We needed a break. A break from vaccines, viruses, masks, plans for next year, plans to return to normalcy when nothing really feels normal. A resort was in order, but I wanted something new. My family found exactly what we needed at a short getaway in Kohler, Wis.
You may recognize the name Kohler. You'll find it on kitchen sinks, faucets, baths and toilets. In 1900 the Kohler Co. built a factory just outside of Sheboygan, a small city along Lake Michigan. Immigrants came from all over to work there.
Thus, the village of Kohler was born. And more important for future tourists, the American Club was built in 1918 to house those who worked in the factory. Today, the Immigrant Restaurant and Winery Bar has replaced the old laundry; luxury hotel rooms take the place of dormitories; a pub sits in a basement where workers had a bowling alley; the Wisconsin Room is in the former mess hall.
In 1978, the American Club was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Herbert V. Kohler Jr. made the brilliant decision to turn the Tudor-style building into a luxury hotel. Today, it's a paean to the past with elegant light fixtures and oak-paneled walls, part of the whole resort known as Destination Kohler. Guests can golf, relax in the newly renovated spa, dine at one of 12 eateries, or sip coffee in the Greenhouse, a gorgeous conservatory. The factory, still in use, looms as a reminder of the storied history.
What to do
Kohler Waters Spa: It's only natural that Kohler would have a first-class spa. From hydrotherapy treatments to the signature Kohler massage I had, it's about the experience. Get there early to enjoy a dip in the mosaic-tiled relaxation pool with an 8-foot wall of cascading water. Guests can relax on an uber-comfy chaise longue, ordering food poolside. Take a dip in the men's or women's whirlpools, or try the plunge pools, saunas and steam rooms.
Sports Core: Possibly the biggest gym I've ever been in. Large windows look out onto a small lake for a workout with a view. There are indoor and outdoor tennis courts, two pools, fitness centers, cycle rooms, a clothing boutique and a juice bar. In warmer months, there is beach access, kayaking and swimming. It's open to the public as well as Kohler guests.
River Wildlife: This 500-acre preserve is like a country club in the wilderness. It's a private club with dining, organized pheasant hunting, river kayaking, hiking and horseback riding. There is also fishing, cross-country skiing and some rustic campsites.
Golf: Last year, some of the best golfers in the U.S. faced off against Europe in the Ryder Cup here at Whistling Straits. My family played on that same course. Just stepping on that first hole alongside Lake Michigan is a magical feeling. Black-faced sheep roam the course. Golf carts aren't allowed. A couple of gorgeous stone buildings add to the ambience. Destination Kohler also features another golf course, called Blackwolf Run.
Kohler Design Center: Part museum, part store, part showroom. With 36,000 square feet over three levels, it's hard not to be awed by the rows and rows of faucets, the toilets hanging interestingly with mannequins on the wall, the gorgeous waterfall and high-tech screens and even the art and history exhibits. My favorite part was the predesigned bathrooms and kitchens. Snap photos for ideas, and dream big.
Where to eat
Whistling Straits: After a round of golf, grab a table at the restaurant across from the pro shop. Ask for a table by the cozy fire or just one with a view of Lake Michigan. The menu is full of locally sourced ingredients; entrees range from pan-seared salmon to lamb.
Taverne on Woodlake: If it's nice, a table outdoors is in order at this lakeside restaurant. Or sit in a beautiful rotunda, with windows overlooking the lake. The menu includes wood-fired pizzas (try the prosciutto and fig), steaks, pork chops, burgers and more.
River Wildlife: The aromas of home-cooked food and freshly cut wood filled the air at this members-only restaurant inside a rustic cabin. There are six small dining rooms, some with a fireplace, some in a loft. The menu showcases seasonal Midwestern food, but the most popular item is breaded walleye, served with remoulade and fresh veggies. Ever-changing offerings include elk tenderloin and pecan-crusted pheasant.
Horse & Plow: Nestled in the lower level of the American Club, it feels like a British pub with its traditional bar, leather sofas and wood booths. I'd read that the cheese curds were some of the best in Wisconsin, and they did not disappoint. They are beer-battered and made with local Gibbsville cheese and as fattening as they sound. But I ate every one of them.
Where to stay
When a plan to get two adjoining rooms at the Inn on Woodlake didn't work out, the folks at Kohler offered to move us to one of the luxury cabins in the Kohler Cabin Collection, 10 miles from the resort. As soon as we drove up the gravel road, I knew this was going to be special. Giant windows reveal a wide porch with a swing, an open yard, a pond and acres and acres of hiking trails.
Inside, a living room with a fireplace, a loft bedroom, a kitchen and a lower level with a bed and bath provide all the comforts of home. The bathrooms are decked out with Kohler fixtures, including a clawfoot tub and overhead rain showers.
Outside was a cacophony of birds, visiting turkey and deer, hiking trails — oh, and a sauna house. One night, we roasted marshmallows on the fire and played cards in the sauna house, where a round table and small fireplace beg for recreation.
And recreation is exactly what we were begging for — and got — on this trip.