Expectations Exceeded

Mercedes-Benz GL450 at Lake Geneva

Face it: You don’t climb into a Mercedes-Benz with lowered expectations. High quality, Teutonic precision, the finest engineering, power-on-call and superior performance are expected—and delivered.

Automobile lovers believe this is standard with top-of-the-line German vehicles. To raise the bar even higher, consider that this is the vehicle Motor Trend ranked “2013 SUV of the Year,” bettering a parking lot full of solid competitors. 

 But even with those credentials, the Mercedes-Benz GL450 we took to Lake Geneva for the weekend carried our expectations beyond “excellent” into “exceptional.” It’s an SUV that, like Lake Geneva itself, delivers even more than anticipated.

We chose to stay at the Baker House overlooking Geneva Lake. This elegant 1880s Victorian beauty has earned a reputation as one of the finest inns in the Midwest. Large windows provide lake views worthy of a National Geographic spread—especially at sunset. Owners and attentive hosts Bethany and Andrew Souza treat diners and overnight guests as if they’re aristocracy personally invited to an upper class Victorian house party. Adding a touch of Downton Abbey, every overnight guest is assigned a personal butler for the duration of their stay. 

Bethany travels extensively world-wide, sampling the most acclaimed accommodations. She brings home the highest standards to the Baker House, the dining service and the staff. This spring a spa will be opened and you can be sure it, too, will delight guests. 

The ground floor parlors and an enclosed wraparound porch are set for dining. The original dining room is now an intimate speakeasy-style bar. If your ensemble requires topping, borrow one of the many stylish hats and slip into character. Baker House is perfect for grand celebrations from birthdays to engagements.

Upstairs, past enormous stained glass windows, four guest suites feature original fireplaces and modern bathroom amenities. In the Provence Room this included heated marble floors and a multi-headed steam shower lighted by a glass chandelier. The bed linens may have been the softest of any we’ve experienced. After delivering our luggage, our butler, Jonathan, encouraged us to use the upstairs sitting rooms and cozy dark parlor. “While you’re here, this is your home. Enjoy.” 

Inn guests have reserved seating fireside in the library in winter and lakeside on the porch in summer. Here they may choose to share small plates or a full meal. Appetizers such as Emily’s fried green beans and bacon-wrapped scallops are served stacked on silver dining towers. Baker House she-crab soup is a signature specialty. 

Sunday brunch is served starting at 10 a.m. and is not to be missed! Hotel guests are tempted by wonderful aromas wafting up the steps starting about 7 a.m. Choosing from among the many dishes is difficult, but made-to-order Eggs Benedict were perfect. If you didn’t order crab cakes for dinner, right that wrong during brunch.

Then get in your Mercedes-Benz and head out to explore this bustling “Midwest Riviera.”

The Mercedes-Benz GL450 is powered by a 4.6 liter, 362-hp, direct-injection twin-turbo V8. That translates very quickly into smooth, fast, responsive performance with plenty to spare. The seven-speed automatic transmission takes this all-wheel-drive seven-seater from stop light to I-90 cruising speed in a matter of seconds. Shifts are silky-smooth and virtually imperceptible. Use the paddle shifters when you’re feeling sportier. The Mercedes-Benz is favored by folks who have good-sized boats and trailers to tow. A built-in stability-assist program can detect trailer oscillation, so it’s perfect for that assignment.

If you’re carrying kids, shoppers or golfing buddies, there’ll be no apologizing for the back seat ride quality. The sound system can include everything from CDs to SiriusXM, HD Radio, Bluetooth and rear-seat entertainment packages. Comfort extends from nose to tail, and even suitcases have lots of elbow room.  

Our butler told us that we could learn more about the early Baker House at the Geneva Lake Museum. Featuring more than just pictures, it allows you to walk through what could have been Main Street Lake Geneva in the late nineteenth century. Beyond Main Street there’s so much more, including remnants of the Ceylon exhibit from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, bits of the razed Frank Lloyd Wright-Geneva Hotel, and keys and swizzle sticks from the old Playboy Club. 

Shopping is a time-honored sport in Lake Geneva. We stayed in period and browsed at Maple Park Antiques where we acquired an Ironwood dog statue and two free recommendations. 

The first tip: “Don’t miss I Love Funky’s.” It has three floors packed with anything-but-ordinary merchandise. Discoveries included a stuffed lion, rhinestones galore, a homebuilt airplane, hand-crafted mittens and high-quality leather furniture. 

The second tip was to grab lunch at Simple Cafe. This bright, friendly restaurant was pouring Alterra Blue Heeler coffee and serving classics with an inventive twist. The butternut squash soup was delicious and the Eggs Benedict with chorizo and squash pancakes showcased the chef’s extraordinary creativity.

Our tip? Trust locals. And then go explore!

The Mercedes-Benz GL450 was ideal for motoring around Lake Geneva. You feel extreme quality as you climb behind the wheel. This vehicle fits like a driving glove. Perfectly-firm, many-position leather seats are heated and air conditioned. The heated steering wheel tilts and telescopes. Gauges are bright, easy to read and deliver a stream of vehicle information. The navigation system responds to spoken commands and can reroute you around traffic snarls—or around the lake to a dancing horse show.

The Dancing Horses will leave you in awe. Dana Montana, a successful businesswoman and horse lover, turned her lifetime dream into an amazing show featuring stunning Arabians, all descended from her first beloved horse. The most astonishing performance is six horses running at liberty, performing choreographed moves at the direction of a lone trainer. Grab a ringside seat and you’ll be so close to the stars you’ll smell the oats on their breath.

Curiosity about Studio Winery took our Mercedes-Benz on a run to the outskirts of town. This urban winery also serves as an art gallery and recording studio. Saturday afternoons it features live bands. Proprietors Kathy and Doug Jackson were totally immersed in happy people, she busy pouring wine behind the bar while Doug played keyboards with Hobie and the Leftovers, a popular local blues band. They encourage BYOF (bring your own food) and even supply grills and picnic tables in good weather. 

On the recommendation of our Baker House hostess, on Saturday evening we dined at Sopra in downtown Lake Geneva. Described as “an American bistro,” chef and owner Simon Cumming’s cooking is anything but simple. Every dish had wonderfully layered flavors. European butter was sprinkled with sea salt. Tuna tartar with tomatoes was laced with sesame seed oil and a hint of pepper heat. It was divine! Carmelized short ribs had a hint of coco. The blueberry pie was dense, flavorful and delicious. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, Thursdays feature well-chosen wines by the bottle at half-price.

As spring swooshes in across the lake, plan a guided boat tour to see fabulous estates built by the industrial overlords of nineteenth century Chicago. A new lake excursion (May through October) features a visit and tour at the exquisite 1888 Black Point Estate, the newest addition to the Wisconsin State Historic Site collection. 

 Driving home to Madison was a pleasure in the Mercedes-Benz. Even bucking weekender traffic on I-39/90/94, this SUV is comfortable and confident. It should be. Safety features include a collision warning and avoidance system, radar-based cruise control and driver alertness detector that tells you when you need a cup of coffee. The Mercedes-Benz GL450 does everything but brew it.

Gary and Mae Patrice Knowles live in Madison where he is a freelance writer and marketing consultant to clients in travel, food, hospitality and entertainment and she is a communications manager for the State of Wisconsin. 



Baker House

327 Wrigley Dr., Lake Geneva

(262) 248-4700


Black Point Estate

(262) 248-1888  


Dancing Horses Theatre & Animal Gardens

5065 State Road 50, Delavan

(262) 728-8200


Geneva Lake Museum 

255 Mill St., Lake Geneva

(262) 248-0800


I Love Funky’s

222 Center St., Lake Geneva

(262) 248-8474


Lake Geneva Area 

Convention and

Visitors Bureau

201 Wrigley Dr., Lake Geneva

(800) 345-1020


Lake Geneva Cruise Line  

Riviera Docks

812 Wrigley Dr., Lake Geneva

(262) 248-6206


Maple Park Antiques

812 Geneva St., Lake Geneva

(262) 248-1802

Simple Café

525 Broad St., Lake Geneva

(262) 248-3556



724 W Main St., 

Lake Geneva

(262) 249-0800


Studio Winery

401 Sheridan Springs Rd., 

Lake Geneva

(262) 348-9100


Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed


Madison Magazine August 2014 - August 2014 $19.95 for one year - Subscribe today