Whether you are getting married, celebrating your wedding anniversary, family gathering, holiday season or a business meeting, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, is the place which will enchant you with beauty, natural setting, superb accommodation and delicious meals.
Elkhart Lake, a village of 961 residents, is a legendary gateway and a vacation paradise if you are looking for a healthy living destination with farm to table cuisine and plenty of sports opportunities, both in summer and winter. Visitors will have plenty of winter sports such as skiing, ice fishing, skating on 292-acre Elkhart Lake, with a maximum depth of 119 feet and access to the lake for visitors, boat landing and fishing for bass, walleye and trout.
Visitors like me who have recently “discovered” Elkhart Lake feel they have found an undiscovered jewel. However, Elkhart Lake has been welcoming tourists since the late 1800s when the first hotel was built in 1867 when weary city dwellers travelled from Chicago and St. Louis to visit this quaint and relaxing destination.
It’s also one of the deepest lakes in Wisconsin, its natural sandy bottom providing the most magical blue colour on Elkhart Lake on summer days. Today, Elkhart Lake is home to three bed-and-breakfast inns and three distinctive lakeside resorts, each offering special features, amenities and accommodations to meet the needs of today’s modern-day travellers.
One of the bed and breakfasts we visited was Jay Lee Inn, described as “your historic home away from home.” The inn with seven rooms, named after the owner’s daughters and grandchildren, has been completely renovated and restored in gorgeous Victorian style in 2007. Each room radiates a relaxing, comfortable and historic character, tastefully decorated and furnished. The inn also has a large Victorian dining room, with delicious home-cooked breakfast served by owner-operator Jay Lee.
However, Elkhart Lake’s drive to fame has been because of the annual sports car racing organized by Road America. The event, which has attracted 80,000 visitors, has been attended by such celebrities as David Letterman, Tom Cruise, Patrick Dempsey, Tim Allen, Ashley Judd and the late Paul Newman, not only for the great racing but also the scenic surroundings of this resort community. Road America’s economic impact on Elkhart Lake has been astounding. It is believed that the events and visitors to the area generate more than $100 million each year.
Another main contributor to the area’s economy is a premier four-star resort, The Osthoff Resort. Located with a 500-foot lakefront area, the resort offers recreational area, elegant surroundings, romantic gateway for couples while providing year round indoor and outdoor activities for families.
We stayed at the Osthoff in a spacious one-bedroom suite with a fire place, a living room and a kitchen stocked with crockery and other modern amenities. Our early December stay started with a welcome reception and hors d’oeuvres at the resort’s Elk Room decorated for the festivities with a grand Christmas tree. The most interesting part of my stay was attending a massage session at the resort at Aspira and an afternoon session at the cooking school.
Midwest’s premier spas, Aspira, meaning “infused with spirit,” takes a holist and organic approach to the spa experience offering unique treatments in an environment dedicated to the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
It was an unforgettable experience to enjoy The Osthoff Resort, recently voted No. 1 in the Midwest by Conde Nast and one of America’s Best Lake Hotels by “Travel + Leisure.”
One of the added features at the Osthoff Resort is the cooking school — named L’ecole de la Maison — for resort guests and visitors. Cooking schools appears to be a new phenomenon at many American cities and hotels. “With the help of The Food Network, cooking shows hit their stride and chefs became celebrities in their own right: Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, etc.,” explains Kathleen Eickhoff, executive director of Elkhart Lake Tourism. “More and more people became interested in not just cooking, but the culinary arts. Food started to become just more than something we ate, but something we can create.”
“The importance of using the right ingredients and knowing where those ingredients come from also became paramount in how we ate and how we feed our families,” she said. “Cooking became less of a chore and more of an adventure, thus we wanted to create a place to foster this trend and allow people who wanted to learn more in a relaxed environment. Thus, L’ecole de la Maison was born. The cooking school is one of the activities that guests really enjoy participating in.”
My session consisting of French bistro style menu, under the supervision of resort chef Benjamin, was attended by an intimate group of seven people. French food and culinary techniques are the backbone of modern-day western cooking, bringing people together. We had fun and excitement as Ben instructed us step-by-step about cooking the various dishes. I was proud to make delicious pasta, complimented by my colleagues, from scratch. At the end, we sat to eat a delicious meal, cooked by the group, with bottles of wine to drown it. I soon realized that food tastes better and more appealing when it’s cooked by yours truly.
One morning, we toured Elkhart Lake’s unique village shops which included galleries and boutiques, with lunch at Off The Rail in the village’s original railroad depot. This cozy café, which was packed for lunch, offers breakfast, lunch, specialty coffee and tea, wine and beer and homemade baked goods. Operated by an Englishman and his wife, it is a hangout for local residents and visitors.
Christmas in this resort town starts early. Local and area residents converge to the Old World Christmas Market organized by the Osthoff Resort on its compound. Resembling the centuries-old Christkindlesmarket of Nuremberg, Germany, the market has been held for the last 15 years, offering celebration in the Old World tradition. Osthoff Resort’s general manager, Lola Roeh, personally experienced the European Christmas Market and wanted to fashion an event that was reminiscent of the centuries-old German Christkindlesmarket.
Visitors stroll the aisles of a grand heated tent for seven days taking in the tantalizing scents of roasted almonds and Nüremberg bratwurst as they browse for unique and specialty items among international and regional artisans
Among the specialty items, one can find Czech blown-glass ornaments, Russian nesting dolls, German hand-carved smokers and nutcrackers, gingerbread houses, fine apparel, handmade amber and silver jewelry, Turkish pashmina scarves and shawls, stained-glass art, Russian hand-painted Santas, fresh green wreaths, kissing balls and centerpieces, alpaca products, Estonia woolens, fine chocolates, Plauen lace, fine woodwork, fur products and much more!
On the last day of our visit, we dined at Lola’s on the Lake, which has a tradition of serving classic dishes using locally grown food. Lola’s beautiful views of Elkhart Lake, extensive wine list and fresh regional cuisine prepared by an award-winning culinary team was a memorable and fitting finale of our visit.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer and author of “A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.” His new book, “Memoirs of a Muhindi,” is scheduled to be published in 2017.