Routine is something you can definitely get stuck in. Without even realizing it, your daily commute can morph into a little cage secured by a padlock called a job. Add to that kids, e-mail, taxes, low-carb diets, laundry, car pools … and it can feel like you’ve been shackled, fitted with a straitjacket, encased in cement and left to suffocate, overwhelmed by all that responsibility.
OK, maybe it doesn’t get quite that bad, but don’t you sometimes long to get away from it all? Any great escape artist will tell you that breaking free from those chafing bonds imprisoning you depends on a clear sequence of steps and a concise exit route. While it’s up to you to make arrangements for the kids, ask for time off from work and throw your cell phone into the lake, we’ve taken care of the rest, finding those destinations that embody retreat, sanctuary and liberation. From island sanctuaries and historic hotels to health retreats, beach towns and charming little bed and breakfasts, these are places that can truly be called Great Escapes.
1.Through the Door
As Door County begins to resemble abusy if quaint suburb of Chicago, Washington Island remains a throwback for summer tourists, a quiet isle of pastures and forests surrounded by lapping waves. Just five miles by six miles, the island actually has more deer (about 1,200, the state Department of Natural Resources estimates) than people (just 660, though the population rises during the summer). It’s a perfect place to slow down and
contemplate nature, the cosmos and homemade donuts.
The donuts are served at the Washington Hotel, a fairly elegant outpost for such a rustic island. Built in 1904, the hotel blends period charm with contemporary accoutrements. Eight simple but charming guest rooms ($119-$159/night, May-Oct), organic cotton sheets and towels, hand-woven blankets and deluxe steam showers will help you relax in style. The adjoining “Captain’s House,” a three-bedroom residence, is also available for rental ($1,000/week). There’s a kind of homespun quality to everything encountered here.
Owner and chef Leah Caplan and her staff use island produce, lake fish and fresh-grown herbs to create delectable and inventive dishes. Wonderful homemade breads and pizzas are served, and every Wednesday morning boasts those great donuts. The six-course dinner ($65) is sl-o-o-w and seasonal cooking to the max. For everyday dining, the brick-oven menu features reasonably priced, summery fare.
Icelandic immigrants mostly settled Washington Island, and the historical Sunset Resort, a great place for breakfast, offers delicious Scandinavian specialties and nice views of Lake Michigan. The Red Cup offers good espresso-based brews. The KK Fiske restaurant boasts its own homemade donuts and bread and is famous for serving fish caught by its owner, including “lawyers” (burbot), whose nickname comes from the fact that its heart is found in its rear end.
The island is perfect for long walks, bicycling or in-line roller skating, and any inland roads are so deserted you’ll rarely encounter a car. Schoolhouse Beach is a sweet spot for swimming.
At night, it’s hard to resist the hotel’s front porch, a great place for dining, drinking or just easing slowly into nighttime on this delightfully laid-back isle. 920-847-2169; thewashingtonhotel.com. (BM)
The Trempealeau Hotel has major staying power. Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin, the historic building was one of few to survive a fire that swept the town of Trempealeau in 1888. More than a century later, the hotel helps visitors escape into the past, boasting old-fashioned charm, watery vistas and the slow pace of small-town life. Embrace history (and save some dough) by booking one of the hotel’s eight vintage rooms, free of phone and TV distractions. For those who don’t want to get too rustic (or share a bathroom), luxurious suites on the hotel grounds boast Jacuzzis, cable TV and ample pampering to hinge you to the 21st century.
Known for its walnut burger (the delicacy, now available retail, even has its own Web site), the hotel’s four-star restaurant boasts a wide-ranging menu, from pastas to ahi tuna and porterhouse steaks. And the Trempealeau’s policy on smoking is decidedly new world: no-go since 1994.
Hiking and biking trails abound in this river community. Dotted with sacred Indian mounds, Perrot State Park offers some of the highest vantage points along the Mississippi. Bird watchers will gravitate to the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, where cuckoos and ruffed grouse chatter among the trees, as well as the Great River State Trail. Bike rentals are available through the hotel if you’re not up for hoofing it. $45-$120; 608-534-6898; trempealeauhotel.com. (CG)
Let’s say you’re driving somewhere near Monroe. You’re in the middle of nowhere, kinda lost. It’s dark and you’re tired and need a place to spend the night. Things aren’t looking so cheery, when you suddenly happen upon a place called Inn Serendipity. And get this, there’s an opening at this eco-friendly bed and breakfast on a five-acre organic farm ($105 and $120). It’s in the Writing Room (named for the array of books, antique school desk and printing reel in the room). A day that looks like it’s going to end on a sour note finishes sweetly. Serendipity, indeed.
Inn Serendipity has an aura of the unexpected, a true refuge from the world of iPods and Blackberrys. The inn and adjacent farm are powered by renewable energy. Tropical plants grow in a solar-heated greenhouse; the sun heats the water you’ll use inside the bathrooms. McDonald’s Big Macs would be considered contraband here (don’t do it). A night’s stay includes a full vegetarian breakfast. Hollywood celebs might learn something about simplicity from feeding the free-range Serendipity chickens and gazing at Eastern bluebirds through a pair of binoculars. 608-329-7056; innserendipity.com. (A.C.)
Spider Lake Lodge is hidden in a maze of back roads off a quiet highway near Hayward. It’s a bit tricky to find (as are reservations), but well worth the attempt. Designed to exude a rustic coziness reminiscent of classic Adirondack camps, Spider Lake Lodge is the perfect place to base your operations for a weekend of relaxing, Up North lake life. Built in 1923, the lodge offered a nice view of Spider Lake, one of the area’s prettiest bodies of water, but later struggled to make it as a bed and breakfast and fell into disrepair. In 2000, the lodge was purchased and restored by interior decorators from Minneapolis. The new owners used their talents to give Spider Lake Lodge an ambiance that is at once sophisticated, relaxed and a bit cheeky. Each of this little gem’s seven guest rooms is themed. Canadian Mounties, cowboys, cross-country skiing and Ernest Hemingway all receive playful homage.
There’s plenty to do near the lodge, as the Hayward area is a sportsman’s paradise. Ride the hundreds of miles of nearby mountain bike trails, cast a line into Spider Lake (a class-A fishing lake), hike in the Chequamegon National Forest or paddle over to “Picnic Island” for lunch. Or just chill out on the screened porch overlooking the lake with a book on your lap. Lovely. 800-653-9472; spiderlakelodge.com. (MQ)
The Wisconsin Dells is so defined by the dreams of single-digit-age kids that it’s hard to imagine there’s a Dells retreat as enticing to adults as 600-foot, overly chlorinated tube rides are to children. But there is. It’s Sundara, a spa for every muscle in your body that aches for a downward dog.
It’s located in a 26-acre pine forest. The four-year-old spa has 26 suites and 12 private villas (the largest suites are 1,700 square feet and sleep up to eight people), with views of waterfalls, gardens and the adjacent golf course. Although Devil’s Lake State Park and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail dangle hiking and swimming before your eyes, it seems like, well, bad karma – or at least culture shock – to put on your street clothes and climb behind the wheel of a car. It’s more Zen to think of one-on-one Hatha yoga, massages, facials and “purifying bath rituals.” To purify your insides, the spa kitchen serves omnivorous organic cuisine. Rates vary, depending on the night and the suite chosen. Day packages: $275 and $340. 888-735-8181; sundaraspa.com. (AC)
Sometimes just relocating for a few days isn’t enough to quench the thirst for
escape. You need to be taken entirely out of your world. Concordia Language Villages are designed to do just that. The most extensive language and culture immersion camps in the U.S., the villages, located in northern Minnesota, offer kids, adults and families the opportunity to live within a foreign culture without having to, well, live in a foreign culture.
Constructed to resemble the architecture of countries such as Finland, Germany, France and Spain, the villages offer complete cultural saturation. Everything from food, crafts, language, customs and recreation are designed to authentically represent the culture you have chosen. No foreign language experience is necessary. Japanese, Finnish, Swedish, Italian, German, French, Chinese and Arabic family weeks and weekends are offered during the summer. ($325-$540). 800-222-4750; clvweb.cord.edu. (M.Q.)
How’s about leaving the mainlanders to their mainland problems and disconnecting on a nice little island for a few days? Now, before steel drums start up in your head and you begin dreaming of piña coladas under a coconut tree, we should be clear: This isn’t your typical island paradise we’re talking about here. In fact, Madeline Island is surrounded by waters that are deep, dark, and cold enough to give a polar bear shrinkage. On this island you’re more likely to see an eight-point buck than a conga line. You’d have an easier time making a real castle than a sand castle out of the raw materials on the beach (read: big rocks). Nevertheless, Madeline – part of Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands – is a great place to unwind in a natural setting rich in human history, yet largely untouched.
Make reservations at the island’s oldest and most luxurious vacation property, the Brittany Cottages at Coole Park. Chose from one of five cottages ($185-$245, cottages sleep 2-8 people) or book a room in the main bed and breakfast ($135-$150). The 10-acre estate dates back to 1905 and was once the scene of some serious aristocratic hubbub: frantic servants, nightly formal dinners, afternoon tea, croquet … the whole nine yards. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the estate still maintains its feeling of exclusivity without a hint of snobbery. The island offers activities ranging from golf to sport fishing, but the solitude of its beaches and forested interior is its greatest attribute. History buffs shouldn’t miss the Madeline Island Museum, which covers the island’s past as a key site for Native Americans, fur traders, lumbermen and wealthy Midwesterners. 715-747-5023; brittanycabins.com. (MQ)
If ever a destination warranted the badge “escape,” Gunflint Lodge is it. Located in northeastern Minnesota, the resort offers a family-friendly wilderness experience that allows you to decide just how rough you want your roughing it. Choose from 23 different cabins, some appointed with hot tubs, saunas, steam showers, cushy furniture and well-appointed kitchens; some with little more than bunk beds.
During the days, hike along wildflower-lined trails to the top of towering bluffs or waterfalls, popping wild strawberries into your mouth along the way. Guide yourself or join a naturalist-led interpretive walk.
Located on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, water activities loom large at Gunflint. Cast for bass, take a swim, or commandeer one of the lodge’s motorboats to stake out a private beach for the day. Guided canoe trips are also offered. Choose from leisurely sunset paddles around the lodge’s main lake to view wildlife or sign on for a challenging day or overnight trip to neighboring lakes.
While many of the cabins have kitchens, there’s no reason to cook at Gunflint. The lodge features two excellent restaurants. Justine’s prepares upscale meals featuring local wild ingredients. The Red Paddle Bistro offers casual North Woods fare, like burgers and walleye chowder.
At night, see the northern lights or sit around the campfire to hear the staff spin a yarn. Talks offered in the evening cover everything from the lodge’s 80-year history to animals of the boreal forest. And many children’s activities are provided. $99-$649 per night; 800-328-3325; gunflint.com. (MQ)
9.The Other Shore
The Lake Michigan we western-shore folk know best is cold, murky and moody, but there’s another side – literally. The waters on the lake’s eastern shore are crystalline and naturally bluer. Add to that favorable currents that allow the lake to actually heat into the mid-70s and beaches of powdery sand that extend for hundreds of miles, and you’ve got a serious summer destination.
By June, Traverse City, Mich., transforms into a sun-worshipping destination of epic proportions. The town offers plenty of summer fun for sure, but its pace and large crowds can leave you longing for the Marquette Interchange. It’s best to locate your home base just a ways from all this action. So shack up 15 minutes south at Hall Creek Bed and Breakfast ($100-$125, including breakfast), a rustic cedar lodge situated on 200 forested acres and a spring-fed fishing lake. Spend the day kicking it on the beach in Traverse City, then escape back to your digs at Hall Creek in the late afternoon for a little bass fishing or a mosquito-free nap on your private screened porch. Hall Creek is also just minutes from the internationally renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts (800-681-5920; interlochen.org), which hosts world-class performances and exhibitions all summer. Hall Creek Bed and Breakfast, 231-263-2560 or hallcreek.com. (MQ)
A North Woods haven in the middle of Red Cedar Lake, Stout’s Island Lodge was built in 1915 by Chicago lumber baron Frank Stout as a getaway for his family. Each summer, the Stouts would escape to the 26-acre island near Rice Lake in northwestern Wisconsin (five hours from Milwaukee) with their clothes trunks and servants.
Although the lodge was accessible only by boat, there were plenty of diversions there. A single-lane bowling alley – with one of the first mechanical pin setters – was constructed on the island, along with clay tennis courts, a boathouse, billiard room and full library.
Today, a boat is still the only way to get to Stout’s Island Lodge, and stepping on the dock can send you back in time. Frank Stout christened his summer sanctuary the Island of Happy Days. It’s easy to see why.
Laid-back guests can opt for table tennis, badminton, bocce ball, bird watching or the modern-day luxuries of an on-site day spa. The more adventurous now rent sailboats, water bikes and kayaks.
Periodically, there are Sunday afternoon croquet tournaments. Teams of local competitors arrive on the island, dressed perfectly in white, and knock croquet balls across a perfectly trimmed lawn as spectators lounge in Adirondack chairs sipping iced tea and lemonade. It’s like a page taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.
From the end of May to the end of October, the main lodge rents 39 guest rooms – all with private baths, many with fireplaces and screened porches. A restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. $179-$259; 715-354-3646; stoutslodge.com. (KC)
Put down that Cuervo and Cuban. At The Raj, it’s all about flushing out toxins, not sucking them down. The Iowa-based Ayurvedic spa and health center offers holistic treatment for a laundry list of conditions, from weight loss to depression to aging. Customized treatments are specifically designed for each guest using ancient diagnostic tools, massage, steam and oil treatments, specially prepared meals, herbs and yoga. The aim is to restore balance to the body.
It’s a different kind of vacation. All meals are vegetarian, low-fat and organic. Vedic (ancient Eastern healing) sounds are pumped into your room at night. But for those interested in more than a brief escape from the daily grind, The Raj may offer a path to long-lasting serenity. Located on a secluded 100 acres in Fairfield, Iowa, the center provides a rare setting in which guests can focus on themselves and their health. Just don’t ruin it all with a cheeseburger when you get back. 800-864-8714, ext. 9000; theraj.com. (CG)
Mackinac Island is an escape back in time. With motorized vehicles prohibited, the island is much as it was on July 10, 1887, when upper Michigan’s Grand Hotel opened.
You arrive by ferry boat. Horse-drawn carriages then transport you past turn-of-the-century storefronts to the world’s largest summer-only hotel.
Here, white rockers, set amid potted red geraniums, await sunset views on the world’s longest (660 feet) colonnaded porch. A National Historic Landmark, one of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and Travel and Leisure’s2007 Greatest Hotels in the World, the Grand Hotel is inexorably old-fashioned.
Ladies linger among the antique roses and fragrant heliotropes in the 12 gardens. A harpist plays during afternoon tea. Couples explore the island on bikes and horseback. At 6 p.m., gentlemen leave their lawn games and don coats and ties for an elegant five-course dinner and dancing to the hotel’s orchestra.
Service is so impeccable, guests feel like royals. Even tourists who can’t afford to stay ($220-$665 per night) eagerly fork over $12 to visit the 385-room hotel with its eight restaurants, six bars, 18-hole golf course and manicured grounds.
The hotel’s serpentine pool was built for Esther Williams’ 1947 film This Time for Keeps, but it was Somewhere in Time, the 1980 cult classic romance starring Jane Seymour and the late Christopher Reeve as a couple separated, not by distance, but by time, that really made the Grand Hotel a matinee idol. Fans still flock to the annual Somewhere in Time Weekend (Oct. 26-28; $945 per couple, dinner and breakfasts included.)
There are also getaway weekends for wine, jazz, antique and design, and girls. 800-334-7263; grandhotel.com. (MVN)
Love lives can become as blandly routine as morning oatmeal. But sometimes a simple change of scenery (or a few berries) can do wonders. A more elaborate change of scenery to the impeccably kept Chanticleer Guest House can go one further: bringing back the passion between you, your main squeeze and breakfast (maybe even oatmeal). The inn is situated on 70 country acres near Sturgeon Bay. Bed and breakfast-style lodging is available in an idyllic classic farmhouse and a matching converted barn, both built in 1915. Or opt for more seclusion in one of four picturesque pond-side cabins. The Meadows Suite in the guest barn is particularly romantic and well-suited to a roll in the hay (it was originally a hay loft). All the cabins have fireplaces and double whirlpool tubs. Rates vary.
The Chanticleer’s owners are accommodating, but try to remain unobtrusive. They whip up delicious breakfasts each morning and deliver them to your door but respect your privacy. The property contains a few nature trails and a swimming pool, but the name of the game here is unhindered reconnection with your significant other (or self). Still, there’s plenty to do nearby; this is Door County, after all. 866-682-0384; chanticleerguesthouse.com. (MQ)
Galena, Ill., is not your usual sort of vacation paradise, but it may be just the ticket for history buffs. With its historic re-enactments, stagecoach and wagon train rides, and dining by carriage light, it offers a total escape from the present, transporting you into 19th century times.
The best way to see Galena is via hot air balloon at dawn (buyaballoonride.com;800-690-1287). From 3,000 feet up, you can see three states – Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa – and gaze down on Jo Daviess County, where in 2004, The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Galena one of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations in America.
Its crown jewel is the home of 18th President and Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, a gift from his grateful fellow townspeople. As early as the 1600s, Galena was a lead mining mecca, with Native Americans trading ore to French explorers. After an early 19th century land rush, mansions gradually sprung up. By the mid-1800s, Galena was the busiest port on the Mississippi River between St. Paul, Minn., and St. Louis. But with the advent of the railroad, the port declined and the town slipped into a Rip Van Winkle slumber for 100 years – until preservationists discovered its treasures.
Today, 85 percent of Galena’s architectural structures are on the National Register of Historic Places – including Queen Anne, Italianate, Vernacular, Second Empire, and Gothic and Greek revival buildings, an assemblage the Chicago Tribunedubbed “the best Main Street in the Midwest.” The oldest home, the 1826 Dowling House, an early trading post, is open for tours. So is The Belvedere (1857), with its collection of fine Victorian
furnishings, items from Liberace’s estate and Gone with the Wind’sgreen drapes. Other historic homes have become antique-filled bed and breakfasts.
More than 90 boutiques, antique shops and art galleries can easily fill up the entire day. Then at sunset, sign on for a ghost tour with haunting accounts from Galena’s glory days. For visitor’s information and places to stay, call 877-GoGalena or visit galena.org.
Keep with the historic theme and stay at one of Galena’s many fine B&B’s. Among the best is the Farmer’s Guest House, 334 Spring St. (888-459-1847), with its backyard hot tub, wine and cheese hour, and generous selection of DVDs to view in your room. Also exceptional is the romantic 1850s Stillman Inn,513 Bouthillier St. (866-777-0557), across from Grant’s home, where seven antique-filled guest rooms have private baths and 24-hour access to freshly baked cookies. Go ahead and raid the refrigerator. It’s like visiting grandma’s house.(MVN)
15.The Cushy Canoe
Looking for luxury in the woods? It’s hard to beat a few days at Canoe Bay. A 280-acre country estate with three private, spring-fed lakes, Canoe Bay is located just an hour north of Eau Claire. Bestowed with the prestigious Relais & Chateaux mark of distinction – an honor given to only the world’s finest independently owned hotels that meet nearly impossible culinary standards – Canoe Bay is the pinnacle of North Woods sanctuary.
Choose from a guest room in the main lodge or one of the freestanding cottages, and prepare to be unburdened. More suitable for writing (or reading) the great American novel than a boozy weekend with friends, Canoe Bay’s decided tranquility inspires whispering, romance, and an easy absorption of the pampering provided at every turn.
During the day, take a hike, get a massage, browse the library, swim, fish, nap … whatever. Just make sure that you save some sense of savor for dinner. Canoe Bay’s restaurant, one of the finest in the region, features a nightly prix fixe menu ($75) that evolves out of the day’s freshest available (often local) ingredients. The sommelier can help you navigate the property’s epic, 600-label-strong wine cellar for a bottle that pairs perfectly with your meal.$325-$1,800 per night; 800-568-1995; canoebay.com. (MQ)
Mario Quadracci is an assistant editor with Milwaukee Magazine. Reach him at