My pandemic pampering experience at Sundara Inn & Spa

Swap stress for some self-care like Taryn Pemberton Schmidt did at this Wisconsin Dells resort.

When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life. – Jean Shinoda Bolen

Among many buzzwords that have emerged thus far in 2020, perhaps one of the most important is “self-care.” Self-care, at its core, is really about taking the time to pause and do something that brings you peace and joy. Self-care is not selfish, it is necessary. You can’t drive a car on an empty tank, right? Self-care takes many forms and can look very different for everyone. It could be something as simple as journaling, reading a book, taking a walk, or going for a bike ride. For others, yoga and meditation can be incredibly centering. And, for some of us who need to be forced to relax (and have the means to do so), a trip to the spa might be in order.

While I personally enjoy all of the activities I just mentioned, for me, I tend to need to “escape” to re-center and refocus. I usually look forward to vacations for that purpose, but with my planned vacations canceled this year, I found myself searching for experiences that brought about the same sense of “escape” and would allow me to fully relax and recharge. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Sundara Inn & Spa, located just shy of an hour north of Madison in Wisconsin Dells.

After temporarily closing due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, Sundara safely welcomed guests back to the resort in late May. Recently voted as one of the “Top 10 Resort Hotels in the Midwest” by Travel + Leisure Magazine, Sundara is an amazing vacation/staycation destination for self-care and wellness. Sitting amid 80 acres of pine forests and equipped with a mandatory electronics-free policy, the intimate 34-suite resort is a sanctuary to unplug and destress.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to visit alone and you aren’t comfortable hanging out with yourself, bring a book to read because other than quiet conversation with other guests, you won’t have any of your electronics to keep you company while out and about the resort – which is kind of the point of unplugging and relaxing, right?

I arrived at Sundara on a Monday morning and was happily greeted by the Sundara staff. They also immediately took my temperature as part of the resort’s COVID-19 safety precautions. Masks were worn by staff at all times and required to be worn by guests in all indoor spaces (with the exception of indoor wellness activities and spa treatments). After checking in, I was escorted to the women’s lounge where I was given a locker and provided a robe and sandals to wear around the resort. Of course, I brought a couple of outfits to wear to various activities I had scheduled, but as I discovered, the dress code at Sundara is a plush robe. That’s it. Most guests wander the halls, the pools, even the restaurant in a plush Sundara robe. I love a good costume change, but there was really no need!

My first activity of the day was aqua yoga, and as the only guest who showed up for class, I ended up getting one-on-one instruction from one of Sundara’s resident yogis at the “Infinity Edge” pool. The aqua yoga session was very easy on the muscles and joints, and I would highly recommend it for all levels of fitness. Even though the morning air was a bit cool, the pool was warm and comfortable. Rumor has it that the pools get even warmer in the winter months (84 degrees Fahrenheit), so you are able to enjoy the outdoor pools year-round. However, for guests’ safety, the pools will close if the outdoor temperatures fall below zero. Of the three pools, the Swim-Up Bar pool, along with the Infinity Edge pool are open and heated year-round. The Signature pool, used mainly for lounging and sunbathing, is open seasonally from May through October. Additionally, one really fun feature at the Swim-Up Bar pool is that it is an indoor/outdoor pool featuring a gas fire that runs down the center of the pool, and there’s a door that connects to the indoor portion of the pool. This means that even if the outdoor portion is closed on subzero temperature days, you can still enjoy the swim-up bar pool indoors.

Immediately following my aqua yoga session, I took a 45-minute guided meditation in the Woodland Reflection Room, an incredibly tranquil space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a wooded area and the golf course. The guided meditation was wonderful, and I say that as someone who is horrible at meditating for five minutes, let alone 45 minutes. I might’ve “cheated” once or twice and opened my eyes to find several beautiful deer frolicking in the woods outside of the windows – absolutely stunning.

Next on the agenda was lunch at Nava Restaurant, and it did not disappoint. Nava, which I learned is Sanskrit for “fresh,” serves amazing chef-prepared cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I chose to sit outside on the terrace because in Wisconsin you don’t sit inside when you can sit outside! Even on a cool fall day, outdoor dining would be supreme thanks to the many fire pits Sundara has burning to add warmth to chilly days. On this day, though, the weather was perfect. There are no limits to appetizing choices on the Nava menu, but I decided on a savory French onion soup and an incredible marinated skirt steak salad, accompanied by a vodka grapefruit spritzer. Everything was delicious and definitely left me wishing I had come earlier for breakfast and wanting to stay later for dinner.

My last scheduled appointment was a mid-afternoon massage. Depending on the spa service you will be receiving, you await your appointment in one of two beautiful lounges adjacent to the treatment rooms. I looked out over the Infinity Edge pool and enjoyed some snacks and beverages while I waited for my appointment to start. Once I was met by my massage therapist and escorted back to one of Sundara’s 26 treatment rooms, I enjoyed a stellar 80-minute massage and left feeling very relaxed, refreshed and truly peaceful. One thing I found really great about Sundara is that many of the specialists have been with the spa since its inception in 2003 which, to me, says a lot about the resort, and it certainly shows in the excellent guest service they provide.

All in all, I spent seven hours at the resort, and I barely scratched the surface of all that Sundara has to offer. I am already planning a return visit and cannot wait to spend more time there to fully experience all that makes Sundara an award-winning resort.

And next time, I’m going to bring a book.

For more information on Sundara, check out SundaraSpa.com.

Taryn Pemberton Schmidt is a Madison Magazine blogger who writes about fashion, style, traveling and other local lifestyle topics.