A Great Escape

In these hectic times, is there anything more luxurious than getting away from it all?

Shhh, come close. I want to tell you a secret. It’s about a place not too far from here where time slows down, the air feels fresher and silence is the most beautiful sound imaginable.

This haven is called Canoe Bay, and it’s a small luxury resort tucked into woods about an hour north of Eau Claire. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it before. It’s a bit secretive—you’re sent directions only after booking a room, cottage or villa.

My husband and I had no idea what to expect as we drove up for a weekend visit. But by the time we reached the end of the resort’s half-mile private drive, we knew we were somewhere special.

Canoe Bay is the dream-turned-reality of Dan and Lisa Dobrowolski. Dan grew up with a love for the area, and in 1992 the pair purchased the property, which was last a sixties church retreat. From a year later when they opened until 2008, they used Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie architecture as an influence in remodeling and building the resort’s twenty-three unique accommodations.

We stayed in one of the Dream cottages, a freestanding structure with over seven hundred square feet and its own carport. The architecture isn’t dark or imposing; rather, the cedar walls and stone fireplace provide an enveloping feel, while smartly placed windows let in natural light—and beautiful scenery. My favorite view came from lying on the king-size bed’s fluffy duvet, looking past my feet to the lake beyond. A small kitchen and dining room coexist with the living area, while a bathroom houses a whirlpool tub and double shower. And a wedge-shaped deck stretches out toward the lake, topped with an inviting pair of Adirondack chairs.

It’s surprising how serene the place is. Cell phone reception is blissfully spotty and there are no phones in the rooms. Wi-Fi is available but we intentionally avoided it in our quest to unplug and unwind. Canoe Bay is meant for relaxing and enjoying nature—for sleeping in, hiking the several trails on the 280-acre property and taking out a canoe to explore the lake. Visitors can also stroll the organic garden or schedule an in-room massage. And it’s ideal for reading, especially in the library. A two-story fieldstone fireplace sets a cozy tone in the lofted room filled with leather sofas and shelves of hardcover books covering every wall.

Dinner is also a highlight, and it was the first time we encountered another guest. The resort has an uncanny ability to make you feel like you’ve got it all to yourself. In the wood-walled dining room (dining is also available in the intimate wine cellar) our meal began with a Pinot Noir and salads of organic greens with a tangy dressing and journeyed from a perfectly cooked steak and a flavorful vegetarian wild rice dish to a dessert of honey cake filled with a layer of homemade sweet corn ice cream.

Back in our cottage, we slept with the shades pulled back and allowed the morning light to serve as a natural alarm clock. But what really got us out of bed was the realization that our breakfast had been delivered and was waiting in a wooden box outside our door. We pulled on robes and dug into the orange juice, coffee, muffins and egg-and-cheese omelet.

It was then that I noticed how small but thoughtful details enhance the Canoe Bay experience. Tactile things like the rough feel of coffee cups made by a local potter, warm bathroom floors courtesy of radiant heating and the ultra-soft throw on the sofa. But less tangible things, too, such as how calming it feels to sit in a well-designed space and the simple joy of being surrounded by nature.

Driving home a few hours later, we caught each other’s eye. Did that retreat from reality actually happen? Were we really there—or was it all just a wonderful dream?

Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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