OK, it’s been one of the hardest winters in our recent history. I could stay home in my igloo—er, condo. Or I could head to Wisconsin—specifically, the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, where wintertime is a blast, but snow is only part of the fun. Factor in ski and snowboard runs, an ice-skating pavilion, cross-country trails through pine-sheltered drifts, even a sleigh ride straight out of Dr. Zhivago. Then, you’re entitled to a round of warming, adults-only beverages in front of an over-achieving fire. (Come summer, if it ever does, add hiking, biking, and horse riding to the mix.)
The Grand Geneva earns its name when it comes to amenities, starting with a flute of Champagne at check-in. Rooms, with balcony or patio framing a snow-frosted lake and golf course, are dressed in tobacco-toned leather and oatmeal fabric, accented by touches of warm maple. In fact, the whole lodge bears an air of Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired simplicity, from river-pebble walls to antler chandeliers.
Yet Frank would give a curmudgeonly shudder in his grave if he knew how the place got started. Back in 1968, it originated as a Playboy Club, back in the non-P.C. era when Bunnies scampered to fulfill guests’ fantasies, even on the ski lifts (the term “Bunny slope” fittingly originated here). The resort re-opened in 1994 with enhanced spa facilities, redesigned golf courses, and an employee dress code that did not involve fishnets. Today it draws couples escaping from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis for a spot of R&R.
The 4,200-square-foot spa, which offers complimentary classes—think yoga, Pilates, cardio and more—as well as a full massage/beauty route, lap pool, tennis and basketball courts and rock-climbing wall. I opted for a facial treatment—like an ER for the triage victim I represented (As my attendant pointed out, “Dry skin, aging skin, and blackheads.” Thanks for sharing.) while music drifted from Beethoven lite to “Danny Boy.”
After that, I’m ready to hit the town, just minutes away. Lake Geneva, pop. 7,500, was not the tourist trap I expected, as my smokin’ credit card can attest—no dens of scented candles, no lowlife T-shirts. Instead, the classy boutiques shoppers from Chicago crave. The town arose in 1835 and took off as a resort community after the Chicago fire of 1871, when the likes of the Wrigleys and Maytags built their summer mansions on the lake. Summers, there’s a boat tour for gawkers and a 20-mile circle of hiking paths. In February, Winterfest showcases grand snow carvings.
Today, The Bootery had a sale on Uggs. Haberdapper vows to suit you gents in snappy togs. Spice Company also sells cigars. Global Hands sports bulky designer knits (yes, I caved), as does Geneva Jack’s (caved again), with its cashmere scarves. Cornerstone caught my eye with saucy Baggalino messenger bags. Grab a bite at the Creperie or breakfast bounty at Egg Harbor.
Back at the resort, sign on for a Grand Experience—events like a Wisconsin cheese and beer pairing, improve workshop, fish racing (well, you had to have been there, at the swimming pool) or the Tasty Pastry class we selected, where, under the guidance of the resort’s pastry chef and DIY assistant, Brandon, we were given a tart shell, chocolate cup, and parfait cup to fill and decorate with everything—anything!—from pastry cream and whipped cream to chocolate syrup, along with sprinkles, candies and fresh fruit. After a crash course in plate painting (you know: all those cute hearts and curlicues), we arranged our fixings and bore them to our rooms to devour.
Speaking of eating, the options are many, starting with an elite buffet breakfast or cocktail snacks in the (upgrade option) Geneva Club, or the Grand Café, where I gorged on a Florentine Benedict, only to return to lunch on cheeseburger and crab-cake sliders (or choose Wisconsin brats and more). At the ski slope’s Timber Lodge, noshing ops included nachos, pizza, and my choices—chili and a ginormous Caesar salad, assuring a fashion faux pas involving ski pants.
Evenings, make it Italian at Brissago, where I meandered from a caprese salad to tagliatelle with lobster (or choose house-made sausage and spicy tomato sauce, etc.) to osso buco, saltimbocca, or salmon with fennel and polenta. If you desire dietary rehab, sign on for the resort’s Wellness Retreat, where, at dinner in a villa kitchen with Chef Earl conducting a demo, we dined on gazpacho topped with toasts bearing crab wrapped in a mango sliver and frosted with caviar. Then, chicken (or choose grouper) with slow-roasted strawberries and marbles of goat cheese and pistachio meringue, followed by a cool, cleansing pina colada granita as finale.
For our final night, we settled into the luxe Geneva Chophouse, a steakhouse (fish, too) with an à la carte menu ranging from creamed spinach to lobster mac and cheese to accompany your choice beef or my rack of lamb. Dance it off in Evolve, where a live DJ spins tunes while you sip a bacon-rimmed martini. Yes, life is good. To make it yours, email [email protected] or call 800-558-3417.