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If it were a drug, Canoe Bay would be illegal. It's waaaay too decadent. Tucked deep amid the towering maples and whispering pines of Northern Wisconsin, a stay at this restful, romantic lakeside retreat near the resort town of Chetek is like climbing back into the womb. It's peaceful, indulgent, addictive.

That's exactly the way owners Dan and Lisa Dobrowolski intended it to be. A place of renewal and coddling. Lisa smiles. "If there are any tensions when we see a couple drive up, by the time they leave, they're as relaxed as babies."

"Everything here moves at a less pressured pace," she continues. "You suddenly find that you needed the quiet. It's so good for the soul. By the end of your stay, you often find that your personality changes...and that peaceful memory of sitting by the lake can stay with you all week."

Indeed it does. From the moment I drove onto the property---keeping a wary eye out for white-tail deer who refuse to make use of the designated "deer crossing" areas---I was in a different world. One where towering trees, some more than 150 years old, delightfully muffled cell phone reception. I took it as a very good sign. 

Lisa met me at the lodge. My husband had planned to join me on what would have been our first romantic retreat in years, but when he had to cancel at the last minute, I invited Kim along, my 26-year-old daughter, a stressed-out Minneapolis attorney. After Kim grabbed a couple of movies from Canoe Bay's video library, Lisa hopped in her golf cart to lead the way to our "Hillside Cottage," a luxurious cedar cabin with a large deck overlooking a breath-taking view of Lake Wahdoon, one of three private lakes on this wilderness estate. The architecture and furnishings of all the nine suites and ten cottages surrounding the lake were inspired by Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Inside the cottage, oversized windows allowed much the same view. But now we also had the additional comforts of a temperature-controlled stone fireplace, a double Jacuzzi, king bed with a fluffy down comforter, a two-person shower, overstuffed furniture, TV, stereo and DVD player, breakfast nook, and writing desk. Hardcover books and magazines offer silent companionship. Could it be anymore inviting? Actually, it turns out, it could. 

After getting the final details about dinner arrangements, Linda disappeared and Kim and I were on our own. The first thing our stressed-out little selves did was to slip into Canoe Bay's signature silk and terrycloth robes and don our complimentary terry slippers. pantyhose, no waistbands! Then we grabbed the complimentary bottle of wine, along with the cheese and fruit tray and headed out to the balcony to stare at the lake as the sun went down. Utter bliss. 

At Seven, we dressed ("smart casual"---no denim) for the evening's gourmet "tasting." Fine dining at water's edge. "Chef Scott Johnson," Lisa says, "is a "hunter/ gatherer. He goes on a regular route, meets with local farmers and goes for organic." 

So as the moon danced across the lake, we feasted on pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with red-pepper sauce---the best fish I have ever eaten in my entire life (and I grew up with a very picky fisherman as a father)---baby spinach & toasted almond salad tossed with raspberry vinaigrette, free-range roasted chicken with foraged mushroom risotto, and melt-in-your-mouth homemade bread. Dessert was yummy Wisconsin cheesecake with fresh locally-grown strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Service was impeccable. 

More than 700 wines are on Canoe Bay's award-winning wine list, but we took their word for it and didn't actually count. In fact, if you so choose, you can actually enjoy a private dinner inside Canoe Bay's craftsman-style wine cellar (they'll even up the temperature for you!) 

Canoe Bay is more than just a "property" for the Dobrowolskis. It's Dan's "favorite place on earth."

He spent his boyhood wandering the grounds with his Grandpa, Stan Dobrowolski, who loved to fish the lakes. But in 1964, the farmer who owned the land sold it to the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Wisconsin who built a retreat. Dan was devastated. So when the property came back on the market in the late eighties, he was more than a little interested. Finally, in 1992, he and Lisa took the plunge, leaving their television and public relations careers behind them in Chicago. They closed on the property and headed north to Canoe Bay to start a new life.

When they did, they brought with them years of travel experience. They knew what they liked and what they didn't. What was romantic and what didn't pass the test. That's why both insist on such keen attention to detail. Why service is there when you need it, but out of sight when you don't. It's like being at a private estate. Want cookies in your room? Extra ice? An afternoon cheese plate? Ask and it shall be delivered. Privacy? Hang the needlepoint "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door.

Canoe Bay's cottages and cabins are scattered around Lake Wahdoon, each within walking distance of the other, yet it's rare to actually see other guests. There are no planned activities, but that's the whole point of the experience. Swim in the crystal-clear glacier-created lake, enjoy a walk through the woods---the trails are wide enough to hold hands while you walk---or slip a kayak or canoe into the lake and glide among the lily pads. When we did the latter, we paddled through white and yellow lily blossoms, stopped to watch a deer wade by the shore, and sat breathless as a bald eagle---yes, a bald-eagle ("Old Abe," our nation's symbol, actually came from this part of the country)---glided overhead. During the winter, cross-country skiing, snow-showing and ice-skating are popular...but so is snuggling in front of the fireplace. At night, in the total absence of streetlights, the stars are so bright and seem so close you could reach out and be covered in stardust.

Other Canoe Bay signature amenities include hot breakfast delivered to your door each morning (which can include fresh cranberry and blueberry muffins, free-range scrambled eggs, coffee, and fruit)---even the pottery it's served in is locally made. A gourmet picnic basket is another wonderful option. Order it at breakfast and you'll have it by noon. A library filled with current hardbacks...a gym (some accommodations have private exercise facilities), and in-room massage, are also available.

Our only regret in leaving Canoe Bay was that we actually had to leave. Neither one of us wanted to go. Returning to the real world was brutal. I left my cell phone off and couldn't even bear to turn the radio on. I'm already planning my return trip.

Located on 280-acres of pristine woodlands and restored prairie grass, this secluded Relais & Chateaux property---the premiere hideaway of the upper Midwest---is a scenic two-hour drive from Minneapolis, six-hours from Chicago.

Prices range from $270-700/night. For more information, log on or contact Canoe Bay, P. O. Box 28, Chetek, WI 54728 (715) 924-4594. / Issue 192 - April 8202
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