Lake Effect

My insomnia wakes me at 4:30 a.m. no matter what time zone I’m in. It found me during my first night at Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, despite my room’s perfect temperature, embracing comfort, absolute darkness and pure silence. With hope that sleep would find me again, I set the clock radio alarm to 8 a.m. and a country music station before I resumed the game of sleep-pretend. Morning announced itself in a blaring twang inches from my head, startling me out of the deepest sleep I’d ever known.

Elkhart Lake has been a resort getaway for Milwaukee and Chicago residents since the 1870s. Natives claimed that anyone who bathed in it would be “rejuvenated and handsome again.” German entrepreneur Otto Osthoff and his wife, Paulina, visited in 1885, on the recommendation of their family doctor after Paulina suffered a nervous breakdown. They built the original Otto Osthoff Hotel, which closed mid-century and was used as a theater arts camp until it was razed to make way for the current structure.

The main hotel opened in 1995, and an addition 10 years later brought more rooms, a gourmet restaurant and the 20,000-square-foot Aspira Spa, which offers more than 100 services incorporating cedar collected from the lake as well as native elderberries and chamomile grown in the spa’s herb garden. “The word organic, for us, means much more than food and fiber,” Aspira Spa general manager Lola Roeh told me. “It means a connection to nature at every turn.”

At Aspira I was steamed, scrubbed and Moroccan hot-oil-marinated in a two-hour Hammam treatment, anointed and delighted by a luxurious Gentlemen’s Facial. During my second day at Osthoff, I accompanied Mindy, my massage therapist, as she gathered water from Lake Elkhart for my Sacred Waters massage. “It’s important to give back,” she said, as she sprinkled a handful of cedar sprigs and tobacco leaves into the lake.

I slept straight through my second night. Not one to jump the gun, though, I signed up for a reflexology and scalp treatment on day three—just in case.


Elkhart Lake

An early 1950s grand-prix style road race that put Elkhart Lake on the map for racing enthusiasts and gamblers once zoomed straight through town. It’s been replaced by the world-class Road America, a few miles out of town, which offers tours, driving classes and more. Rhine Street offers three blocks of shops and the popular Off the Rail Cafe, in a defunct rail storage building next to the feed mill.


Five To Do

• The steamy Moroccan Hammam and The Chromatub, which cleans your skin and lymph system with light, sound and jets.

• The exquisite circular Meditation Sanctuary, which incorporates feng shui and the five elements as water flows down a native bluestone wall into a keyhole-shaped, copper-lined pond. Sit on stone, wood or provided meditation cushions and let it all go.

• The signature Cedars, Sacred Waters and Chakra Healing massages or the Elderberry Facial, delivered in well-appointed fireside rooms.

• The Spa Café’s Bosc pear, Greek yogurt and ginger smoothie

• The Spa Suites, for a full day of treatments, jet tubs and fireside therapies—great for girls’ getaways or couples


Colorado-based writer BILL GIEBLER has experienced insomnia—and much more—on three continents. He logs his adventures at


 Pictured: The Signature Cedars Massage incorporates aromatherapy using fresh native cedar, an herb used by Native Americans to purify and protect.
Organic Spa Magazine
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