Chetek, WI, USA ~ Canoe Bay

January 2019

Nearly a decade ago, we were fortunate to spend five days at a truly fabulous hotel in southern France, Chateau de Rochegude. This visit was our introduction to Relais & Chateaux properties, an association of more than 550 independent hotels and restaurants around the globe. img_1093To earn membership, each property must demonstrate its own particular “art of living” through luxury, top-quality amenities, outstanding dining and a passion for hospitality. But a property must also be a living expression of its particular place, and it must serve to enrich that place, contributing to its culture, its evolving history and its environment.

What does this all mean in the woods of Wisconsin? We were about to find out. Although we had known about Canoe Bay  — the only Relais & Chateaux property in the Midwest — for some time, we had never visited. With a few days free for a weekend away, we decided it was time to make the trip and see what Relais & Chateaux a la Wisconsin had to offer.

Much more than a room at an inn

img_1055We arrived at Canoe Bay late in the afternoon on a very cold (many degrees below zero Fahrenheit) Friday in January. The staff member at reception greeted us with genuine warmth and enthusiasm, letting us know there wasn’t a better place to snuggle in for a cold winter weekend than the cabin we were checking in to. She also told us we had been upgraded to a “treetop” cabin and then invited us to follow her colleague who would escort us to our cabin and give us a brief tour of its features.

On our drive into the property, we caught our first glimpse of what would become a favorite feature: cylindrical bundles of lights that mark the driving and walking paths. It was starting to get dark, but we could still make out the prairie-style architecture that defines most of Canoe Bay’s structures (Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Wisconsin), and we were excited to see that our treetop cabin was one of them. After pulling into the carport, we walked through the door of the cabin just as the sun was setting over the lake right outside the big picture windows that stretched across the living room (and, we would soon see, the bedroom and bathroom). Before proceeding with our tour, we had to pause and take a picture.


The cabin was lovely with its two gas fireplaces (one in the living room, one in the bedroom); two decks (even in the cold, great for star gazing); spa-style bathroom with a whirpool tub, steam shower and heated floors (love the heated floors); second half-bath; and tastefully done furnishings, many of which, following authentic prairie-style architecture were built in, including a cantilevered dining table. Quite honestly, the contents of our two modest travel bags did nothing to fill up all of the custom cabinetry.


The best kind of service: unobtrusive

Canoe Bay is billed as a couples retreat. All but one of the accommodations are designed for two people (or fewer), and no children or pets are allowed. The idea is to create a peaceful environment but also to make sure guests’ needs are readily met. Upon check-in and on each morning, guests get a short form to fill out that includes the day’s requests. These range from housekeeping needs to the preferred temperature for that evening’s steak dinner. During our stay, we rarely saw the staff, but they materialized whenever we needed something. And on the night we opted for the three-course prix fixe dinner in the dining room at The Inn, the service was spot on (as was the meal). Additionally, everyone we encountered was as friendly and polished as the first person we met at reception. Canoe Bay is certainly not stuffy, but its standards are high.  It could fit easily within the ranks of hotels in more cosmopolitan locales.

Unexplored features

It would have been easy to spend the whole day in front of the fireplace — or just linger in bed for that matter. We had books. We had wine. And we had very little cell service (which allowed for a long, deep exhale). But we can never seem to resist the opportunity to explore, even when it’s frigid, so we bundled up and took a few hours to walk around the property, checking out each of the cabins, hiking one of the trails and stopping at The Lodge to see its enormous fireplace and impressive library with what appeared to be several thousand volumes shelved by category.


Had our stay been longer, we would surely have booked dinner in the wine cellar, and we would have taken some time to linger in the library at The Lodge or try our hand at the puzzle in progress at The Inn. And although summer at Canoe Bay sounds enticing as well — canoeing on a quiet lake, having lunch on the patio, exploring all of the trails — winter seemed like the ideal time for a visit.

One small request

The coffee that came with each morning’s breakfast delivery was excellent, and coffee was available all day in The Lodge. But the coffee machine in the cabins was a Keurig. And coffee lovers will attest that Keurig coffee (whatever the brand) just isn’t that good. We’d  have been extra happy to have a Nespresso machine or a French press with fresh  beans at our disposal.

Stay details

  • Canoe Bay:
  • Location: 15 minutes east of Chetek, Wisconsin
  • Our stay: 2 nights, Jan 25 and 26, 2019
  • Treetop Signature Cottage

What we saw, what we did

  • Drive through Wisconsin countryside
  • Gilligan’s by the lake in Chetek. Pretty good bar pizza and a fun local scene.
  • Gordy’s Market small town grocery store for Wisconsin cheese and Swiss chocolate
  • Hike through the woods on Canoe Bay trails. Very pretty area with small lakes and rolling img_1096hills. Fun to see various animal tracks in snow.
  • Peek in on Escape Village tiny houses
  • Dinner at The Inn (Canoe Bay). Strong wine list, risotto, NY Strip Steak with Brussels sprouts, cappucino with chocolate crepe cake and sorbet

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