By Mark Bradley
As we boarded the luxurious 1898 yacht “Polaris” to begin our short passage to historic Black Point mansion in Lake Geneva, the dazzling colors of autumn encircled us and added to the grandeur that defines this all-season relaxation, romance and recreation destination.
The diversity of fall color is no accident, as the trees surrounding the town of Lake Geneva were strategically placed by city planner Frederick Law Olmstead to “dazzle by design” each fall, adding to the elegant lifestyle enjoyed by its early residents.
Lake Geneva has often been called the “Newport of the West,” referring to the Rhode Island city that was a summer escape of New York’s wealthy during the Gilded Age of the 1890’s. Much like Newport, Lake Geneva became a summer escape for many wealthy Chicagoans, particularly after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 devastated their city.
Black Point Estate was the summer home of Chicago brewer Conrad Seipp, a German immigrant, who amassed a fortune with his brewery before it closed during Prohibition. His descendants donated the home to the people of Wisconsin, opening it to the public for tours during the spring, summer and fall months.
All along the lakefront you’ll find similar homes of some of Chicago’s most iconic families (Wrigley, Swift, Sturges, etc). The Geneva Lake Shore Path loop encircles the seven and a half mile long, two mile wide lake, allowing visitors to set foot on some of the most expensive lakefront property in the country.
During my late September visit I stayed in the Harbor Shores on Lake Geneva Hotel, a modern five story structure located “in the heart of it all.” I enjoyed a lakefront view with a balcony and comfortable accommodations. The staff made my stay particularly special, living up to their Lake Geneva Hospitality Award for extraordinary customer service. The building itself was within easy walking distance of downtown restaurants, shopping and the Riviera dock, making it a convenient and affordable alternative to some of the larger resorts in the area.
Once settled into the hotel, I began my Lake Geneva experience at the Baker House, an elegant 1885 mansion converted into an intimate, upscale boutique hotel complete with a personal butler. I toasted good fortune with a circle of guests as we stood in the front yard at sunset wearing turn of the twentieth century hats, while the staff dressed in gowns and suits of the era.
Among the many local eateries I visited throughout the trip, Sprecher’s Restaurant and Pub downtown proved to be my favorite, as they featured their own German style beers along with their own Root Beer and Cream Soda for the kids.
Across the lake on William’s Bay I discover another local find, a newly opened restaurant called Pier 290 that offers lakeside indoor and outdoor dining. Amazingly, it is one of just a handful of lakeside restaurants open to the public. They offer fresh and natural casual dining with a nautical ambiance featuring classic Lake Geneva boat propellers and other assorted artifacts.
Nearby in Fontana is the newly renovated Abbey Resort, where I enjoyed a relaxing massage in their Avani Spa before heading down to the docks for the annual Antique Boat Show. I found dozens of classic, wooden antique boats on display, highlighted elegantly by the resort’s signature A Frame entrance that has been welcoming guests for nearly 50 years.
If you’re looking for a gift that will make you the talk of the family—you can’t go wrong with an Abbey gift card. And from now through New Year’s Day, when you purchase a $100 gift card, you’ll receive a $20 bonus certificate. Purchase $500 and receive a free night stay and $100 in bonus certificates.
Rates for the holiday weekends and Christmas week start at $99 a night.
Venturing out of my comfort zone, I decided to try my hand at ziplining with Lake Geneva Canopy Tours. This true “canopy tour” involves riders traversing steel cables connected by a series of platforms in the trees, walking wire rope “sky bridges,” and climbing tree based staircases before finishing on a long downhill zipline to home base. It’s family friendly and open to all ages with certain weight limitations.
In the colder months Lake Geneva embraces winter and the spirit of Christmas with a wide variety of events. Originally, iceboat racing on the lake was the major attraction. Though still largely popular, the Grand Geneva Resort kicks annual six week long Christmas in the Country draws major attention as well. Beginning in mid-November, the event features a guided Trolley Tour of Lights overlooking festive outdoor holiday decorations around their 1,300 acre grounds.
Inside, you’ll find the largest Gingerbread House display in the nation, as well as an exhibit of locally made Christmas quilts and a Festival of Trees. Accompanied by a live orchestra, the popular two-hour long dance-musical production of “Hooray for the Holidays” is another favorite draw.
Lake Lawn Resort also joins in the spirit with performances of “The Nutcracker,” and on Christmas Eve you can enjoy a “Dickens Dinner” inspired by the works of Charles Dickens, while Christmas Day features a Grand Yuletide Buffet.
The crowning attraction, downtown Lake Geneva hosts the Festival of Lights and Great Electric Children’s Christmas Parade Nov. 30-December 1. For more information on this event and other visitor information in the Lake Geneva area go to LakeGenevaWi.com or call 800.345.1020.