WISCONSIN DELLS – This article was almost never written.
Sundara Inn & Spa, honestly, leveled me out and laid me out to a point where I was so relaxed that I nearly forgot to pay attention to what was going on around me.
But don’t worry – this is exactly what they want to have happen to guests.
You can’t help but notice the "no cellphones in common areas" signs sprinkled throughout the grounds. Tablets are allowed in certain areas, but only if they’re used for reading. You can access the internet and use your mobile devices in your room, but the idea is that you won’t.
But it’s always been this way in the facility located among 26 acres of pines near the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells. Always.
Peace and quiet may be the hot trend in vacation spots, where guests have to be told – forced – to detach, to unplug, to unwind, but it’s been a core principle for one of the country’s top spa destinations for years.
You’re provided a white robe and sandals, and every guest moves about the facility, from the suites and villas to the spa.
This warm, relaxing setting is a perfect – but perhaps unlikely – place for a luxury winter getaway.
And make no mistake, this is all about luxury.
Guests can choose between 26 rooms, which include luxury, plush, executive, and premier suites, along with 1,700-square foot villas. The suites can be reserved online at $529, although a villa reservation requires a phone call.
We stayed in a plush suite, which was outfitted with a Kohler whirlpool (deep enough for the water to come to your chin) and a Kohler Waterhaven Tower Shower. Small steps led down to a sitting area complete with large, comfortable couches and a view that overlooked the outdoor pool and the snow covered pines. The fire place added a nice touch. There was an outdoor, screened in balcony, but it was too cold to enjoy.
There is a television, but we never turned it on. There was free wifi and plenty of outlets for computers and mobile devices, but it almost seemed like you were betraying yourself to fall into the day-to-day that probably brought you to the inn in the first place.
In fact, on the table, was a room journal, filled with handwritten stories from guests, talking about honeymoons, couples retreats, "girls’ weekends" and their experiences as a whole.
If you don’t want to eat in your room, there is a small dining area overlooking the main foyer, the Radiance Rotunda, but we chose to order room service for dinner and bring the complimentary buffet breakfast back to the room.
The food was excellent, from the butternut squash ravioli to the carrot beet celery and hummus plate, which featured several different types of hummus and large, fresh vegetables for dipping.
Built to incorporate elements of feng shui, the curved hallways and walls really do relax you – and when you leave, you can’t help but notice how sharp, how stark, your every day is, whether it be at home or in the office.
Also, they make an effort to keep the facility gender neutral, with earthy color schemes. The spa says 35 percent of its bookings are men, and they offer "just for him" spa services.
Because we went in the winter, the outdoor options of the bike trails, the meditation trail and hammock retreat in the pines were unavailable, as was the tranquility garden, but honestly we didn’t miss it. Not that we don’t enjoy outdoor winter activities, but a guided group yoga session in the morning after an early breakfast was just enough to get the blood pumping before taking advantage of the spa services.
It may not, technically, be considered an activity, but the heated, outdoor infinity pool is fun in winter. The deck is heated, so your feet are warm and while you are blasted with the chilly air, you quickly sink into the water for a swim. There is also a hot tub and a surprisingly warm gas fire pit to take advantage of while you sip hot tea or coffee.
That area was one of my favorite places in the facility, largely because you’re not "supposed" to be swimming and enjoying an outdoor pool when snow bends the tree branches just across the way. It was very relaxing.
Of course, this is why you would want to get away from it all. The theme of the spa is to "energize your soul," where every experience is centered around increasing a person’s wellness. Massages feel good, but at Sundara, the details they incorporate into every service is about truly reinvigorating the mind and body.
You begin with a five step self service spa, that you’re free to use as many times as you want during the stay. In fact, multiple trips to it are encouraged. You follow along the messaging, beginning with a warm water rinse using the pre-Cambrian era sandstone that is found on the bluffs on the Wisconsin River Sand. Then, you move to a steam room, before cooling down with a cold rinse. Then, into the hot tub. You get out occasionally and literally just blast yourself into a cold tub, before going right back into the hot tub.
I was skeptical about this at first, especially the cold water treatments (I should know better, considering how many athletes I’m around) but moving from station to station was very relaxing mentally, but also the aches and pains associated with three major knee surgeries and ankle issues melted away.
There are far too many services to list here, but with my pre-existing leg issues I elected for a peppermint pedissage, which focused on the lower legs and feet, while my wife enjoyed a champissage, which focuses on the back, shoulders, face, neck and scalp; along with an organic facial.
These are pretty basic level services, perhaps even perfect for just a day trip in, but it illustrates the flexibility of the spa, which has 14 treatment rooms, for people on a budget, and for those without one.
The staff was available, but not overbearing, and very friendly.
Believe it or not, winter is a popular time for Sundara, especially for those who don’t live in Wisconsin, or areas that don’t experience the changing of the seasons. But sometimes, for those of who do live in the state, or visit the Dells only in one season and with children, it’s easy to overlook what’s in your own backyard.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.