Sometimes the city just gets too much.
This year we decided to try to explore some options for weekend trips from Chicago. The city is an oasis in a desert of farmland and as such, it’s notoriously hard to find exciting getaway options within close range. Last year we explored Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and headed south to Kentucky, which is amazing, but really more of a longer trip due to the distance. We headed to Starved Rock State Park, IL, which was fine, though a touch underwhelming. Finally, we found a quaint, fun and relaxing weekend location; Lake Geneva.
Just ninety minutes from downtown Chicago, Lake Geneva is close enough to reach after work on a Friday in time for dinner (a fact we exploited). It means you can take full advantage of the two-day break and not worry about racing home on Sunday morning.
What To Do
The whole Lake Geneva area feels like a ski town, more like an affluent Colorado mountain getaway than a small strip in Wisconsin. Sat between two lakes, the town itself is only a few blocks across, however, it packs quite a bit into its branching streets. Cafe’s such as the Egg Harbor Cafe and Harry’s place provide great brunch options, local coffee provider Geneva Java supplies an alternative to the (quite pleasant, as they go) town Starbucks, while evening dinner options range from sports bars to steakhouses.
The town has plenty of little gems, you can bimble around the numerous stores; the outdoors store is great and Bloomingbyrds might be the coolest decor and craft store we’ve seen in years. Once you’ve had enough of the shops you can head down to the lake and enjoy the beach area, or take a lovely walk along its shoreline. We were enjoying its wintery solidity, walking out on the ice and sliding around like small children in a playground.
Fishermen were sat out on the water, ice fishing through small holes, covered in multiple layers of thermal gear. At one point we saw some kids arrive and throw on ice skates. The waterfront is clearly a gathering spot in Lake Geneva regardless of the season.
Once you’ve had your fill of lakeshore air, head over to Baker House for a Victorian afternoon tea. Not only do you get a tour of the house, restored to its former glory, but you get to have a delectable array of cakes and sandwiches with unlimited tea all whilst wearing a selection of vintage hats, what a delightful treat!
If the 20’s is more your era then you may want to check out Maxwell Mansion. A beautiful historic home in the day that turns into a speakeasy on Friday and Saturday nights. Check out their Facebook page for the code word to get entry and don’t tell anyone we told.
Within minutes of the Lake Geneva downtown area are two great hiking locations; Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy and Big Foot Beach State Park. We took some great morning walks in both areas, and both boast lovely trails, varied terrain and fresh air, a world away from the hustle and concrete of Chicago. You can also take a stroll around the lake and wonder at the old mansion houses whilst enjoying the view.
Where To Stay
Well, there are plenty of options but we would recommend The Ridge Hotel and The Grand Geneva.
The Ridge Hotel is located on the northwest side of the lake, between Lake Geneva and Lake Como. A modern, sharp looking resort which has comfortable rooms, a swimming pool, coffee shop, golf course and an incredible restaurant called ‘Crafted Americana’.
We ate here and had one of the best meals in a very long time. Everything is handcrafted and presented to perfection. The Rib Eye steak (a meal which seems to be a fan favorite in the local area) was superb, and we had what might be the best cheese curds on earth, though we expected nothing less in the heart of Wisconsin.
Accommodation options range from villas to hotel rooms and no matter what room you take, you are well situated for exploring the local area.
The Grand Geneva is a huge resort, that was once an original Playboy resort. Within the 1,300 acres of woodland, golf courses, trails and rivers there are a couple of delightful hotel complexes, a spa and sports complex plus a selection of hotel rooms and full duplex villas.
We opted for a villa, being winter we wanted a cozy stay and a nice fire to sit in front of, the Grand Geneva didn’t disappoint. The villa was warm, homely and had wonderful amenities, from the keurig coffee machine fully stocked, to the walk-in shower in the huge upstairs bathroom.
We sampled the food on offer, accompanied by live music, starting with the buffet restaurant on our first night. Rich had a lot of fun cracking open fresh delicious crab claws, before overfilling himself with a touch too much in the way of sweet cakes afterward. On our second night, we enjoyed the on-site Italian restaurant, Ristorante Brissago, which was excellent both in terms of the food and the wine selection. The view looked out over the rolling fields and lake and the atmosphere was just perfect.
Rich took a morning walk around the grounds, ranging from wooded areas to small ponds and rivers. Even in winter, it proved pleasant. The swimming pool is a nice escape from the cold, and we spent a good deal of time in the hot tub on our final day. The sports complex has a gym, tennis and basketball courts as well as a fitness studio, so I indulged in a yoga class. The instructor was great and gave a challenging session- which I definitely felt the next day- but was a refreshing start to a great weekend.
In summary, Lake Geneva is a wonderful escape from the city, it has lots to keep you busy for the weekend and whether you like good food, good stores or just the fresh air from a lakeside stroll, it will leave you feeling fully recharged.