There were a lot of naysayers who said it would never fly—a true destination spa in the woods of Wisconsin–but 20 years on, Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin Dells, has quietly but steadfastly proved those naysayers wrong. Since opening in 2003, Sundara has garnered a reputation as a sanctuary from stress and has managed to stay true to its wellness mission.
Part of what makes this place special is its intimacy—Sundara, a Sanskrit word for “beauty”—is blissfully tucked away in an 80-acre old-growth pine forest and offers 44 rooms with 10 different accommodation types. Best for those who desire to create their own retreat, solo or with a small group of friends, are the Woodland units, the most secluded and quiet. (Within these units are the Woodland Retreats, that sleep up to six.) Upon arrival, you are asked to sign the Pledge of Peace & Quiet and put away your electronics for the duration of your stay. Sundara, an adult-only destination, is electronics-free in all of the common areas.
Less than an hour’s drive from Madison, Wisconsin, and three hours from Chicago, Sundara is popular for girlfriend getaways and team retreats. “Our guests come here to get away and relax,” shares John Morris, General Manager and former spa director, who has been with the property for six years. “We’re a destination spa, but we’re different from a Miraval or a Canyon Ranch. They’re there to change your life, we’re not. We’re here to provide peace, relaxation, serenity, and tranquility.” This is evidenced throughout in specially designed spaces like Suvela (another Sanskrit word meaning “silence”), a conversation-free lounging area, as well as in the myriad of activities and classes on offer.
“We’re a destination spa, but we’re different from a Miraval or a Canyon Ranch. They’re there to change your life, we’re not. We’re here to provide peace, relaxation, serenity, and tranquility.”
Spas have traditionally been great places to disconnect and to learn new ways of being, and the pandemic has widened that–reminding us of the critical importance of spa in self-care. Many spas have seen an uptick in travel from those looking for a safe place to retreat—a place to decompress and re-learn the basic tenets of being human. “Everything changed in 2020 with Covid,” says Morris. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but the pandemic really transformed the spa industry in a good way.”
So, what exactly might your retreat look like at Sundara? For those seeking a two-to-three-night solo retreat, your itinerary could look like this: Settle into a secluded suite overlooking the pine forest; keep an eye out for wildlife—fox, deer, geese, racoons, and turkeys abound; try an Ayurvedic-inspired spa treatment to calm the mind, body, and soul; walk the Chakra Meditation Trail with seven meditation stops corresponding to the seven chakras or energy centers in the body; nap in the Hammock Retreat at the end of the Meditation Trail; soak in the spa waters at the 27-treatment room spa that offers a number of water experiences; clear your mind with the Purifying Bath Ritual, a five-step, self-guided treatment along a circular path in the spa that includes a beneficial cool plunge; take a brisk hike on the trail through the woods, or sign up for a Forest Bathing session; experience as many or as few complimentary fitness and wellness classes as your heart desires, including aqua yoga, yoga in the new open-air studio, culinary demos, and more; swim in the inside pools plus outdoor pools heated year-round (a snowy swim is magical with the fragrant pine trees adding to the ambiance); dine at your leisure at Nava where the menu is full of good-for-you plant-based protein options; the property works with a local farmer, seven miles away, who delivers fresh produce weekly; star gaze on your balcony or at one of many outdoor terraces and appreciate the beauty of the dark night sky; enjoy the soothing bedtime tea and lavender pillow spray as part of Sundara’s new nighttime ritual, and get back in touch with your circadian rhythms; give yourself permission to disconnect, with the common areas, electronics-free and separate silent spaces for quiet contemplation.
If this piques your interest and you’d like to explore more of what Sundara has to offer, go to sundaraspa.com.
Mary Bemis is Founder & Editorial Director of InsidersGuidetoSpas.com. She is a pioneering spa journalist, most recently honored as one of the "Top 30 Influential Voices Transforming Wellness." She is an inaugural recipient of Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and was honored by ISPA with its distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She is a Global Wellness Day Advisor, and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.
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