Green Lake and Heidel House, relaxed and surprising

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As snow fell under the outdoor lamps, inside we sat next to a warm, crackling fire and watched Dickens’ redemptive tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and ghosts of Christmas past, present and future unfold.

The storyteller who brought “A Christmas Carol” to life on that cold November night in 2005 was Gerald Charles great-grandson of the work’s world-famous English author. Most amazing of all, per- haps, is that the dramatic reading did not take place in London’s Old Vic Theatre, but in the Heidel House Resort & Spa in Green Lake, which is less than 90 minutes by car from both Milwaukee and Madison.

As we learned from numerous visits, a weekend spent at the Green Lake County resort brings with it surprises just like this one. The Heidel House is a year-round destination, but it is during the summer months that the resort, located on the shores of Green Lake, really shines.

Green Lake itself is the state’s deepest natural inland lake, covering 7,346 acres and boasting 29.3 miles of shoreline. Sailboats, jet skis and other assorted watercraft ply the lake’s surface on summer afternoons. Some carry serious fisherman while others bear passengers who’ve simply come to play. In either case, the water’s gentle lap against the side of a boat can be a potent tonic for big-city stress.

The Heidel House and its host community of Green Lake (population about 1,200) help bring a relaxing focus to the area, while adding their own activities and options for visitors. The area’s draw goes beyond water sports, combining small town charm, fine dining, exquisite spa services and, yes, even the occasional appearance of a famous author’s progeny.

The town itself wraps the resort, both of which hug the lake’s northern shore. The rural community takes on a languid air in the summer, and a stroll through downtown and residential areas turns up interesting shops and restaurants that will be worth a visit.

But there is no doubt that the resort is the center of activity, capitalizing on the area’s natural beauty to draw visitors and encourage them to linger. The integration of activities on the lake with those offered by the resort add an element of class to the outdoor fun.

The Heidel House is home to the elegant Grey Rock, long considered one of the state’s top 25 restaurants. Comfortable attitudes combine with fine cuisine to offer diners an exceptional experience. Whether your tastes run to sausage and black truffle chicken roulade ($23) or pan-fried alligator scallopini ($22), the Grey Rock has something for just about every palate.

During the summer months, the Grey Rock offers its Dine and Sail Experience. Diners board the Escapade Yacht and enjoy a choice of sirloin with sautéed portobello mushrooms, cilantro-rubbed tilapia, hazelnut-crusted chicken or pasta puttanesca with tomatoes, garlic, capers and olives for $42 per person. The season’s final dinner cruise is Aug. 23.

The Grey Rock also will host one more New England lobster bake on Aug. 31. Held on the resort grounds, the menu includes one live Maine lobster of choice, grilled tiger shrimp, steamer clams, grilled sirloin steak and a soup and salad buffet for $50 per person. Call 920-294-3344 for details about both events.

For those who are only here for the beer, as the saying goes, the Escapade yacht this season also is offering three more beer cruises, each featuring craft beers from different Wisconsin brewers. On Aug. 17, enjoy beer from Big Bay Brewing Co. in Shorewood; on Sept. 7, beers from Glendale’s Sprecher Brewery are featured; and on Oct. 12, enjoy the beers from Middle- ton’s Capital Brewery, along with the changing fall colors.

To work up an appetite for events, golfers can test their skills at Tuscumbia, the state’s oldest golf course, located just across the street from the resort. The area also features The Golf Courses of Lawsonia just a few miles down Highway 23, and Mascoutin Golf Course, a 27-hole course off Highway 49 that’s home to many tournaments.

The resort’s major draw may be the Evensong Spa, which offers massages and other treatments designed to energize mind, body and spirit. Evensong’s signature massage, Inner Journey, begins with heated stones placed on key energy points of the body to promote relaxation, followed by a full body massage with your choice of aromatic oils. Therapists are trained            in reflexology, facial therapies and water cures. There’s a couples massage and even a Hole-in-One Golfer’s Massage, designed for pre-game conditioning.

One of Evensong’s most intriguing aspects is its labyrinth, an indoor path that functions as a contemplative tool for psychological and spiritual transformation. With designs based on those found in ancient Greece, labyrinths were popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. The most famous labyrinth is located in Chartres Cathedral near Paris.

Walking a labyrinth has reemerged today as a metaphor for the spiritual journey and a powerful tool for transformation. Labyrinths are currently being used worldwide as a way to quiet the mind, find balance and encourage meditation, insight and celebration.

One could say the same about a visit to the Heidel House Resort, with or without an appearance by Charles Dickens’ great-great-grandson. The resort offers its own redemptive features in a beautiful natural setting.