Bistro
Lake Street Café
Off the Rail
Lola’s on the Lake
What to Explore
Cooking Class at L’ecole de la Maison
Henschel’s Indian Museum
Pontoon Tour with Captain Tom
Pottery Class at Two Fish Gallery
Where to Shop
Nicola’s Gift Cottage
Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop & Tasting Bar
Meet the owner and certified sommelier, Jaclyn Stuart
More information: www.elkhartlake.com