Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Discovering Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

It wasn’t long after I moved to the Midwest before I started hearing about Lake Geneva. I honestly didn’t know much about the Wisconsin town before this, but when I met with a representative of their Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) at the Chicago Travel Show, I knew that I had to put it on my trip list.

Finding a friend to come along was an easy task. In fact, my friends Cortney and Amy were both begging to come. I checked with the Lake Geneva CVB who was making all the arrangements, and they agreed that it sounded like the makings of a great girls’ getaway. They weren’t wrong.

The drive to Lake Geneva only took a few hours. We arrived at Maxwell Mansion 1856 late afternoon and were immediately taken with the property.

Chicago Surgeon Dr. Philip Maxwell built this property for him and his wife to move into in 1856. It joined the list of Lake Geneva properties that had become vacation homes for the wealthy in Chicago.

Among those who have stayed at Maxwell Mansion were General Ulysses S. Grant and future First Lady Nancy Davis (later Nancy Reagan).

The property changed hands a few times before being purchased 2012 by Bethany Souza and Andrew Fritz.

The couple had already restored the Baker House mansion into a boutique property and they had similar plans for Maxwell Mansion.

The common rooms were updated and both an Apothecary Bar and Cognac Lounge on the ground floor of this Lake Geneva house, and a Speakeasy Bar downstairs were added.

There are also numerous sitting areas so that guests feel the comfort of a Bed & Breakfast, though no breakfast is served here.

The current Maxwell Mansion 1856 retains the quaint luxury of the original house, but there is now an additional building with more modern touches. The Carriage House at Maxwell Mansion has whirlpool tubs and memory foam mattress, neither of which would have been available in General Grant’s day.

We got to experience it all as I stayed in the grandest suite in the original house, the General Grant Suite, while Amy and Cortney stayed in the Carriage House.

My suite did have Wi-Fi and a flat screen TV, but it was still very traditional. I loved the fireplace, self-standing soaking tub, and antique desk, not to mention the very comfortable king-sized bed.

After we settled in, we changed for dinner. We were heading to the Chophouse at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. This place had quite a bit of history of its own as it was once a Playboy Mansion.

Aside from some relics displayed from the old “Bunny” days, Grand Geneva is very much a contemporary resort and the Chophouse definitely offered dinner with a view.

The service at the Geneva Chophouse was impeccable from the moment we sat down and they brought the bread and accompaniments, along with one of my favorite wines, Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc.

Amy and Cortney started off raving about the restaurant as soon as they got the scallop appetizer, which were seared and topped with bacon from Nueske's, a Wisconsin farm.

While I couldn’t eat the scallops, I did love the Caprese Salad, with locally sourced mozzarella and tomatoes, drenched in a balsamic and olive oil.

We all loved our main courses: Sea Bass with capers and lemon for Cortney; Short Ribs for me; and a Pork Chop for Amy.   

It was hard to narrow down the side dishes, but we made good choices by picking the Asparagus in lemon butter, Brussel sprouts with shallots, and Lobster Mac & Cheese.

We had to rush off the a very special performance so there was no time for dessert, but the staff insisted we take some cheesecake to go and that’s something I never turn down.

Our next stop was at the Lunt-Fontanne Program Center, which is a non-profit set up to pay tribute to actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne on the land they once owned and lived in.

This Lake Geneva property not only houses many artifacts from their time on stage and screen, but it has become a learning institute for up and coming actors.

Each year, a celebrity is chosen to lead a group at the school. This year it was Olympia Dukakis and we were honored to be given tickets to see her send off.

I had always been a fan of Olympia Dukakis and especially loved her character in Steel Magnolias Listening to her speak was a pleasure as she was fun and informative about her experiences with other actresses – especially Shirley McClain – and her life as an actor.

The show was wonderful and I was excited about coming back in the morning to tour the Ten Chimneys estate. In the meantime, we headed back to Maxwell Mansion.

Although we were all exhausted and ready to head to our beds, we did manage to finish off the dessert we had brought from the Geneva Chophouse. As expected, it was delicious.

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