By Tanya M. Williams
Close your eyes. Imagine the perfect holistic retreat: organic cuisine, in-room hydrotherapy tubs, king-sized feather beds, authentic spa services, serene suites, on-site hiking trails, and quiet, blissful quiet. Nestled among native pines on twenty-six rolling acres, Sundara Inn & Spa is a hidden sanctuary. Located in the kitchy but historic resort town of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, Sundara is everything the town is not—elegant, sophisticated, and environmentally conscious.
Coasting up the winding drive on a rainy fall morning, my partner Charles and I arrive at two great doors and are ushered into the reception area, a soaring glass rotunda that exceeds the building’s three stories. Designed to complement the landscape, the organic structure is built according to feng shui principles and features a palette of muted, natural hues. We are greeted by Drew, who shows us to our room, a Shaanta suite with views of the wooded hillside. “Shaanta,” he says, “means the sentiment of peace, pleasure, and happiness in Sanskrit.” To that end, we find a gas fireplace, a king-sized bed with down duvet, and a spa-quality Swiss shower tower and two-person hydrotherapy massage tub in our lavishly appointed bathroom. After a quick how-to on the fancy shower and tub, Drew departs, leaving us to gape at our good fortune.
Growing hungry for lunch, we follow the curving plaster walls out to the second-floor rotunda where small tables are set for spa luncheons. We take a seat, glad to be in out of the rain, and peruse the mostly organic menu. We order and while we’re waiting, the chef sends out a sample of her soup of the day, a seasonal pumpkin, which is warming and delicious. Soon after, our meal arrives. A satisfying combination of healthy ingredients and lively flavors, it proves to be a light but filling lunch.
We clean our plates and decide to explore the property, heading first for the spa. En route we bump into Kelli Trumble, owner and CEO, who immediately offers to provide a tour of her twenty-six-room labor of love. Since we arrived before traditional check-in time, she gives us a peek at the other styles of suites—six in all—some of which cater to larger groups, sleeping up to five people. Outside, we check out the infinity pool, which drops off the property’s front edge, creating a waterfall. For cooler weather, a hot soaking pool beckons, and the heated pool deck promises guest comfort regardless of the season.
Next we enter the spa’s relaxation area—where wooden loungers are lined up overlooking the pool and the forest beyond. Through one door, we find Sundara’s signature purifying ritual area, a self-serve hydrotherapy circuit that begins with a warm shower and sandstone body polish, then a scented body mist primes the skin for a stop in the aroma steam room. Another rainfall shower cools the body down, before sinking into the hot tub for a ten minute soak. Finally, a dip in the cold pool provides an energizing and invigorating conclusion. The ritual, designed to precede spa treatments, is open to all guests of the spa or inn, providing all visitors with an opportunity for a head-to-toe spa experience.
“We wanted to educate our clients about the benefits of hydrotherapy treatments so they might replicate them at home,” Trumble says. “It’s as simple as shifting the shower to cool just before you step out—and it does marvelous things for your energy.” True gluttons for hydrotherapy, Charles and I exchange glances. Let it rain, I think, we’ll be purifying.
We part ways with Ms. Trumble and return to the room to fetch swimsuits and robes. In minutes, we are standing beneath a rainfall shower, scrubbing each another with Sundara’s signature sandstone. The fine sand, now blended with essential oils, was harvested from the building site and has become an integral part of the Sundara spa experience. We complete the circuit, cozy up with some tea in the relaxation area, and then head back to the room for a nap.
An hour later, we wake to find the grey weather clearing, and head downstairs to arrange for dinner. The accommodating staff makes several suggestions nearby, including the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed restaurant Field’s, a steak and seafood place overlooking the Wilderness Woods Golf Course. The architect, who was born in nearby Spring Green, has a handful of his original creations in the area, and his home, school, farm, and studio are a short drive away. We’re tempted, but opt to eat in figuring our late afternoon spa treatments may leave us less motivated for an excursion. Chef Kimberly Anderson agrees to prepare an in-room picnic of tapas-style Mediterranean dishes, cheese, and fruit.
Satisfied, we venture out to explore the town. Home to a countless number of family-fun resorts and waterparks, old-time waterskiing shows on Lake Delton and the area’s original draw—exquisite sandstone cliffs, caverns, and rock formations that frame the Dells’ waterways, Wisconsin Dells is a bit like a Midwest version of Myrtle Beach. Nonetheless, it provides easy access to the area’s many lakes and state parks—including beautiful Buckhorn State Park, a great spot for a sunny picnic or a calming kayaking excursion. Heritage and photography lovers will appreciate the H.H. Bennett Studio and Historical Musuem, the oldest photography studio in the U.S., where visitors can view some of the original nature and landscape photography that made the area famous.
We head back to Sundara for our ‘spa together’ treatment, a hot soak in a chromatherapy tub followed by a one-hour marma massage. The room is large by spa standards, and houses side-by-side tubs and massage tables as well as a fireplace. We slide into the steaming water and our therapists start the lights which shift through the spectrum from yellow to violet. The heat opens pores and induces sweat, allowing the body to detoxify and relax. The colors are said to relate to different emotions, helping to balance the body on an emotional level.
After explaining how to adjust the temperature of the water, our therapists depart and we are left to ourselves. Twenty minutes later, our therapists return, bearing water and fresh towels, and we move from the tubs to the tables. An Ayurvedic treatment, marma massage uses long flowing strokes at varying depths depending on one’s Ayurvedic constitution. The session begins with a foot bath and body type analysis, and though we are still a bit woozy from the tub, the long and rhythmic strokes of the massage are stimulating. Performed with minimal draping, this treatment is not for the very modest, but is a worthwhile change from the standard Swedish massage. We finish with a warm cup of dosha balancing tea and a cracker with herbal jelly to enjoy in the relaxation area.
Thoroughly milked of all our tension, we return to our room to find a picnic dinner, spread out on a blanket before the fireplace, complete with a bottle of red wine. No changing clothes, battling the rain or waiting to order, instead, we eat in our pajamas, turn on some music and enjoy what remains of a flawless day.
Sundara Inn & Spa, Wisconsin Dells, WI, (888) 735-8181, www.sundaraspa.com. Shaanta Suites start at $239/night, Marma Massage, $125/person, Chromatherapy bath add-on, $50/person