Canoe Bay (near Chetek, WI)

By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Star Tribune
October 8, 2005

For us, romantic weekends always seemed to begin with an airplane ride -- until we found Canoe Bay. The secluded inn, just a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities near Chetek, Wis., offers quiet, gracious service and luxurious rooms -- but no telephones or in-room Internet hookup. Who needs the outside world when you're in a warm, woodsy room next to a quiet lake? Canoe Bay is the Midwest's only Relais & Chateaux, a collection of only the top 440 luxury hotels and restaurants in the world, so it's our area's own gem of a hideaway.

Why go now

Fall colors are peaking and the lakes are still open for canoeing. The property's 280 acres are filled with miles of hiking trails, and there are two lakes on the property for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and row boating -- no noisy motorboats allowed.

What to do

Hike the miles of trails and you may find signs of deer, fox, mink, porcupine and beaver. Tote binoculars if you want to view a wide variety of birds. But the true attraction here is the quiet. Sit on your deck -- every room has one -- and revel in doing nothing.

Dinner . . .

There are many resorts near Minneapolis that offer seclusion and wildlife; we go to Canoe Bay for the food. The dining room is elegant -- there's a dinner jacket-required dress code -- and the food is on a par with the Twin Cities' better restaurants.

The menu is fixed and fixed price, meaning there are no choices. Expect a small "amuse bouche" bite of something, a soup or salad, a main course and a dessert. It's different every day. Canoe Bay prides itself on serving local and organically grown foods, and will accommodate most dietary preferences. It also has an exceptional wine list that works for all budgets.

The restaurant is closed on Tuesday. There are nearby restaurants outside the resort, but we recommend arranging your vacation so as to not be there that night.

. . . and a movie

All rooms come with a big-screen television and a DVD player. Bring your own movies, or borrow one from their extensive video library.

If you prefer a quieter option, you can browse Canoe Bay's 3,000-book library. We've found fascinating treasures every time we've stayed there.

Our little secret

Your room comes with pastries and coffee delivered to your door each morning, and you can purchase hot accompaniments. Similarly, you can buy a cold box lunch. We don't think it's worth it; we recommend bringing your own snacks to tide you over until dinner. You could leave the premises and find a restaurant for lunch, but we like staying on the property. You'll have an en suite small refrigerator for whatever perishables you might bring.

Skip it

If you need your cigarette, don't go. Canoe Bay doesn't allow smoking on the premises: not inside the common buildings, not in your private room, not even on the grounds.

Likewise, pass it by if you're looking for a family getaway. Children are not welcome: The property is reserved for singles and couples who want to enjoy the quiet with no distractions.

Cost

Canoe Bay's luxury doesn't come cheaply. The rooms are about $325 to $510 per night, and cottages are about $375 to $825. We recommend the deluxe rooms off the library at $375 per night. These feature private decks, a full view of the lake and hundreds of carefully chosen books right outside your door. Dinners cost $65 per person, more if you book the table in the wine cellar.

Six months out

Canoe Bay is an especially nice retreat in winter. The hiking paths become snowshoe trails, and people like us make snow angels on the lake. The gas fireplace will keep your room cozy and the whirlpool tub in your room will help you warm up again.

Getting there

Canoe Bay is in northwestern Wisconsin, off Hwy. 53, just outside the town of Chetek. The resort is purposely hard to find (only guests, not onlookers, are welcome), so print the directions they send you and follow them exactly.

Along the way

We're collectors, so we stop in Chetek and just about every other little town along the way for antique browsing. We also recommend a stop in Chippewa Falls to tour the Leinenkugel Brewery. Reservations are a must (1-888-534-6437).

The basics

For more information or reservations, call 1-715-924-4594 or visit www.canoebay.com.

earlier review: Rice Paper (Minneapolis, MN)
later review: Punch (Eden Prairie, MN)
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Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

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