Xanadu Island was selected as one of 10 unique retreats that offer more than a room with a view.
There comes a point in summer, after a series of long, hot, sultry days, that you want a change of scenery. Not Pensacola or Peru, perhaps, but a brief vacation close by that offers that magical combination: all the comforts of home plus an opportunity to do something new. Maybe you want to go bear watching during the day, then spend the evening soaking in a whirlpool tub for two. Or bike and hike along the rocky shore of Lake Superior, then read a novel in the crisp northern air. Just in time for end-of-the-summer flings and autumn color getaways, we've compiled a list of 10 remarkable retreats. Only two are Victorian bed and breakfasts nestled (they're always nestled) in small river towns. The others are lodges, a cabin, hotels and resorts that provide a distinctively Midwestern brand of rustic luxury. We've found locations so remote you access them by boat, retreats that offer spa services along the lakeshore, and a surprisingly suite vacation just over the border in North Dakota. So take advantage of the last months before winter sets in. Escape for a weekend, or even just an overnight. And Enjoy.
Do not go to Xanadu Island Bed and Breakfast seeking a replica of Kublai Khan's pleasure dome. Though the large, rustic home was certainly a playground for the St. Louis millionaire who built it around 1922, it is modest by today's standards: comfortable and classic. Khan would not have known what to do with himself, sitting in a simple birch chair on the wraparound porch.
Xanadu Island, in the midst of northwest Minnesota's lake country, can be accessed via a rocky causeway. Surrounded by the waters of Elbow Lake, it is as much a retreat from the workaday world now as it was 82 years ago. Then, millionaires mingled, fished, and partied at the opulent home, President Wilson reputedly among them. Today, the house is for adults only, and its three surrounding red cottages, once used by servants, are available in summer to families of up to seven. Together, they are the islands only settlement.
The lake is fairly undeveloped, too small to interest jet skiers. And the setting offers many of the attributes of nearby Glendalough State Park, teeming with deer, owls, and other wildlife - well worth a hike or picnic.
The five antique filled rooms range from basic to bodacious: lake views, Jacuzzis, fireplaces. Wood-covered walls and birch furniture - all original - are what getting back to nature meant for yesteryear's wealthy. Decadence remains, from breakfasts that begin with a strawberry dessert to the story of the missing ring. A flapper-era socialite, it's said, entered the lake with a walnut-size diamond ring and surfaced without it. It's never been found, though you're welcome to hunt.
- Tim Gihring