Story by Arlene Becker
Photos by Adam Ryan Morris
The Creme de la Crème
The premier spas, including a host of nationally celebrated ones.
1. Aspira, Circa 2005 • 20,000 square feet • 22 treatment rooms
Elkhart Lake is considered both magical and sacred by the area’s Native Americans. When Aspira at The Osthoff Resort opened in 2005, it sought to harness these powers through the purity of the design and treatments as well as its focus on water, which earned it a New York Times Magazine 2007 honor as one of the three best water spas in the country.
Aspira, which means “infused with spirit,” embraces feng shui in its earthy, organic design approach. A circular reception room is flanked by two softly lit reading parlors, and a generous-sized co-ed circular whirlpool and fireplace room leads to an outside terrace with chaise lounges, a view of a reflecting pool and Elkhart Lake itself. Fireplaces also appear in most spa rooms, several of which have European-crafted chromatubs for water treatments. Aspira’s piece de resistance, however, is the cavernous, womb-like, tea candle-lit meditation room, which has benched circular seating, a central pool and a water wall.
The crystal clear waters of Elkhart Lake are incorporated into the signature Sacred Waters Massage ($145-$190, 50-80 minutes), in which water pouches are filled and heated, offering warmth and a softness that floats over the skin. In the Cedars Massage ($145-$190, 50-80 minutes), fresh, native cedars are stuffed into what looks like a down comforter, enveloping you with a wonderful blanket-like feeling. The Elderberry Facial ($190, 65 minutes) uses both the dried elderberry fruit and flowers in items as disparate as tea and moisturizer.
In perhaps the most luxurious of options, two private SpaSuites showcase fireplaces, sunken whirlpools, showers, lavatories, a couch and up to three massage tables. Food from the spa’s dining room, which uses several ingredients from the resort’s garden, is also served.
Accommodations from $185
101 Osthoff Ave., Elkhart Lake, 877-772-2070, aspiraspa.com
2. Kohler Waters Spa, Circa 2000 • 25,000 feet • 21 treatment rooms
Reclining on a heavily padded chaise lounge and listening to water cascading into the bathwater-warm, 86-degree Relaxation Pool, or idly floating in its waters, is the height of sybaritic pleasure. And it’s just one aspect of the posh Kohler Waters Spa, with its five-star Forbes rating and its AAA Five Diamond award.
Above the pool, the painted ceiling of birds and clouds in a bucolic setting, along with the mosaic floor, fosters a relaxed mood. This opulence is carried into the dressing rooms and lounge, where the buttercup yellow-and-white decor is cheerful and soothing. Dressing rooms offer cold and warm immersion baths, a dry sauna and a steam room. Kohler fixtures are, of course, everywhere, including multifaceted showerheads that envelop most of your body simultaneously. Kohler even has created an acoustic bathtub with sound therapy built in. Apples, almonds and chocolate-covered raisins are offered as munchies along with teas.
And treatments are wide-ranging. The Ultra Hydration Treatment ($250, 80 minutes) uses mouthwatering ingredients such as mulberry, licorice and bearberry extracts, along with an aloe hydra gel. The newest water experience is the Complete Harmony Treatment ($205, 80 minutes), which begins with an organic facial (the cleanser has a hint of peppermint) along with an algae gel mask, followed by a full-body hydrotherapy vichy shower exfoliation, a soothing bath and a complete body moisturizer. The Highland Fling Signature Treatment ($160, 50 minutes) is another vichy shower treatment. Vichy showers are custom-made by Kohler for the spa, and they can be specially programmed to regulate temperature and sequences.
Kohler is famous for its golf courses, so naturally, the spa offers a Golfer’s Foot Renewal ($92, 50 minutes) and a Golfer’s Massage ($145-$188, 50-80 minutes).
The spa is located below the resort’s Carriage House accommodations. Carriage House guests have full access to the common areas of the spa and can enjoy cocktails and hors d'oeuvres every afternoon.
Services $20-$250 (higher Saturdays)
Accommodations from $172
501 Highland Dr., Kohler, 800-344-2838, americanclubresort.com
3. Evensong, Circa 2006 • 13,500 square feet • 11 treatment rooms
Built in the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style and located in Green Lake, Evensong is part of the Heidel House Resort but set across the road. Surrounded by 40 acres of grass and woods, and adjacent to the Tuscumbia Golf Course, it maintains a pleasant, countrylike atmosphere.
Evensong’s lobby is warm and inviting with a large geometric fireplace. Its lounge is one of the loveliest and largest of any spa, with window walls overlooking the golf course, a fireplace and cushy chairs you can sink into. These floor-to-ceiling window walls and skylights permeate the building, allowing the interiors and exteriors to blend together, bringing nature into this spa.
A spa dining room and food bar are set in a window-walled room with another large fireplace. The women’s locker rooms have a sunken whirlpool and gorgeous, tall showers with Italian tile surrounds and floors.
The spa’s focal point is its 2,000-square-foot labyrinth made of slate-like Italian tiles with river rocks delineating the lines. Floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights, along with tubes of blown Murano glass, enhance the magic of the labyrinth. The object of traversing this maze is that the required concentration will supposedly focus your mind away from your problems.
In 2007, Evensong was featured in Sources + Design Magazine, and Marie Claire called it a great place for a couple’s getaway. That same year, the Evensong tiles won the Ceramic Tiles of Italy design competition.
Spa specialties include a Swedish Massage ($120-$175, 50-80 minutes) with aromatherapy oils placed on the body, and the Green Lake Raw Earth Pedicure ($90, 75 minutes), which uses heated stones to massage the feet.
Accommodations from $109
410 Trillium Cir., Green Lake, 800-444-2812, evensongspa.com
4. AVANI Spa, Circa 1988 • 35,000 square feet • 17 treatment rooms
Avani was originally Fontana Spa, established in 1988 as one of the state's first spas. Located at the Abbey Resort on Lake Geneva, it takes on a new honor as one of Wisconsin’s largest (if not the largest) at a sprawling 35,000 square feet. At no point should you feel crowded.
A huge window-walled room houses potted trees, 64 chaise lounges and a magnificent pool almost the size of a small lake with a water jet and whirlpool. It’s used for aerobics and lap swimming, and is a wonderful place to relax when the weather is inclement. Spa food can be eaten poolside, and many use the area for socialization.
Both men’s and women’s waiting rooms have comfortable chairs, fireplaces and whirlpools.
To feel like a coddled baby, try the Silk Bath and Wrap ($175, 75 minutes). You’re scrubbed, soaked in a warm seawater bath and wrapped in warm linens from neck to toe.
Accommodations from $119
269 Fontana Blvd., Fontana, 800-772-1000, theabbeyresort.com
5. Sundara, Circa 2003 • 16,000 square feet • 16 treatment rooms
Sundara, located in Wisconsin Dells, is the darling of national critics. Spa Magazine deemed it one of the Top 10 Spas in the Midwest. Travel + Leisure wrote (with a spark of standard coastal condescension), “At last, the Midwest has a spa worthy of a stopover,” and National Geographic Traveler called it a “civilized getaway in the hills.”
It’s probably one of the most striking spa buildings with its circular features and massive double-door entrance. In warmer weather, mini waterfalls abound. Some 26 acres of surrounding woods and land complete the picture.
Its most arresting feature is the 60-foot-long outdoor Infinity Edge pool. It's heated and open year-round, and more for lolling about than swimming, with two whirlpools and a bar during the summer.
The spa’s interior, however, didn’t live up to its elegant exterior. Walls are rounded in the feng shui tradition, but areas are a bit confusing to navigate. The spa has a windowless interior room housing a large co-ed whirlpool with showers next to it. All guests get a tiny cap full of Cambrian Sandstone Scrub to rub on and a series of steps to follow: under a shower, into steam, under a shower, a soak in an oil-enhanced pool and then into a cool pool.
The relaxation room has wooden rockers facing the pool but seems rather plain. The women’s locker room is small and, in some areas, tight. The spa's luxury seems to be its pool area, accommodations and the wide selection of treatments, all 11 pages of them.
If you love glitter, the Gemstone Energy Massage ($175, 75 minutes), with crystals and gemstones, may be your cup of tea (which is served at the end). In the Shea Body Butter Indulgence ($225, 90 minutes), you’re oiled and sprinkled with a salt scrub before shea body butter is applied during a massage.
For my Signature Manicure ($60, 50 minutes), I was offered a choice of about 65 colors. The manicurist put hot towels around my neck, massaged my hands and did the usual cuticle treatment.
Accommodations from $169
920 Canyon Rd., Wisconsin Dells, 888-735-8181, sundaraspa.com
6. The O Spa, Circa 1974 • 17,000 square feet • 11 treatment rooms
Located in the lower level of the Olympia Resort & Conference Center in Oconomowoc, The O Spa is Wisconsin's oldest continuously operating spa, first run as a “fat farm” where women came to shed pounds. Two of the spa’s original members, one of whom helped found the spa, are still members today.
The spa’s basic area includes a steam room and sauna, a Eucalyptus Room – which will clear up any stuffed nose – and two sunken Roman baths.
Descriptions of its manicures and pedicures are mouthwatering, with honey-chocolate and peppermint as options (manicure $50, 45 minutes; pedicure $55, 60 minutes). The Peppermint Pedicure was one of the most sensual treatments in feeling and smell I’ve ever had. My feet loved it. Part of the manicure is a paraffin treatment – your hands are dipped into warm melting wax, which coats them, and you feel like you’re wearing silky-soft gloves.
Several packages are available, including Refresh the Spirit ($120), which includes a 30-minute massage, herbal wrap and private bath.
Accommodations from $89
1350 Royale Mile Rd., Oconomowoc, 800-558-9573, olympiaresort.com
The Mini Empire
The Marcus Corp. owns high-end spas in three locations: Milwaukee, Lake Geneva and even Las Vegas.
1. Well Spa Milwaukee, Circa 2007 • 10 treatment rooms
Located on the first floor of Downtown’s Pfister Hotel, Well Spa Milwaukee is more luxurious than its sister in Lake Geneva. It’s the most posh day spa in the Milwaukee area, and it works wonderfully as a destination spa or a stay-at-home retreat. It simply oozes luxury.
The main entrance room is reminiscent of a living room in an upscale home, with elegant couches, chairs, mirrors and lighting. Each of the softly lit and beautifully decorated 10 treatment rooms has its own bathroom, shower and fresh flower arrangement, something the Well Spa refers to as its private suite concept. Never will a guest use a public changing or waiting room. There are also rooms specifically designed for groups and couples.
Amenities include champagne, mimosas (on weekends), fresh-cut fruit and a snack mix. Treatments take a turn for the exotic with The Hammam ($45, 30 minutes), which means “spreader of warmth” in Arabic. This steam shower is intended to cleanse and detoxify the skin, and it’s followed by a mud application. The Remineralizing-Hydrotherapy Bath ($45, 30 minutes) also takes on a detoxifying quality in addition to promoting good circulation and fortifying the skin. Various facials, scrubs and massages, such as You Rock ($115-$155, 60-90 minutes), which uses hot stones and Swedish techniques, also grace the extensive spa menu.
Accommodations from $159
424 E. Wisconsin Ave., 414-277-9207, pfisterwellspa.com
2. Well Spa Lake Geneva, Circa 1995 • 18 treatment rooms
Located on the grounds of Grand Geneva Resort, Well Spa Lake Geneva shares a building with the resort’s fitness center. Guests receive complimentary mimosas and champagne, which certainly helps set the mood for spa treatments. For special occasions, like birthdays or anniversaries, the spa also provides complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries.
Whirlpools, steam and sauna rooms grace the men’s and women’s locker rooms, and Himalayan salt lamps are in the treatment rooms to create an anxiety-free environment.
One of its specialties is the Trio Massage ($99 per person, 50 minutes), which allows three people to be close as they enjoy their massages. Choose any massage for the service. A special experience for those who love nature is the Cabana Massage ($70 add-on to any massage), where either a deep-tissue or a "relax me" massage is done under a cabana by the resort’s man-made lake.
Accommodations from $179
7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva, 800-558-3417, grandgeneva.com
Smaller spas with fewer than 10 treatment rooms can craft a pleasantly quaint yet luxurious experience.
1. Lavender Spa, Circa 2005 • 4 treatment rooms
Part of the Settlement Courtyard Inn in Door County, the Lavender Spa is nestled on 200 country acres across the road from cherry orchards.
The spa is such an integral part of the inn, you actually get a whiff of it while in the lounge next to the check-in desk. Here, your therapist greets you and you select the scent you’d like to add to your treatments.
Lavender Spa is located on two floors of the inn. The main room holds a special Infrared Cedar Sauna ($25, 45 minutes), and there are three treatment rooms on the second floor. The first-floor treatment room is large and beautifully decorated with a fireplace. It was converted from a guest room and has two tables for couple’s massages. Fat candles are lit in the fireplace for a romantic effect.
Accommodations from $109
9126 Highway 42, Fish Creek, 877-398-9308, settlementinn.com
2. Spa Del Sol, Circa 2002 • 6 treatment rooms
Three miles down a country road from downtown Wisconsin Dells is Spa Del Sol at the Chula Vista Resort. Bordering the resort’s River Walk and featuring a cliff overlooking the Wisconsin River, the scenery alone is simply beautiful. Services and treats (champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries) up the ante.
The Aromatherapy Relaxation Wrap ($110, 50 minutes) swaths you in lavender oil-soaked towels, a foil wrap and a heated blanket as a prelude to the massage. During the Signature Hydration Wrap ($110, 50 minutes), aloe and honey are painted onto your body, which is then enveloped in foil and heated blankets for a comforting cocoon.
Even during colder months, the 35-person outdoor whirlpool, with its heated floors and two-story fireplace, remains an attraction.
Accommodations at Chula Vista from $119
2501 N. River Rd., Wisconsin Dells, 800-388-4782, dellsspa.com
3. Reflections Spa, Circa 2004 • 7 treatment rooms
Undergoing a complete overhaul, Sheboygan’s Blue Harbor Resort is positioning itself as much more than a water park, boasting stunning views from its lakeside patio and a luxurious midsized spa.
Home to several treatment options, Reflections Spa has a knack for packages, such as A Night of Tranquility ($124-$154), which caters to groups of four or five with massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. A fruit and cheese tray is served with wine. Of course, peaceful solo options are aplenty. The Relax Package ($175, 120 minutes) combines a signature massage and a one-hour facial, while the Rejuvenate Package ($300, 4.5 hours) provides the ultimate retreat – a one-hour massage, a one-hour facial, a manicure, a pedicure and a makeup application.
Accommodations from $109.99
725 Blue Harbor Dr., Sheboygan, 866-701-2583, blueharborresort.com
These spas are all over the Milwaukee area, perfect for a spur-of-the-moment yet indulgent pick-me-up.
1. East Town Spa, Circa 1997 • 4 treatment rooms
Once the home of Wisconsin Gov. Francis McGovern, this 1874 Italianate pink brick building houses the charming and eclectic East Town Spa. Full of architectural gems, each treatment room is different in this lower-level space. One is in a former wine cellar with exposed 137-year-old bricks. Another large room has impressively long windows framed by Victorian drapes and lace curtains. Massage rooms are decorated with artwork and charming bric-a-brac. Massage tables are covered with patterned quilts. A European bidet is a fixture in the interesting bathroom.
Combining touch therapy with “high-tech plant technology,” the Green Science Skin Renewing Treatment ($65-$120, 30-90 minutes) is one of the spa’s more original offerings. Adding balance to the skin, the Elemental Nature Facial ($55-$70, 30-60 minutes) focuses on personalization with products, oil aromas and techniques.
718 E. Wells St., 414-271-4247, easttownspa.com
2. Actaea Works, Circa 1998, 2007 at present location • 7 treatment rooms
From its previous unimpressive Shorewood location, Actaea has moved across town and evolved into a small and elegant spa. An 1890s Bay View house has been cleverly updated into a contemporary space. Two very 21st-century additions blend seamlessly with the integrity of the original home, the delightful centerpiece of the salon and spa. In 2008, the building won a Mayor’s Design Award.
The original front – featuring a narrow, winding staircase with its carved and rounded newel post, a rear servant’s staircase, wide plank floors, a pocket door and windows – is still intact. The former parlor of the house is part of the salon, and the dining room is now a comfortable relaxation room and lounge. Four treatment rooms are former bedrooms on the second floor, and for the courtesy of clients who can’t make it upstairs, there’s a main-floor treatment room as well.
Two special treatments include the Bamboo Works Massage ($100-$135, 60-90 minutes), with bamboo sticks of varying sizes heated and rolled over the body, and the Shellac Manicure ($50, 60 minutes), which is guaranteed to last 10-14 days.
Services $18-$200 and up
2173 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-744-0400, actaea.com
3. Erik of Norway, Circa 2001 • 5 treatment rooms
Like Goldilocks, I found the lighting at Erik of Norway’s small but charming spa to be just right. The lounge is not too bright and not too dark. Faux backlit windows framed by long drapes give the lounge a soft glow. And modern, curved-to-the-body, wrought-iron chairs are upholstered in a tapestry fabric.
The spa’s walls are, artistically, almost frieze-like with heavy plaster textures in a swirling blend of blue, gray and brown. Actual leaves were used like fossils to leave their imprints.
The dressing room, however, is small and co-ed with only a curtain to offer privacy. Apparently, only one person at a time uses it. The robes are a soft, velvety fabric on the outside and terry cloth inside.
This is an Aveda spa, so the Aveda complimentary presoak foot bath and tea are both offered in the lounge. Try the Rosemary Mint Awakening Body Wrap ($90, 45 minutes), in which aromatic oils are rubbed all over you before you're fully wrapped in foil and covered to keep the oils and warmth in.
1505 W. Mequon Rd., Mequon, 262-241-5111, erikofnorway.com
4. White Sage, Eva Luna, OMG, NEADAMASSAGE, Circa 2009 • 6 treatment rooms
Much like a rent-a-chair salon with independent stylists, this space acts as four mini spas that share a reception room and waiting area. Originally called The Spa at Le Grande, the space segued into White Sage in 1999 and, eventually, took on this arrangement. The atmosphere is pleasant and relaxing. Purple robes are issued to clients.
White Sage, Neada and OMG offer Reiki Massages ($30-$65, 30-60 minutes), which are a gentle laying of hands on different parts of the body. White Sage and Neada offer Raindrop Therapy ($90, 60 minutes), featuring drops of oils that “fall like rain onto the back and soles of the feet” along with a massage. At Neada, crystal bowls are placed on your body during the Crystal Singing Bowl Sound Healing treatment ($40-$100, 30-90 minutes).
8653 N. Port Washington Rd.; 414-352-6550, whitesagespa.com; 414-351-0868, evalunadayspa.com; 414-241-8180, omgmassage.com; 414-573-9549, neadamassage.abmp.com
5. Spargo, Circa 2000 • 10 treatment rooms • 7,860 square feet
This expansive Pewaukee spa has done a wonderful job of incorporating water into its decor. A dramatic water wall about 15 feet long divides the main-level salon, and a powerful, cascading, slender waterfall pours to the lower-level spa. Wrought-iron tables and chairs at the bottom provide a space to drink the complimentary coffee, tea and juices.
The dressing room is small but very pleasant, with a touch of luxury in its stone floors and tile surrounds. Two individual changing rooms and a steam shower room complete the area.
Roman touches are found throughout the spa: in a few pictures, small replica sculptures, in Roman emperors’ names on the treatment rooms, and with the Roman Ritual ($264, four hours), which includes a massage, facial, manicure and pedicure.
Its finest feature is a signature room with two color-changing baths, which are filled from the ceiling next to a gas fireplace, a nice touch.
1001 Cecilia Dr., Pewaukee, 262-695-7400, spargosalon.com
6. Neroli, Circa 1993 • 3 locations • 21 total treatment rooms
With three locations that have spas – Bayshore, the Third Ward and Brookfield – Neroli has the most treatment rooms in Milwaukee. Bayshore houses eight rooms, the Chicago Street spa has eight as well, and Brookfield has five. The most modern location is in Bayshore, with tall, dark doors and a Spartan, clean and functional look. Changing rooms with toiletries are also large.
The delicious, licorice-tasting Aveda tea is served at all three spas in large mugs along with Alterra coffee. The Chicago Street location, rather dark with a narrow central hall with guest lockers and changing cubicles, also offers apples and pretzels. At all locations, most clients receiving massages and facials enjoy complimentary footbaths as well.
Its all-out service is the Himalayan Body Treatment (from $200, 135 minutes), which has a steam bath, sinus-cleansing exfoliation and an oil application, all topped off with a scalp massage. The Salt Elixir (from $90, 60 minutes) uses steam with Dead Sea salts and oils, and the Aveda Hydrotherm Massage (from $120, 80 minutes) is reminiscent of a water bed, as you lie on two water-filled pillows while being massaged.
Services $12-$200 and up (Neroli charges more for experienced personnel)
3885 N. Brookfield Rd., Brookfield; 325 E. Chicago St.; 5714 N. Bayshore Dr., Glendale, 414-227-2888, nerolispa.com
Azana, Circa 2000 • 9,000 square feet-plus • 10 treatments rooms
in its own handsome building in Brookfield and boasting plenty of free parking,
Azana’s bright and airy salon is on the first floor with the spa on the second
floor, reached via a winding staircase. The spa itself is rather dark, but the
waiting lounge has comfortable chairs and a couch. There are men’s and women’s
locker rooms, but no private dressing areas.
treats are available in the waiting room on the first floor, including a snack
mix, coffee and teas.
treatment is Endermology ($30-$45, 20-30 minutes), which is described as having
originated in France and is performed on various parts of the body using
suction and roller compression. Its purpose is “to stimulate collagen and red
blood cell production, promote energy and improve circulation” via the use of
200 N. Moorland Rd., Brookfield, 262-784-4700, azanaspa.com
Just For Men
Many spas are taking man-care a step further with a slew of specially designed treatments.
Facials, massages, and detailing for the hands and feet are mainstays on many male-centric spa menus, but a handful of destination and day spas are upping the offerings. The Kohler Waters Spa devotes a section of its extensive menu to these treatments, such as the rejuvenating Gentleman’s Bath ($120, 50 minutes) and Aquatonic for Him ($155, 50 minutes), which includes a men’s facial, vichy shower hydro-massage and a full-body exfoliating tonic. Evensong also boasts a variety of services just for the guys, including two massages, two facials and a Rejuvenating Body Scrub ($45, 90 minutes) that combines sea salts, grapefruit and thyme. Sundara has a Men’s Vitalizing Massage ($135-$190, 50-80 minutes), while the Spa Del Sol advertises a GQ Facial ($85, 50 minutes) that is tailored to each man’s skin type, paying particular attention to damage done from shaving. Spargo offers the Fitness Facial ($65, 60 minutes), and Actaea boasts a Men’s Grooming Facial ($80, 60 minutes) using high-potency botanicals, “leaving every rugged face healthier and younger-looking.”
This story was updated on Feb. 23 to correct errors in the Azana section.