Category Archives: Tourism Spotlight

11 Ways This Small Town Delivers Excellence: Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Small town getaway is likely to rival road trip as a travel category, like cruising or beach bumming, after a few days in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Happened to me.

 

Here it is easy to relax on the balcony of an historic resort hotel, gazing at the signature lake, but the depth and crystal clarity of waters on this lake tipped me off to expect more.

 

“Dial down with intention,” encourages Lola Roeh, general manager of the exquisite Osthoff Resort, where Four Diamonds are the consistent AAA rating

Add to her advice some of mine: intentionally experience at least a dozen Elkhart Lake wonders. That’s only a start.

 

TravelingMom of Many Maria Smith pinpoints eight fine reasons this spot is one of the best in the Midwest. I’m drilling deeper with 11 suggestions. Plenty more exist.

Remarkable Flavors Encourage Small Town Dining 

Since the village is little, much is walkable. Dining in Elkhart Lake involves a stroll before and after meals. Include time for chats with restaurateurs since they love their village too.

 

Here are a few faves and some reasons why:

 

Lake Street Café

“We take our time and use our patience,” says owner Lynn Shovan. “Everything’s fresh and starts from scratch.” My lobster bisque called for a two-day process; breads are baked daily, stocks stirred from scratch. The 600-plus wine selections earn Wine Spectator attention. Ask for menus; they’re tucked in old books of many subjects.

 

Off The Rail

Choose breakfast and lunch at Off The Rail, often. Pack a rhubarb bar and a granola square to go for the road trip or flight home. Train-themed, intimate and packed with local folks, the mood here is casual art and oh-so-friendly. My baked oatmeal with almonds, craisins and warm milk rocked.

 

Paddock Club

Sisters delight in creating memorable meal experiences in the Paddock Club. I recommend Tuesdays for the always-all-new small plates menu. That’s the way to taste lots of concoctions by Chef Lynn Chisholm, who made pies in the sandbox and cooked them in the birdbath when a little girl. Hope the parsnip and apple agnolotti is on your menu. Stroll the intimate two-room restaurant between courses because the art and bricks and seating spaces are handsome.

Wisconsin small town getaway travel means high tea excellence too.

High tea at the Jay Lee Inn is one of many Elkhart Lake culinary delights. Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts

Turmeric/ginger tea indicates the distinctive nature of this seven-bedroom 1902 Victorian Federal home, also an inn. Proprietor Monica Lettow even holds sewing retreats here and she’ll invite guests to love her dogs as much as she clearly does. Multiple courses arrive with high tea, and charming furnishings distinguish each room. Check out the quilts.

 

Lola’s on the Lake

Everything about the Osthoff Resort is wonderful, so of course the meals are too. Walk out the front door toward the gardens, likely to see the chef selecting the day’s ingredients. “We drill down to the best and most unusual varieties,” says General Manager Lola Roeh. “Investing in the value of food for our guests is of great importance.”

 

Lola’s overlooks the lake. My evening included a bit of cilantro and lime in the buerre blanc, memorable corn relish and Norwegian salmon wrapped in cedar. Otto’s Restaurant is named for the 1886 founder, Mr. Osthoff himself, and the Elk Room provides soft sofas-and-chairs seating areas, opening to a balcony overlooking the grounds and the lake.

 

TravelingMom Tip: Forget the usual advice to eat in your accommodations at least one meal to save money. Elkhart Lake restaurants should be experienced, even for breakfast.

 

Stroll An Ice Age Trail

Wooly mammoth and dinosaurs joined me on a hike near Elkhart Lake—at least in my mind’s eye. Why not, since this is an official Ice Age Trail?

 

Nicely groomed, clearly marked with colorful blazes (yellow denotes Ice Age Trail) and loaded with geological traits unusual to me, this trail offers options of mile hikes, or longer. The map at the trailhead is clear.

I encountered eskers and kames, drumlins and moraines, and of course kettles since the formal name is Kettle Moraine State Forest, northern unit. New words, and experiences, each one.

 

Moraine means where the glacier stops, and that’s a jumbly ridge of hills.

 

Wisconsin small town getaway features stretch of larger Ice Age Trail.

Hiking an official Ice Age Trail in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin evokes thoughts of wooly mammoth and dinosaurs – with good reason. Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts.

Glaciers advancing and retreating created these formations, and scientists explaining what happened speak knowingly in terms of 10,000 years ago when the last glacier touched northwest Wisconsin. They also acknowledge two million years past.

 

National Park Service rangers can point out puzzle plants and horsetail along this Ice Age Trail, growing since the time of dinosaurs they say.

 

Kind of important connection to know kettles hold water, like pots, since Wisconsin has at least 15,000 named lakes.

 

 

Racing Cars Matter in Elkhart Lake. Here’s Why

Road America pumps energy into Elkhart Lake, and that’s true for savvy car racers and don’t-know-much visitors like me.

 

TravelingMom Tip: Choose something out of the long list of experiences at Road America, and do it! Participate and know you’re immersing in history plus cutting edge motorsports.

 

Recognize the four-mile, 14-turn track at Road America as one of the world’s fastest permanent road racing circuits. Claim a bleacher seat, park your camper or spread a. blanket on a grassy knoll to watch.

 

If there’s no race, climb in a vehicle yourself. Ten off-road vehicles bounce and jounce and feel like they might topple over (but don’t) on 12 miles of astonishing terrain. Remember the ice age kettles and moraines? They’re here too.

 

Geo-cashing, go-karting, motorcycle skills safety classes and driving schools are some of the choices within these 640-acres of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine. Hike the Ice Age Trail first to appreciate Road America’s land even more.

 

Wisconsin small town getaway includes motorsports historic and modern.

Connect historic road racing to modern motorsports in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts.

1950s Auto Races Drew International Cheers Too

While Road America attracts worldwide attention today with the latest in motorsports, the twisty-turny village roads of Elkhart Lake did too in the early 1950s.

 

Open road racing featured sharp corners and fast turns up to an astonishing 65 miles per hour. 100,000 people watched the three races with 238 cars in 1952—big growth from the 1950 races with 33 cars and 5,000 spectators.

 

Historic Race Circuit signs mark some of those turns, interesting to find close to three fine resorts. The circuit ended after only three years, and Road America opened in 1955, evolving ever since.

 

Resorts Provide Easy Access To Lakes, Dining, Shopping

Spend some time on the Elkhart Lake website determining your choice of lodging. Three resorts in walking distance of each other and the village downtown offer individual charms.

 

Wisconsin small town getaway ties fun art to lengthy history.

Siebkens Resort abounds with art evoking the racing circuits, and plenty of creature comforts in the condo suites. Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts

 

Midwest TravelingMom Andrea Guthman shares her observations, calling Elkhart Lake a midwest classic.

 

TravelingMom Tip: No matter where you stay, stroll into the other nearby resorts to experience their history and personalities.

Get Away to Nostalgic Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Traveling to the middle of Wisconsin from the Alexandria area seems like a long distance for a lake trip, but a late morning direct flight from Reagan National into Milwaukee and an easy — and scenic — one-hour drive north to the lake had me sitting waterside by 3 p.m.  It was also a lot less stressful than driving to many of the local beaches we are accustomed to in this area.

 

There’s plenty to do in the region, satisfying the wishes of fishing enthusiasts and boaters, car racing fans and those who just want to relax.

 

 

Racing

From 1950-1952, the streets of Elkhart Lake were transformed into a unique open road raceway, with thousands of cheering fans lining the roads, complete with hay bales and wooden fences for safety. After the realization that this might not be the safest activity for the 100,000 spectators, the race circuit was closed. However, you can still tour the path these Jaguars and Cunninghams raced upon, with many historic markers designating the famous turns taken by drivers such as the great Phil Hill.

 

Despite the safety concerns, the area had fallen in love with the racing.  The lay of the land naturally lent itself to spirited racing with its hills and curves.  So, in 1955, 525 acres of farmland became the home for Road America, a 4 mile, 14-turn racecourse.

 

Today 800,000 visitors a year come to the track, three miles from Elkhart Lake, for the over 400 events hosted there including nine major race weekends with SCCA, INDYCAR, and NASCAR racing.

 

For those of us not quite up to INDYCAR racing shape, the track also hosts driving classes, go kart racing, as well as an offroad ATV course.

 

To entertain those that just aren’t into the racing at all, the track offers an 18-hole disc golf course, geocaching, and a 1,200-foot zipline.

 

While there, I was lucky enough to see a Porsche club gathering to run the track for the weekend, as well as a Mercedes and Lamborghini doing track testing…leading me to reevaluate my own personal hobbies and financial status!

 

 

Lodging

For a village of just over 900 permanent residents, Elkhart Lake has no shortage of fantastic accomodations for its temporary visitors.  Since the late 1800s, thousands have poured into town for summer vacations, with many families staying the entire summer while the father returned to Chicago or Milwaukee during the week to work. While that type of family trip and dynamic might have changed, the availability of quality resorts has not.

 

The Osthoff Resort –  www.osthoff.com  Voted #3 among the best resort hotels in Travel and Leisure’s 2017 World’s Best awards, this AAA four diamond waterfront resort with 245 large suites has a lot going for it. Each suite has a fireplace and private balcony, as well as a kitchen or kitchenette. Two lakeside restaurants, a top notch spa, cooking school, multiple pools, watersports and live music at the Lake Deck round out the offerings.

 

Siebkens Resort – www.siebkens.com   This early 1900s resort is updated with modern conveniences including the new Lakeview Condominium Hotel building with one, two or three-bedroom deluxe hotel rooms with private balconies and a private sandy beach. Two dining options include the Stop-Inn Tavern, known as one of the best bars on the racing circuit, and the main dining room (serving their famous Siebkens sandwich. The seriously delicious rye bread shouldn’t be missed!).

 

Victorian Village Resort – www.vicvill.com  For more than a century, this resort has welcomed guests to it’s Grand Victorian Lady accommodations as well as its Lakeside Suites. Six-hundred feet of sandy beachfront is available for play and relaxation, as well as indoor and outdoor pools, lakeside dining at the Back Porch Bistro and a century-old theater featuring productions year round.  Personally, the lakefront Tiki Bar gets my vote for top hangout spot!

 

Beers and beverages

Ordering an Old Fashioned in most any Alexandria area bar will get you the same result, a few ounces of Bourbon or Rye whiskey, sugar, a few dashes of Angostura bitters, two cherries and a little bit of water with an orange twist. Sure, there are variations to be found such as pineapple syrup, or candied pecan syrup (looking at you Magnolia’s on King)  but for the most part, its a standard order. Wisconsin threw me by offering up Brandy variations on this at most every establishment I visited.  One theory is that the largely German population prefered Brandy to Whiskey, and thus the sweet vs. sour debate was born. This being the unofficial state cocktail it seems, most Elkhart Lake bars have premixed simple syrup, muddle the fruit with that syrup, add Brandy, a bit of 7-Up, and have garnishes such as an olive or even a mushroom!  Not one to pass up local culture, I gave it a whirl and despite my Germanic heritage….I think I’ll stick to the Bourbon.

 

Another Village gem is the craft beer being brewed at Switchgear Brewing Company – https://www.switchgearbrewing.com/.  Located in downtown Elkhart Lake, it’s the perfect spot to grab a beer before or after dinner or a day on the lake.  After speaking with brewer Nick Kullmann, it’s clear he has a serious love for the beer and what he’s doing. He also showed a mastery of the science behind brewing, and the engineering that went into their surprisingly high-tech system! The taproom has a great vintage feel with a nod to the history of Elkhart Lake. The Bloody IPA (IIPA, ABV 10.5%) was a favorite!

 

 

Dining

Lake Street Cafe – http://www.lakestreetcafe.com/   A split-personality bistro, the cafe features a hopping bar area serving lunch and dinner, and a white linen and candles sophisticated side with the third-largest wine list in the state. Try the Tenderloin Shiraz with garlic herb boursin cheese, shiraz wine sauce and fingerling potatoes.

 

Paddock Club – http://www.paddockclubelkhartlake.com/  This beautiful brick building is located downtown, and features great cocktails, hanger steaks and a small-plate menu that changes weekly. The vegetables were cooked so well, I forgot I don’t like vegetables. Loved the Korean cauliflower, charred with gochujang sauce, avocado crema, crispy shallots, cilantro.

 

Lola’s on the Lake Restaurant at The Osthoff Resort – https://www.lolasonthelake.com/   A casual but fine dining restaurant is located on the waterfront with a great view of the lake.  A new summer menu has an amazing lobster bisque, delicious seared sea scallops and a spiced rubbed ribeye. My favorite though was the thick-cut Nueske slab bacon with fried potatoes, pickled jalapeno, creme fraiche, Hooks 7 year cheddar, quail egg and a dried cherry sauce!

 

Back Porch Bistro at Victorian Village Resort – http://www.vicvill.com/   This place had me at Pork Wienerschnitzel with creamed spinach spaetzle. Mix in a great view of the lake and it’s all over. Upscale casual with comfort foods, craft cocktails and local beers.

 

 

Other things to do

Aspira Spa – https://www.aspiraspa.com/  Located at the Osthoff Resort, this world-class spa has all the services needed to recover from kayaking on the lake, or to relax and enjoy some quiet away from the racetrack. Check out the SpaSuites™ featuring a fireplace, whirlpool and shower.

 

Throttlestop Car and Cycle Concierge – https://throttlestop.com/   Auto showroom/motorcycle museum/detailing facility…. I think I’m still grinning from the cars and bikes on display here, from an original Shelby GT350, to a $300k Lamborghini, this place has something for everyone.

 

Guided fishing – http://www.jaysguideservice.com/   With 40 years of fishing, Elkhart Lake and 20 years as a guide, Jay went over and above to get us on the fish, with a first-timer leading the boat in catches.

 

Henning’s Cheese – http://www.henningscheese.com/   Because come on, it’s Wisconsin! And this fourth-generation cheese maker has amazing products, and there is nothing like getting your curds fresh and squeaky.  The Hatch Pepper cheddar is a winner!

 

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Vegan Finds in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

The tiny Midwestern town of Elkhart Lake has a population of only 965, yet is remarkably vegan-friendly. I spent a few days in this tiny resort town an hour north of Milwaukee, and fell in love with the lake and the town’s pretty Victorian buildings.

 

Elkhart Lake kayaking
Cruising around in kayaks on Elkhart Lake. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Ostoff Resort

The Osthoff Resort was my home base during my late summer stay. It originally opened in 1886 and remained a popular resort hotel until the 1950s. Then the property operated as a performing arts-themed summer camp for 30 years. In 1995, it reverted to its roots. After a major facelift, it reopened for business as a Victorianish, all-suite hotel.

The Osthoff has two restaurant – Otto’s, its casual place, and Lola’s on the Lake, a fine dining restaurant. My first night in town, I ate at Otto’s. Being far from my gourmet home of Portland, Oregon, I braced myself for iceberg lettuce. But no. Otto’s delivered a glorious salad full of fresh and healthy greens. I later learned that much of the Osthoff’s produce is grown in its own garden.

Elkhart Lake Otto's
Gorgeous greens at Otto’s. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

One morning, I joined a small tour of the Osthoff organic gardens, guided by Lola Roeh, the resort’s general manager. She explained how back in 2009, she started worrying about feeding her guests GMOs and other possibly icky substances. “We knew we could control this food for our guests,” she said, showing us the original patch of ground.

They started with 2,000 square feet of herbs, rhubarb, tomatoes and peppers. Soon they added 300 asparagus plants, then chamomile and lavender to use in their delightful Aspira Spa. The garden grew and grew, until now there are small satellite gardens near the restaurants, herbs outside the resort’s cooking school, and even rows of spearmint outside the bar for mojitos.

Mark Roehrig, the grounds manager, is philosophical about organic gardening. Since you can’t fight nature unarmed, it involves a lot of acceptance. He remembers one sad morning: “Our four-legged friends came in and nibbled everything down. We came back in after a weekend and all that was left were stalks.” Still, plenty of food survives. Their most recent garlic harvest yielded 100 pounds. Last fall they reaped 3,000 pounds of butternut squash.

Elkhart Lake Osthoff organic garden
Radishes, fresh from the ground. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

I benefited from this bounty my last night in Elkhart Lake, at Lola on the Lake’s farm dinner. The tablescape was so lush with greenery, I expected a squirrel to pop out. We feasted on intricate creations. I sat with the one other vegan at the dinner, and we marveled at the ingenuity of each dish, especially a salad topped with frozen tomato granita.

Elkhart Lake Osthoff
Awesome tablescape at Lola’s on the Lake. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Other Places for Vegan Meals

With its own organic garden, the Osthoff was impressive. But everywhere I went, I found something vegan to eat, and often something pretty good. A few highlights:

The Victorian Village’s Back Porch Bistro made me an excellent Portobello sandwich with the best sautéed spinach I’ve had in a long while. They’re also a good spot for beach recreation. On their private beach, I rented a stand up paddle board, and had a lovely afternoon paddling around the lake.

The Stop-Inn Tavern at Siebkens Resort offers a couple of hearty vegan appetizers. I got the hummus and vegetable plate and some decadently puffy homemade tortilla chips and guacamole.

Elkhart Lake Stop Inn Tavern
Appetizers at the Stop-Inn. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

The Paddock Club is a super happening restaurant on Elkhart’s main strip. It packs in customers for Tuesday’s small plates night. Three or four of the plates were easily converted to vegan, including a veggie coconut curry.

The Quit Qui Oc Golf Club restaurant gamely made me a Portobello quesadilla without cheese. And Off the Rail, a darling train-themed café, brewed a fine soy cappuccino.

Off the Rail Elkhart lake
Off the Rail makes a good soy cappuccino. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Elkhart Lake is a sweet place to do all sorts of lake activities – kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, swimming, or cruising around on a pontoon boat. And there’s plenty of good vegan food to keep you going.

 

Read the full article on Chic Vegan.

Empty Nest Travel: Elkhart Lake's Vintage Charm

Empty Nest Travel: Elkhart Lake’s Vintage Charm

Whether you’re empty nesters celebrating your newfound freedom or someone just looking for a great destination where you can plug and while away the afternoons together, I may have found the Holy Grail in an Elkhart Lake vacation. As we drove past vast, wide open spaces on the one hour drive from Milwaukee airport, I could literally feel my shoulders drop and my breaths lengthen. Within minutes of arriving on the lakefront, I knew this place was going to be special.

 

Eklhart Lake vacation offers peace and tranquility

 

As I stood at the water’s edge taking in the scattered lakefront homes and stillness of the environment, I felt like I had just stepped onto the set of Dirty Dancing, the old school family summer vacation destination. I knew my Elkhart Lake vacation was going to be memorable. There was nothing but silence, save for the lone fisherman in his canoe and a paddleboarder exploring a nearby cove. I mean, where can you go these days where and find such solitude? The lake has only 970 full-time residents so it’s not unusual to find yourself alone on the waterfront, especially during off-peak seasons.

 

Paddleboard is part of an Elkhart Lake vacation

 

First, let me tell you a little bit about the history of Elkhart Lake. The Native Americans who first settled in the region, and named the lake for its shape resembling an elk, believed that the water had curative powers. German entrepreneur Otto Osthoff and his wife, Paulina, moved to the lake for its healing powers and in 1886, opened the Osthoff Resort where for decades, it survived as a gambling haven and a Prohibition-era hideaway for gangsters. Don’t you just love places that have such history?! In the 1950s, the resort changed hands and became a theatre arts camp for children of wealthy Midwest families, where its arts influence is still prevalent today. In fact, a few of the business owners I met along the way attended the theater arts camp as children and have such an affinity to Elkhart Lake, that they returned and built businesses. Many of the resort’s summer vacationers are also adults who spent time at the camp as children.

 

The Osthoff Resort, despite its luxury amenities and AAA Four Diamond status, really felt more like a cozy retreat and proved to be the perfect place to leave my cell phone behind as I headed out to explore the lake.

 

Elkhart Lake vacation: Empty nesting on the lake

Spa – The Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort offers treatments that are reflective of the history of the area, many incorporating Native American practices and ingredients. They’re all designed to encourage living in the present moment and heighten your spirituality. There’s a Yin Yang massage, chakra balancing massage, and the one I opted for, the “Mind, Body & Spirit Alignment”. It’s described as a “mix of intuitive massage, Reiki, reflexology and craniosacral techniques that balance the body’s energy centers.” It was simply amazing! And there’s a beautiful meditation space in the center of the spa where you and your spouse and contemplate your empty nest time together.

 

the whirlpool at the spa at Elkhart Lake

 

Golf – I started playing golf about 20 years before my husband took up the sport, but I quit playing when the bambinos came along because what Mom can take off five hours to play golf? So one of our goals as empty nesters is to start playing golf together, something we’ve only done a handful of times in our 28 years of marriage. Fortunately, Elkhart Lake has a great golf course for duffers and pros alike.  Quit Qui Oc is a 27 hole course run by Todd and Rachel Montaba. The course had been in Rachel’s family for decades and the couple has turned it into a beautiful place to spend the day. And they’re both golf pros who offer instruction for those of use feeling a bit rusty.

 

Wine tasting – If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that wine is a central part of my life and travels. And even this tiny hamlet in rural Wisconsin can not escape my need for a wine adventure. Vintage is owned and run by Jaclyn Stuart, a sommelier who caters to the locals and vacationers with a selection of 250+ handpicked wines from around the world. If you’re in need of a gourmet gift, this is the place with a selection of Wisconsin cheeses, gourmet chocolates, olive oils and vinegars bottled in-house, and other artisanal trinkets.

 

Vintage wine shop wall of wine

 

Cooking is such a great couple’s activity so spend a day at the Osthoff Resort culinary school L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School. Under the direction of the resort’s Chef Benjamin Sommerfeldt, you can prepare an elegant multi-course meal together and learn a few new culinary skills along the way. Many of the ingredients come straight from the resort’s garden so be sure to take a little side tour.

 

the cooking school at Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake

 

A special note: If you’re in Elkhart Lake during the holidays, there’s a European-style Christmas market at the Osthoff. When we lived in Milan, one of my favorite winter excursions was driving up to the Christkindlesmarkts in Germany. If you can’t get to Germany, this is as close as you’ll get!

 

Read the full article on Mom Uncorcked.

Old-fashioned resorts in Elkhart Lake are only part of Wisconsin vacation spot’s charms

Elkhart Lake, Wis., is an old-fashioned resort town, in the best sense of the term. You’ll find no Hyatt, Radisson or Hilton hotels here, no chutes-and-ladders style waterparks and no neon-signed chain restaurants. Instead, it’s a locally owned and operated place, full of small shops and attractions, chef-owned restaurants and a unique and genuinely interesting history.

 

A group of immigrant German hoteliers first came to Elkhart Lake 150 years ago and built the nucleus of resorts from which this traditional holiday spot grew. Of the six or so large hotels that once existed, three still stand, and they are more than holding their own.

 

The locals are always happy to talk about the colorful history of the place. The area has had ups and downs, traveling a corkscrew path to get where it is today. Elkhart Lake has been a sacred Native American gathering spot, a gangster hideout, a gambling town, a motor racing mecca and, through it all, a (mostly) quiet place where people go to hangout by the lake. Visitors today might find it a bit Brainerd-like, a bit like the Catskills of the 1940s, and maybe, if you narrow your eyes and squint, even a little bit like Monte Carlo. But mostly, Elkhart Lake is a destination unique onto itself.

 

THE LAKE OF ELKHART LAKE

By Minnesota standards, Elkhart Lake itself is not big. It’s only about a third of the size of White Bear Lake, although with a maximum depth of 120 feet, it is the fourth deepest lake in Wisconsin. The lake is entirely spring fed, so coupled with the fact there is no other water inlet, the water is extremely clear. Geologists call it a “kettle lake,” so named because of its bowl shape, which was formed during the Ice Age by the scouring action of stadium-sized chunks of glacial ice.

In the early 19th century, the Native Americans who lived here revered the lake, calling it the “Lake of Thunder” because in cold months the flowing springs underneath caused the winter ice on the lake to crack with tremendous booming sounds.

 

Moreover, the Potawatomi Indians who lived nearby believed the lake had miraculous healing powers, and it was this claim that attracted the notice of the German-born hoteliers who ultimately built the area’s resorts.

 

Among the first to come was Otto Osthoff and his family, who built a large resort here in 1880. The story goes that the curative powers of the lake restored the once sickly Mrs. Osthoff to robust health. Along with the Osthoffs came the Siebken and Schwartz families, all of whom built large all-inclusive or “American Plan” hotels. All catered to a mostly well-to-do Chicago and Milwaukee clientele who took the train to Elkhart Lake and spent weeks each summer relaxing here. The Osthoff, Siebken and Schwartz (now called the Victorian Village Hotel) resorts still remain with much of the grandeur (and in some cases, more) of the golden age of resort tourism.

 

That isn’t to say that things have always been smooth sailing. All of the resorts have weathered tough financial times, fires and changes in the way people take vacations. Over time, resorts like the Osthoff have found their niche, offering luxurious yet unpretentious service, four diamond accommodations, fine food and outstanding service. Visitors come not just from the Midwest, but from all over the world to take in the attractions of the area.

 

KETTLE MORAINE

The natural assets of Elkhart Lake, from the lake itself to the gentle, rolling hills that made it the perfect place for the road races for which the area is well known, are due to the glaciers that covered this region about 10,000 years ago. That piece of geologic history is best understood by hiking through the Kettle Moraine, which is conserved in a vast tract of forest just north of Elkhart Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

 

The forest contains a prime, 30-mile portion of the much longer Ice Age Trail, which winds for 1,000 miles through most of Wisconsin. The trail more or less follows the topology of the terminal moraine built up by the receding glacier from the last Ice Age.

 

In her career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, park ranger Jackie Scharfenberg has led countless visitors through the area she loves to hike.

 

“Over 600,000 people a year visit the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine,” Scharfenberg told me as we hiked through a U-shaped glacial valley. “Our visitors can do so many things. They hike, they ride horses, ski and snowmobile. With that volume of people, our main focus here is recreation. We manage all the human beings in the forest.”

 

The rangers manage this splendidly scenic area well, especially in fall when the trails are uncrowded, the bugs are few and the colors of the maple-oak-hickory forest are bright and beautiful. Once you know what to look for, you can identify the peculiar glacial landforms of this area: the glacial valleys, snaking eskers and unusual hill-like landforms called kames, drumlins, and swales.

ROAD AMERICA

Just a few miles away from the north entrance of the Kettle Moraine forest is the vast Road America motorsports complex. Unlike the one-mile or so oval tracks familiar to most auto-racing fans, Road America’s track is a mammoth 4.1-mile road course. Full of both left and right turns, inclines, hills and corners (including the infamous “Kink”) it is among the best road tracks in the world, holding its own against other road racing venues such as Watkins Glen in New York and Nurburgring in Germany. In fact, it was at Road America in 1969 that actor Paul Newman first began auto racing.

 

Racing officially began in Elkhart Lake in 1950, when Jim Kimberly, a millionaire sportsman who made his money in the paper industry, began looking for a local place to race his cars. He chartered an airplane, and after a long search, decided the winding, hilly roads surrounding Elkhart Lake were the ideal spot. He floated the idea with local officials and it caught on.

 

From 1950 through 1952, races were held in the streets of the village. The first race in 1950 drew 5,000 spectators. It drew 50,000 the next year, and 100,000 the year after that. As the cars became faster and more powerful, town officials felt that despite the safety barriers and crowd control measures installed, racing on public roads was untenable. But the racing seed was planted, so in 1955 the Road America course was built. Now, drivers, crews and spectators pack the town several weekends each year for NASCAR, Indy Car and vintage car racing events. Even when there’s no racing going on, the track is worth a visit to experience ATV rides, racing schools and even zip lining.

RESORT LIFE

If one tires of hiking or racing, there are specialty shops, small museums and hands-on activities to explore.

 

One of the best is the cooking school called L’ecole de la Maison at the Osthoff Resort.  When you first step into the polished, gleaming kitchen, full of granite counter tops, restaurant-style gas stoves and rows of hanging stainless steel pots and pans, you immediately sense that a genuine culinary experience is in the offing. At L’Ecole de la Maison you don’t sit and watch a chef prepare food for you. Instead, you don an apron, scrub your hands thoroughly and learn to cook in the style of Auguste Escoffier.

 

Chef Benjamin Sommerfeldt, who trained in Europe and has cooked at some of the best restaurants in the Midwest, gets you and your co-chefs fully involved in culinary adventuring. On the day I attended, we made a meal from the best foods Wisconsin has to offer – walleyed pike, garden fresh vegetables, beef tenderloin, and of course, cheese.

 

Similar to being a sous chef in a French restaurant’s kitchen, each student has a job to do and a recipe to follow. One student chef tackled French onion soup with Gruyere and croutons, while another made potato-crusted walleye with a fennel. I prepared a baby spinach salad with pickled mushrooms and Dijon vinaigrette, which involved coaching on how to include crispy lardons cut from a slab of pork belly. The final result of the four-hour experience was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever enjoyed.

 

EVENING RELAXATIONS

There is never a problem finding a place to relax with an adult beverage in any small Wisconsin town, and the opportunities in Elkhart Lake are even better than most.

 

Sure, beer is poured nearly everywhere, but more interesting perhaps is partaking of Wisconsin’s favorite mixed drink, the brandy old-fashioned.  Mixing it correctly involves a technique called “muddling,” which basically entails smashing fruit and sugar in the bottom of a glass with a pestle. Every bartender gets good at this quite quickly.

 

Kicking back and relaxing, either in a local tavern or on the balcony of one’s hotel room, with a brandy old-fashioned in hand, is a wonderful way to end any day in Elkhart Lake.

 

Read the full article on Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Elkhart Lake, Your New Winter Getaway

By Katie Wood – The Cottage Journal

 

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that captures the feel of a quintessential winter wonderland, look no further than Wisconsin’s charming resort town of Elkhart Lake. With amenities for the whole family—from horse-drawn wagon rides and plentiful shopping to exquisite dining and lodging options—it will be hard to leave this cozy respite.

 

Recently ranked in the top five among all Midwest resorts by the readers of
Condé Nast Traveler magazine, the AAA Four Diamond Osthoff Resort sits at the entrance of the quaint community and is the largest of three resorts that share the area. The Osthoff is considered a Wisconsin tourist landmark, and is known for its stunning lakeshore setting, distinctive architecture with lake-view porches, spacious suites, and award-winning Aspira Spa.

 

Foodies will enjoy the L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School within the Osthoff Resort, which provides hands-on training from a classically French-trained chef. Attendees can expect to prepare a wide selection of dishes, from seasonal soups to a traditional French Christmas dinner complete with a Bûche de Noël.

 

Aspira Spa is a beautiful, organically designed spa where whole-body healing is key. An expansive meditation room is designed to awaken your senses through five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. The spa services, which include facials, massage, and hydrotherapy, embrace the healing powers of the area—even the Sacred Waters Massage utilizes warm lake water.

 

During the holiday season, events about town cater to all ages and interests. Whether you’re looking for a breakfast with Santa, Christmas shopping, or a holiday workshop, families are sure to create lasting memories in Elkhart Lake. And for a classic winter treat, grab your coat and don your mittens for a horse-drawn sleigh ride around town while singing traditional holiday tunes. Then, warm up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

 

Plan next year’s holiday trip to Elkhart Lake. Visit the Old World Christmas Market, a tribute to the Christkindlesmarkt of Nuremberg, Germany. For 10 days, local vendors as well as international vendors from as far away as Russia, Germany, and Sweden sell their wares, food, and baubles to the crowds. Eat traditional German fare like bratwurst, sauerbraten, Wiener schnitzel, and latkes while enjoying a German brew. Market favorites include handmade glass-blown ornaments, fur hats, authentic nutcrackers, nesting dolls, and fine chocolate.

 

Winter Getaway to Wisconsin

 

For the ultimate lake resort vacation this winter, head straight to Elkhart Lake – a lively lakeside community for leisure and hospitality, located in the heart of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest.

 

Stay at The Osthoff Resort – This luxurious all-suite historic hotel boasts a four Diamond rating from AAA. The resort is also home to Aspira Spa, L’ecole de la Maison cooking school, Otto’s Restaurant and Lola’s on the Lake, The Osthoff’s signature restaurant where you can also enjoy one of their exquisite garden dinners. Experience a traditional European Christmas Market starting December 1, reminiscent of the centuries-old German Christkindlesmarkt.

 

While the resort offers options aplenty to dine in, take a stroll to one of these neighborhood gems for bountiful local fare:

  • Lake Street Café – Creative bistro style fare with perhaps Elkhart Lake’s largest bar selection, a variety of specialty beers and the state’s third largest wine list.
  • Paddock Club – Located in a fully restored historic building, named after an infamous local gambling spot, combines seasonal ingredients with European culinary tradition.
  • Back Porch Bistro – Once a speakeasy during the Prohibition, now serves a seasonal menu and delicious desserts, by the fireplace or outdoors for views of the lake.

 

Enjoy some of these fun-filled activities with family and friends either at the resort or away:

  • L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School—Experience the Wisconsin Roots cooking class with The Osthoff’s expert chef guiding you through the ropes.
  • Aspira Spa – Meaning infused with spirit, the space is thoughtfully designed, embracing the wisdom of Feng Shui and the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. One of the Midwest’s premier spas, they embrace the healing wisdom of indigenous peoples for a holistic, organic approach.
  • Road America – Situated on 640 grassy acres in rolling, wooded hills, this internationally known motorsports complex has one of the country’s longest road racing circuits (four-mile, 14-turn track).
  • Quit Qui Oc Golf Club – Partake the pleasurable yet competitive 27 holes spread over 250 acres. Amenities include a learning and
 practice facility, and pro shop. 
Also, perfect for your winter snow-
shoeing escapade.

 

Finding Solace at Aspira Spa

It seemed like a perpetual summer, and Elkhart Lake was my liberator. There are some getaways you just know will stay with you forever, and for me getting to experience Elkhart Lake was one of them.

 

I’ll start at the very beginning: Back in the spring I found a lump in my breast. As you can imagine worry set in, but worry took a back seat to the frustration of attempting to find accessible care for women under 40. I can tell you now, that is no easy feat. Someone out there was looking out for me because I did find help, in the form of an organization called Project Renewal . Their mammogram Scan Van was parked right in front of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, a patron saint of poets. The universe was speaking in signs, but this did not ease my worry. An elderly woman in the waiting area noticed my nervousness and held my hand while I waited. She touched my heart. Wherever you are, thank you.

 

Weeks passed, and I underwent more tests and was scheduled for a biopsy. The emotional ups and downs of each day, waiting for results, and attempting to fight negativity had taken a toll on my mental health. The procedure was scheduled, and for reasons, both logical and illogical, I was terrified. When my editor assigned a trip to Aspira Spa at the Ostoff Resort, I was happily surprised—I would be visiting before my procedure.

 

This was exactly what I needed. On my first day, I fell in love with the history of the Osthoff Resort. The year was 1886, and upon the recommendation of a physician, Otto Osthoff brought his wife Paulina to Elkhart Lake. (Sharing my name with the founder’s wife was yet another good sign for me.) In attempts to find respite and healing for his wife, Otto began building the haven that stands today. The romantic sap that I am, I can certainly appreciate that kind of devotion.

 

I walked the halls of the Osthoff Resort, wanting to learn more about the people who’ve visited over the centuries. I soaked up the vintage photos of previous owners and guests. The German entrepreneur certainly knew the specialness of Elkhart Lake. I could feel the history and spiritual energy everywhere, enriched by the people who live here and make it come alive. The energy is felt at the shores and on the waters of the lake—a lake so clear and calm it beckons one to stay just a little bit longer. I kayaked, and for the first time in a long time, I felt tranquil and free. The sun beamed off of the lake and our group glided effortlessly through the friendly waters. Besides getting a healthy dose of exercise and nature, I also got to see the fabulous homes of locals while kayaking.

 

I was drawn to the lake and the boat dock, finding solace in the healing water and cedar trees. I wanted to be around the power of nature, and it might sound silly, but I was hoping for something to speak to me with wisdom and otherworldliness.

 

The peak of my tranquility happened at the lake and at Aspira Spa. I was extremely drawn to the Native American history and influence of Elkhart Lake, and respected that this was once a land belonging to people I could learn from. I was drawn to the lake and the boat dock, finding solace in the healing water and cedar trees. I wanted to be around the power of nature, and it might sound silly, but I was hoping for something to speak to me with wisdom and otherworldliness.

 

My favorite memory, and one I go back to fondly, was watching the sunset at the lake. While my lake experiences relaxed me, I needed spiritual guidance and body rejuvenation. Aspira Spa was there to provide exactly that.

 

The spa is very much in tune with its local traditions and pays homage to the earth. Resources for the spa are gathered by utilizing the sacred water from the lake, cedar from the ancient cedars surrounding the lake, elderberry from local elder trees, and herbs from the spa’s very own garden. Aspira Spa is careful to give thanks back to the land in ceremony.

 

I chose the Elderberry Facial and my esthetician, Rebecca, was perfectly in tune with me. She started me out with a chamomile tea and a foot bath. Whenever a new treatment is added to the spa’s menu its potency and healing roots are top priority. Elderberries are not only indigenous to the area, but a powerful ingredient in skincare—their antioxidant qualities will feed your skin, and gave mine a much-desired glow.

 

During the facial, crystal lights were placed over my chakras. Sometimes during a spa treatment I have a hard time letting go, and I can be too much in my head—but not with this treatment. I felt the crystals working, and I allowed myself to relax. Because Rebecca thought I needed extra healing, she did a bit of reiki on me at the end. She truly had magical hands and seemed to understand exactly what I needed. From beginning to end the treatment provided more than flawless skin, making me let go of worry.

 

Spending time in sanctuary before and after a treatment is a must for me, and I was really impressed with the spa’s meditation room. Not because of the way it looks, although that matters, but how it feels. They have built this room with precision; it was designed using the principles of feng shui, as well as the Native American medicine wheel.

 

Sadly, my time at Elkhart Lake had to end. Each night I relished my time relaxing in my expansive suite that included a kitchen and an inviting living room with a fireplace. I looked out from my balcony onto the resort grounds, taking in every peaceful minute before I had to go back to New York.

 

The Osthoff Resort is the perfect place to visit alone, with your family, or with your sweetheart. There is so much to do and see, and the town’s local businesses work well together without competing. There is a sense that they are all part of one big family. Elkhart Lake has not seen the last of me. My adventures have pushed me to be brave, and I learned to let the little things go.

 

Back in New York, my procedure was less scary than I imagined, and my biopsy came back with welcome news. I consider myself lucky, and I remain thankful.

Six Small Towns That Are the Definition of Charming

Elkhart Lake: Stylish, Relaxed
 
This quaint lakeside village veritably oozes charm. There are white clapboard resorts with porches and cupolas, sandy beaches, tiki bars, and a pretty brick promenade, all positioned to take best advantage of the Mediterranean-like blue waters.
 
According to Kathleen Eickhoff, executive director of Elkhart Lake Tourism, “business owners here are front and center.” In fact, it’s not unusual for guests of The Osthoff Resort, Siebken’s (which turned 100 this year) and Victorian Village to pop in to say hello to the owners upon arrival.
 
Adding to the charm is that nearly everything is walkable. Stroll in one direction and you’ll find yourself at Two Fish Gallery. In the other direction, Gina’s for high-end outdoor apparel and home décor items. And smack dab in the middle is Vintage, a wine store with tasting room. Bikes are a common sight too, with serious pedaling in the Kettle Moraine a major draw. Racing at Road America is the modern iteration of the road racing once staged through the streets of the village.
 
Most Unexpected: Hands down, the culinary scene. Start at Off the Rail for coffee drinks and breakfast goodies, Lake Street Café for lunch, Gesserts for ice cream, Paddock Club or Lola’s for fine dining, and Brown Baer for drinks and live music. The cooking school at the Osthoff is a culinary treat too.
 
See the full article here.