Staying at An Eco-Elegant B&B in Wisconsin is a Feel Good Experience

It would be difficult to argue that the B&B industry in Wisconsin has done more for historic restoration than any other lodging segment. Or, that the state's B&B association with its library of cookbooks has done more to inspire home chefs than any cadre of culinary institute-trained pros. Now it seems the B&B industry is poised to lay claim to a new style of travel - eco-elegant - by pioneering green practices that complement the vacation experience. A stay at one of these "eco-elegant" B&Bs is not only a wonderful relaxing getaway but travelers can also feel good knowing their innkeeper makes stewardship of the environment a priority in every aspect of their business.

Here is a list of Wisconsin inns that wow with their eco-conscious vibe and luxury amenities, four other green inns not to overlook and one to watch for. All these properties are certified by the Department's Travel Green Wisconsin voluntary certification program.

Pinehurst InnBayfield

Their Green Story: A most eco-elegant accommodation for travelers to the northern tip of Wisconsin, this inn earned the highest score of any Travel Green Wisconsin certified business. The innkeepers here, Steve and Nancy Sandstrom, take a comprehensive approach to sustainable operations at their historic property and they do their part to protect the Lake Superior basin too. They even drive their own bio-diesel vehicle, converting oil they source from local restaurants to fuel all on their own. According to Nancy Sandstrom, "Every purchase we make is thoroughly researched to make sure it uses less energy, provides better comfort and has a long life cycle."

Of Special Note: Their 2003 addition - a freestanding "garden house" with guest suites - was built using all eco-friendly and sustainable materials. A full-service spa on the lower level makes use of organic products as well.

Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: The inn packages adventures with Dreamcatcher Sailing and Wolfsong Dogsledding. For lunch, Big Water Café & Coffee Roasters is a sure thing.

Journey Inn - Maiden Rock

Their Green Story: This eco-retreat near the Great River Road offers guests a soul-pleasing escape in a natural setting. Built in 2006 on 66 acres of prairie and hilly woodland, there's ample opportunity for biking, hiking and birding. Bikes and snowshoes provided courtesy of the inn. There's even a labyrinth on the back acreage surrounded by hills, giving it a very contained feeling. More than 20 solar collectors help heat the inn, the beds are organic, each room has its own private patio or deck, and the food is indicative of the owners' support of the Slow Food Movement and their local CSA. Of Special Note: Husband and wife innkeepers John Huffaker and Charlene Torchia bring their special skills to the table, with Huffaker a psychologist who offers life coaching and Torchia a massage therapist who provides in-room treatments. The couple also hosts workshops and retreats at the B&B.

Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: The owners arrange for food tours to local organic farms and an organic cheese factory, gathering food along the way that is then used in a cooking class taught by a local chef. In nearby Stockholm, the Stockholm General sells local cheeses and wines.

Blacksmitt Inn on the Shore - Door County

Their Green Story: A longtime member of both the Door County Land Trust and Green Fund, this B&B is a Select Registry property, meaning it's very luxurious while still being green. Joan Holliday owns the inn with her husband Bryan Nelson, and she says many of their guests "come from urban areas and enjoy parking their car and leaving it there, availing themselves to the bikes we provide, or just walking everywhere since we're right in the village."

Of Special Note: Complimentary kayaks are offered to take advantage of this setting, often described as the Cape Cod of the Midwest.

Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: Restaurant Saveur with its South American influences. Wild Tomato, a café at the entrance to Peninsula State Park where they make a special pizza featuring all local ingredients.

Arbor House, An Environmental Inn - Madison

Their Green Story: Recognized nationally for their leading role in the green travel movement, owners John and Cathie Imes live and work by the philosophy that it is possible to be sophisticated, homey, luxurious and green. The inn is across from the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, a 1,300-acre treasure of woodlands, prairies and trails.

Of Special Note: They pay for public transportation for their guests, provide complimentary passes for canoeing and kayaking on nearby Lake Wingra, and have mountain bikes for their visitors to hop on the Southwest Bike Corridor that backs up to the inn and hooks up to Madison's bustling downtown.

Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: Restaurants that shine when it comes to scrumptious seasonal organic include high-end L'Etoile and its casual sister Graze.

Brambleberry Bed and Breakfast - Taylor

Their Green Story: Guests are definitely not roughing it at this English/Scottish manor house with its beautiful furnishings and tasteful interior decorating. It's also a self-sufficient country farm homestead. The inn takes its name from the many blackberry plants growing around it, called brambleberries in Scotland. Seems owners Chris and Sherry Hardie are obsessed with all things Scottish. They even raise their own purebred Scottish Blackface sheep.

Of Special Note: This B&B may serve more organic, homegrown slow food than any other inn in the state, including homemade maple syrup, jams, eggs from their own henhouse, fruits, vegetables and natural homegrown meat. On Saturdays, they also serve a four-course Harvest Dinner.

Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: Canoeing the Black River.

Speckled Hen Inn - Madison

Their Green Story: Here's a B&B that pampers guests with easy-going elegance while supporting principles of sustainable living. This 50-acre property of Patricia and Robert Fischbeck features pastures with sheep and llamas, orchards, gardens and walking trails. According to Pat Fischbeck, "We're committed to green but also sustaining the culture and sense of place travelers enjoy in Wisconsin."

Of Special Note: Pat was the grand prize winner of the 2008 Wisconsin B&B Association recipe cook-off for her recipe for Wisconsin Breakfast Panini featuring cranberries and lots of other Wisconsin goodies. Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: Guests come to the inn specifically to visit the Farmer's Market on the Capitol square, the largest true farmers' market in the nation. Harvest restaurant is a top choice, thanks to their all local, in-season menu.

Franklin Victorian Bed and Breakfast - Sparta

Their Green story: Innkeepers Jennifer and Steve Dunn offer an abiding sense of hospitality, welcome, rest and renewal to one and all. The inn is located in the heart of Wisconsin's Hidden Valleys of Southwest Wisconsin where silent sports such as canoeing, kayaking, hiking and bicycling are abundant.

Of Special Note: The Franklin Victorian Bed and Breakfast was named for the third year "Best of the Midwest & Great Lakes" in the annual Best of BedandBreakfast.com.

Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: Mississippi River Explorer Cruises in nearby La Crosse provides a guided riverboat tour through the wild and scenic backwaters of the Mississippi River's wildlife refuge home to bald eagle nests, beaver lodges, turtle logs, muskrat huts.

Justin Trails - Sparta

Their Green Story: This B&B is perfect for the outdoor enthusiast who likes to tread lightly on the earth. It's a favorite destination for hikers and birders, with 200 acres to roam, 10 miles of hiking trails and enclosed wildlife viewing stands. The Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail and the 400 State Trail are close by too. Owners Don and Donna Justin are working to transition the farm fields from traditional agriculture to organic certification.

Of Special Note: Try your skills at the two "human powered" disc golf courses on the property. In the winter, there's skijoring (dogs pull you while you glide along on cross country skis), dog sledding and snowshoeing.

Innkeeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: Restaurant/food co-op Hackberry's Bistro in La Crosse serves all organic food. In nearby Viroqua, travelers will find a multitude of eco-friendly businesses, including the historic Public Market that is open year-round. In Sparta, there's Southern Fried Glass, a glass-blowing studio in a rehabbed building with a gallery for people to watch the glass blower at work.

Port Washington Inn - Port Washington

Their Green Story: This historic B&B makes good use of the natural air conditioning supplied by Lake Michigan, with guests enjoying views of the sunrise over the lake. The owners here, Rita and Dave Nelson, are very committed to the "Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin" philosophy, with local farmers' markets their favorite haunts. The inn has new energy efficient windows and the building has been newly insulated.

Of Special Note: Dave Nelson, along with son Aaron, makes good use of his woodworking shop to create many of the beautiful antique reproduction furniture pieces in the inn. The wood is walnut, salvaged after being cut down along fence lines of farmlands in their native Iowa.

Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: The Interurban Bike Trail provides a trail system through the entire county. On foot, the Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg is dedicated to preserving the natural environment along the Milwaukee River. In nearby Grafton, there's eco-committed Paramount Grille and Bakehouse, and Slow Pokes Local Foods.

Rittenhouse Inn - Bayfield

Their Green Story: The inn - actually three historic houses - is regal, elegantly appointed and a must for foodies. The Phillips family runs the inn and they're considered early adopters of the slow food movement with their own on-premise restaurant and a menu that is mouthwatering just to read. Guests also enjoy spectacular views of Lake Superior from one of the world's best front porches. Innkeepers' Recommendations for Other Green Businesses Around Town: The area is known for its orchards, with Blue Vista Farm an all-organic orchard offering blueberries, raspberries and apples.

Four Other Inns Not to Be Overlooked...

Artha Sustainable Living Center - Amherst

This eco-conscious renovated farmhouse sits on 90 acres of woods and fields. It's sustainably operated with solar power and heat, earning it high points in the Travel Green Wisconsin certification program. Guests come for the hands-on workshops and retreats on solar water heating, gardening and yoga. The menu is vegetarian and features fresh produce from innkeepers Marguerite and Bob Ramlow's organic gardens. Enjoy a good night's sleep in your choice of the Energy Room, Solar Room or Garden Room after a day of bicycling the rails to trails system in the area or the country roads which are less travelled than most making them good for biking too.

Inn at Lonesome Hollow - Soldiers Grove

Vacationing here in the Kickapoo Valley is a little slower and much less hectic than other places. It's located in the state's driftless area with trout streams too numerous to count. The 160-acre property includes a developing vineyard planted with the hardy Marquette grape. Many of the inn's furnishings are made by local Amish craftsmen and friends of the innkeepers host Amish tours for guests of the B&B. Another fun activity - the regular cheese making workshops hosted right at the inn. Wake up to a breakfast of yummy organic and local foods prepared by owners Nora and Pete Knapik.

Oscar H. Hanson House - Cambridge

At this romantically appointed 1883 Victorian mansion, guests can enjoy breakfast in their room, al fresco on the front porch or in the dining room, with treats prepared using herbs from the innkeepers' garden. The recently installed stained glass windows provide an insulation effect and are pretty to look at too. Bike rentals are delivered right to the B&B so guests can peddle to their heart's content on the Glacial-Drumlin Trail. Duke and Mary Jane Mihajlovic own this B&B. Mary Jane is an ordained minister, so it's a popular spot for eco-friendly weddings.

Inn Serendipity - Browntown (near Monroe)

Another top-scorer in Travel Green Wisconsin, this turn-of-the-century farmhouse is completely powered by renewable energy - in fact, it's even a carbon-negative business. Their "100-foot breakfast" - harvested from their own organic garden right outside the back door - features incredible vegetarian cuisine. The husband and wife innkeeping duo of Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko wrote their own cookbook called "Edible Earth" and a book on entrepreneurial thinking called "ECOpreneuring" that shares with readers the path to blending a passion for the planet with small business pragmatics. While not super-luxe, this B&B is just right for visitors who are making a lifestyle change and appreciate all the green practices that have been put in place here.

One to Watch For

Green Leaf Inn - Delavan

Fritz Kreiss and wife Catherine McQueen are providing the vision behind this soon-to-be constructed inn. Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with an anticipated opening in fall 2012. The Green Leaf Inn will welcome guests with hot tubs, soft sheets, romantic evenings…and net-zero status. The Inn aims to be the first purpose-built boutique hotel in the Midwest to hit net-zero, meaning it will generate at least as much electricity on site as it uses. Guests will be able to see a wide range of green technologies and choices in action including, onsite wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, gray water/rainwater capture and reuse to minimize water use, use of sustainable materials throughout the inn, from the walls and the floors to the washcloths and the pillows, buying locally for all materials and food sources and always keeping in mind the three “R”s: reduce, reuse and recycle. From taking a walk through the lush gardens and landscaping to soaking in a hot tub while overlooking the majestic flow of a 135 foot wind turbine – guests of The Green Leaf Inn will have a luxury “green” experience.

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