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Dream Weekends

Don’t worry about packing or planning. Just clear your calendar, hit the highway, dive in, and relax.

Dream Weekends
Photo by Mary Thull

(page 1 of 7)

Here’s the deal: After a summer spent boating, gardening, grilling, and gorging on sweet corn at the state fair, you need a rest. So here’s our advice: Try a weekend on Lake Pepin or in Grand Marais, a stay at a Wisconsin spa or an urban retreat. Don’t worry about packing or planning. Just clear your calendar, hit the highway, dive in, and relax.

Relaxation, solitude, and special sand treatments await spa goers at a Wisconsin Dells retreat

By Elizabeth Dehn

SPAS ARE MY THING. All that pampering and purification? Sign me up. Give me a massage and a shot of wheat grass, and I’ll show you a new woman.

The Wisconsin Dells, however, are not my thing. Large, loud family resorts and themed indoor water parks with names like Atlantis and Copa Cabana? Not for me. So it was with more than some skepticism that my husband and I set out for the Dells this past spring to check out Sundara Inn & Spa. I had a hard time believing that total relaxation and the Dells could be anything but mutually exclusive. My husband had a hard time believing any place without Wi-Fi was worth the drive.

From the Twin Cities, we followed a series of kitschy billboards along Interstate 94 to the Dells, where a quiet, winding road led us to Sundara. I expected it to be pretty (sundara means “beautiful” in Sanskrit), but as we approached and the scene unfolded before us, the full impact of the place became apparent. Soaring stone structures appeared to have risen up from the earth and nestled into the densely wooded grounds. At the main building, waterfalls made soothing sounds and an infinity-edge pool flowed like a natural river.

Photo by Mary Thull

At check-in, the Sundara staff was extremely attentive. Too attentive. As new guests, we received an exhaustive tour of our room and detailed instructions on everything from how to use the Bose stereo to how to operate the Kohler Tower Shower (a high-tech fixture that sprayed, bathed, and proved endlessly entertaining to my husband). The orientation lasted 20 minutes—too much information, too much time. When would we get to relax?

Thankfully, our room was worth the wait. We spent the night in one of Sundara’s 26 suites. It was surprisingly spacious, uniquely decorated, and designed using feng-shui principles. We appreciated the luxury amenities, including signature bath products and plush robes, but it was the king-size featherbed that set the room apart from standard hotel accommodations. Piled high with enormous down pillows and super-soft linens, the bed was a dream. I might still be lying there if it weren’t for the arrival of my breakfast smoothie.

Every meal at Sundara is an opportunity to experience guilt-free room service. There’s no actual restaurant on site, so food is served in-suite, in a three-story rotunda overlooking the grounds, or poolside, where we requested to eat lunch. The kitchen turns out true spa food: fresh, healthful, and organic. Sundara sources its ingredients from sustainable farms around the country. From a mostly vegetarian menu of salads and small plates we both selected the portobello panini. The toasty sandwich arrived on chewy, nutty bread and was filled with the perfect proportions of mushroom, creamy cheese, and tangy basil-Dijon-mustard drizzle. Even my devoutly carnivorous companion didn’t miss the meat.

Photo by Mary Thull

We spent the afternoon doing what we came to do: spa. Let me start by saying that it’s totally possible (and perfectly acceptable) to enjoy a spa-like experience at Sundara without booking an actual “treatment.” All Sundara guests are welcome to use the spa facilities, including the fitness center, relaxation room, and purifying bath ritual. The latter is a co-ed, self-guided treatment designed to cleanse the skin and clear the mind. I was hooked. We began under a rainfall shower, exfoliating with ancient Cambrian sand excavated from bluffs along the Wisconsin River. All that sloughing and smoothing was invigorating (though my husband wasn’t happy about getting sand in his shorts). We continued detoxifying in a steam room, followed by a second, cooler shower. Finally, to enhance circulation, we alternated between an essential oil-infused whirlpool and icy-cold bath. The whole process is addicting and, contrary to how it might sound, completely foolproof.

After the bath ritual, we were ushered to one of Sundara’s “spa together” rooms for a couple’s massage. Like Sundara’s accommodations, the treatment rooms are both earthy and plush. The spa-together rooms in particular are a retreat unto themselves, with fireplaces, overflowing soaking baths, and windows that bring in natural light. Our massages incorporated aromatherapy, which Sundara creates using different essential oil blends. In the end, though, it didn’t matter which subtle scent we chose: Relax, Detoxify, Energize. By the time our therapists tiptoed out of the room, we were both asleep.

After a refreshing iced ginger tea and a catnap in the Relaxation Lounge, I received my first organic facial. Although the mostly natural treatment consisted of herb- and fruit-based products, they proved as effective in hydrating and evening out my freckled (i.e., sun-damaged) skin as the more “clinical” facials I’ve received. Plus, between cleansing, steaming, and masking, my esthetician treated me to mini-massages. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour. And I can’t think of a better way to do the Dells.

If You Go

Photo by Mary Thull


Sundara is open year-round, and no time of year is particularly crowded. Accommodation and spa treatment rates are typically discounted Monday through Thursday.


Sundara Inn & Spa. In addition to its 26 suites in the main inn, Sundara rents private villas. Tucked away in the woods and a short walk from the main building, they are ideal for anyone seeking more space, privacy, or tranquility. The villas are constructed with renewable materials, like bamboo flooring, and equipped with large living spaces and gourmet kitchens. Several include a personal spa-treatment area, making it possible to never venture out. 920 Canyon Rd., Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, 888-735-8181, www.sundaraspa.com


Play golf. Sundara offers spa and golf packages with the neighboring Wilderness Woods Golf Club. This fall, the club will expand to include a new 18-hole course by Hurdzan/Fry, creators of a number of noteworthy courses around the country. Like Sundara, Wild Rock Golf Club was designed to work in harmony with the environment.

Go hiking. For an abundance of recreational activities, explore one of the nearby state parks. Swim in the spring-fed lake or rock climb at Devil’s Lake State Park; hike along the sandstone bluffs at Rocky Arbor State Park; or kayak at Mirror Lake State Park.

Photo by Mary Thull

Tour a winery. Located 25 miles southeast of the Wisconsin Dells, the Wollersheim Winery produces award-winning wine. Winemaker Philippe Coquard is originally from the Beaujolais region of France, and it shows in the Prairie Fumé 2006. Tours and wine tasting offered daily. 7876 Hwy. 188, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, 800-847-9463, www.wollersheim.com


Del-Bar. Built in 1943, the restaurant’s Prairie School design is the work of Frank Lloyd Wright protégé James Dresser. The eatery’s charm is courtesy of hosts Jeff and Jane Wimmer, a clubby bar that shakes a perfect Lemon Drop martini, sweet sea scallops (though the walleye is legendary), and a perfectly boozy tiramisu. 800 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy., Lake Delton, Wisconsin, 866-888-1861, www.del-bar.com  MM

Elizabeth Dehn is style editor at Minnesota Monthly.

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