By Michael Madsen, Travel Correspondent
Spacious Suites on the Shore of Geneva Lake
There's a distinctive sound audible here on Bella Vista Suites' outdoor veranda overlooking Geneva Lake. It's a buzz, like a muscle car revving its engine, and it's emanating from a glistening mahogany speedboat that's now flying by. The boat is a Streblow, a locally crafted, astronomically priced vessel lined in gorgeous white-oak trim. This floating work of art is emblematic of the regional mania for the lake and of Lake Geneva's history as a posh getaway destination. And inside the plush Bella Vista Suites—well-appointed and welcoming, with verandas and windows peering out toward the sparkling water—travelers find more evidence of these very same things.
The hotel’s tranquil waterscapes aren't limited to the lake—children toss coins into a Romanesque fountain that feeds into a koi pond at its base, and a placid pool and whirlpool beckon travelers to don swimsuits or waterproof tuxedos. In the evening, couples take to the veranda to watch the sun set over the lake, whose waters are also on full display through the massive windows of On the Waterfront: A Piano Bar, a minimalist bar where a pianist plays amid televisions broadcasting sporting events.
Framed newspaper articles about local racehorses sit opposite a large wooden dresser in the bedroom of one spacious Parkview suite, lending it a quirky sense of home. Guests can kick back on a regal four-post bed with a pillow-top mattress or gaze out at the views of Seminary Park from the attached balcony. Just past the wet bar and bathroom lies the spacious living area, where sojourners can unwind on a plush recliner and a pullout bed and roast imaginary marshmallows in a faux fireplace. Lakeside suites offer a similar floor plan and amenities but switch out the park vistas for views of Geneva Lake.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: Historical Charm and Outdoor Recreation
Soon, 1,200 or so white piers lining Geneva Lake will be dismantled and trucked away for the season; in their wake, a mélange of orange, burgundy, and golden leaves will dominate the autumnal landscape along the shoreline. The summer population of nearly 50,000 mostly out-of-towners dwindles to about 8,000 in the area, leaving behind a quiet hamlet ripe for exploration.
Early settlers carved out the 21-mile Geneva Lake Shore Path that encircles the lake. As one strolls along the open gravel and grass walkways, the shore's sprawling, lavish estates come in full view—each massive home seemingly trying to outdo the next. To explore the lake head-on, travelers can rent kayaks and canoes from Clear Water Outdoor, located less than two blocks from the Riviera, the buzzing main drag downtown. When the weather turns cold, Clear Water Outdoor also rents cross-country skis and snowshoes to facilitate anthropological studies of snowmen.
A nostalgic boardwalk feel permeates the Riviera, which flanks a public beach; the buttery scent of deep-fried corn dogs fills the air, and kitschy T-shirt shops abound. On the back end of the Riviera, eight majestic cruise ships bob in the wooden docks operated by Lake Geneva Cruise Line. The cruise line’s tours—which are suspended between the end of October and the middle of April—allow passengers to glide past the lakeshore kingdom of historical and contemporary multimillion-dollar mansions.
Next door to Bella Vista Suites sits the Baker House, a 17,000-square-foot Victorian manor built in 1885 that hosts an eclectic collection of historical oddities. Entering the house feels like stepping into a bygone era, and—as per tradition—visitors are asked to preserve the feeling by donning 1 of 200 old-fashioned hats as they tour the home. Dapperly dressed musicians play live music every night as guests sip classic cocktails and nosh on small-plate cuisine.