By Carla Minksy
Lake Geneva, in Walworth County, has been called the “Newport of the West” for its extravagant mansions built by Chicago’s rich and famous – the names Wrigley, Schwinn and Maytag should ring a bell – dating back to the mid-1800s.
The lilting romance of that era sets the stage for a couple's getaway that will have you feeling like a million bucks. Plus, when it’s just the two of you, you’ll feel like you’re a million miles away.
First, a quick tutorial before you arrive at your destination. While it’s commonly referred to as Lake Geneva, this resort community rightly includes Fontana and Williams Bay as well, all located on Geneva Lake. The lake is spring-fed, deep and crystal clear, and is the sparkling gem that ties everything together on this trip.
10:30 a.m. – If you can swing it, arrive for the morning tour of Black Point Estate perched on a bluff overlooking the lake. This Queen Anne “summer cottage” was built by Chicago business mogul Conrad Seipp in 1888, and subsequently managed by four generations of his descendants. You’ll arrive by Lake Geneva Cruise Line, departing from The Riviera docks in downtown Lake Geneva. The tour lasts about three hours.
1:30 p.m. – For a peek at the exteriors of the exquisite mansions that rim the lake, walk the Lake Geneva Shore Path, which literally takes you through the yards of the estates. While it’s more than 20 miles to do the full loop, it is broken into four sections.
Bring your bikes and bike one or all of the five color-coded segments of the Lake Geneva Bike Path. The various segments take you through the city and along scenic treks.
3 p.m. – Check in and make yourself exceedingly comfortable at the Baker House, where every room has a proverbial “$10 million view” to the lake and your every want is tended to by a butler. You’ll stay cozy on a crisp fall night thanks to the 13 fireplaces here.
The sister property to this historic inn is Maxwell Mansion, circa 1856, making it the oldest mansion in town. It’s tucked a few blocks away in the village. Many a couple have gotten engaged in the lovely parlor here. Enjoy the bocce ball court and heated outdoor pool open through mid-October.
Both inns are adult-only. Another adult-only option is Seven Oaks B&B, offering the genuine hospitality of a small English inn, with the owners hailing from the U.K.
On the other end of the spectrum is the sprawling Grand Geneva Resort, with high-end dining, golf, spa and even a riding stable. The Abbey Resort in Fontana has a full marina. The casual yet refined Ridge Hotel has an outdoor veranda with a 12-foot-long fire pit that is an especially pleasant spot in the fall.
5 p.m. – Get a taste of the local flavor with a stop at Geneva Lake Brewing Company, where you’ll choose from eight beers on tap. No Wake IPA is the most popular. The brewers here source ingredients from Wisconsin whenever possible.
6 p.m. – Keep the festive vibe going with dinner at Pier 290 in Williams Bay. Choose outdoor seating for the best views of the lake. The live music schedule is impressive, so don’t be in a rush. Oakfire is another fun choice, with a full menu of Napoletana-style pizza.
9 a.m. – Great Eggs serves omelet wraps made to order. Enjoy with a cup of coffee and some homemade bakery.
10 a.m. – Shopping is a big deal activity, so you’ll need to map out boutiques that call to you. Cornerstone Shop & Gallery presents its merchandise just as an interior design pro would. Browse this light and airy space for Lake Geneva and nautical items, original art and fine linens.
Delaney Street Mercantile is chock full of home décor items. In a romantic gesture, gift each other jewelry from the Lake Geneva fine jewelry collection at Chinawest Jewelers. This mainstay shop, in business for 40 years, custom makes all its beautiful pieces.
Noon – Celebrate your purchases with lunch at Simple Café, a cheery place where the mantra is “changing the world one bite at a time.” The menu emphasizes artisan producers from the region, plus they’re committed to eco-conscious practices. Pop in to their bakery right next door for some pumpkin croissants to go.
1 p.m. – Grab your camera and your clubs for a round of golf. Serious golfers will want to book a tee time at one of the Geneva National courses. Choose the Arnold Palmer, Gary Player or Lee Trevino course. Or, check out the new Lake Geneva Golf Trail, which offers information, specials, and nine and dine packages for Walworth County’s 19 courses.
5 p.m. – After 18 holes, soothe sore back and shoulder muscles with a spa together massage at an area spa. The WELL Spa + Salon at the Grand Geneva Resort has several spa together treatment rooms plus side-by-side pedicure chairs too. Or try the golfer’s massage at The Ridge Hotel. You’ll find deep tissue together and relax together massage options at Avani Spa located in The Abbey Resort.
Add to your spa glow with a wine tasting at Studio Winery. The husband/wife owners of this urban winery have shoehorned vines on the grounds wherever they could, plus they import grapes from Midwest and West Coast vineyards. The place has “studio” in its name because it’s also part art gallery and part recording studio – the wife is the artist and the husband the musician. Live music starts at 4 p.m.
6 p.m. – If the two of you consider yourself foodies, then book a class at the Lake Geneva School of Cooking. Chef John Bogan incorporates a Hawaiian influence in his cooking, which makes sense when you learn his wife is from the island. The school is located in a 1913 building, but Chef John is so welcoming you’ll feel like you’re noshing in his home kitchen.
If you want to stay out of the kitchen this trip, there are plenty of options for wining and dining. Start the evening with libations at Medusa Grill & Bistro. There’s also the completely renovated restaurant at The Geneva Inn with an impressive wine list and equally impressive view to the lake. We recommend you sit at their outdoor patio near the fire pit.
Then move into fine dining. You can stay put at The Geneva Inn and share their signature seafood tower, or head downtown to Sopra Bistro where the setting combines the best of Lake Geneva laid back with a dash of Lincoln Park, Chicago dynamic. It’s a sophisticated menu at Sopra and decisions are difficult given everything looks and tastes delicious.
Sunrise – Book a sunrise hot air balloon flight with Lake Geneva Balloon Company. If you’re so inclined, this would be an ideal time to pop the question.
Or enjoy the sound of popping corks on a Sunday Champagne Brunch Tour offered by Lake Geneva Cruise Line. These brunch cruises run through the end of October. Between the bubbly, the stunning lakeshore panorama, and the chance to be with the one you love, you may decide to stay another day.