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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!