Spa Hopping: A Sense of Place

A one-of-a-kind Wisconsin spa blends indigenously inspired tradition with ancient healing wisdom.
Images courtesy of Aspira Spa

It was 1886 when immigrant entrepreneurs Otto and Paulina Osthoff ventured north from their Milwaukee home. After years of untold suffering, Paulina had experienced a nervous breakdown, and her physician suggested that spending some time near the healing waters of southeastern Wisconsin’s Elkhart Lake might help. Legend had it that the Potawatomi Indians who originally inhabited the area had bathed in this lake — formed by retreating glaciers and fed by springs —so as to feel “rejuvenated and handsome” once more.

Perhaps the crystal-clear lake, one of Wisconsin’s deepest, did indeed play a role in Paulina’s eventual recuperation. In any case, the Osthoffs never went back, and Otto built a large summer resort in the locale. The Osthoff Hotel housed an amusement area, art-deco bar and dance hall. About 40 years later, the tiny village of Elkhart Lake evolved into a gambling haven and Prohibition hideaway, with speakeasies coexisting alongside the area’s dairy farms. In the 1950s, the debt-ridden hotel was sold off, and for the next 30 years, the facility operated as a drama camp.

In 1995, investors restored the property’s German architecture and Old World charm, and reopened the Osthoff as a destination retreat. By 2005, the resort had gained a conference center, several restaurants — and a Four Diamond rating. The following year, The Osthoff Resort introduced Aspira Spa and, in 2013, it was recognized by Travel + Leisure as one of the top three spas in North America.

Continue reading this story in our February digital edition!