Tuesday, April 12, 2011


A recent trek back to the popular Lake Geneva, WI resort area had me longing for warmer, balmier temps. Still, I was very grateful that my only hassle was driving less than three hours from the hecticity of Chicago’s southwest suburban sprawl. Given the choice, my preference of late is to drive to a destination, versus putting up with the hassles of flying. And while gas prices to go north, I’ll take them any day over the surprise du jour of the not-so-friendly skies.

The Lake Geneva area is so named because of the area’s largest fresh-water glacially formed lake. And while history has this area dubbed as the Hamptons of the Midwest or the Cape Cod of the Midwest, because of the concentration of the who’s-who among Midwestern corporate glitterati who trained their way to this area for refuge during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and whose mansions to this day dot the hilly glacial landscape, even someone as humble as myself, can always feel welcome among the moneyed and well-healed.

That said, I had the pleasure of doing a quick two-day stay at the storied and popular Abbey Resort & Avani Spa. I’ve frequented this resort and spa destination a number of times since 1989 for spa-centric visits. The Avani Spa emerged as the second-generation spa for the resort in 2008 after a total renovation. Its new name is Sanskrit for “…of the earth…”. Prior to 2008, the spa was known as Fontana Spa, and made its debut in 1989.

When the Fontana Spa opened, it was a true (old school) destination spa, complete with multi-day programs (3, 5, or 7 days) that focused on healthy cuisine, fitness classes and therapeutic spa treatments. The meals conformed to recommended daily allowances of around 1,200 calories, and were well rounded with the recommended daily allowances back then for protein, fruits, vegetables, dairy and fats. Menus clearly indicated the limited food choices guests could chose, each with a corresponding caloric number, so guest’s could do their own math; there was a dedicated spa chef who dutifully developed each menu and oversaw the spa kitchen. Guests were on an honor system to adhere to the recommended maximum daily intake of food and calories; it was presumed that no cheating ever occurred, although it was tempting to inconspicuously visit the resort’s gift shop, which was well stocked with all things no-no for the spa guest, pick a few cellophane wrapped treats and pay for the guilty pleasures in cash, of course. There were never any public confessions or floggings, nor room searches for the contraband. Each day there were several fitness classes, including health walks outdoor and several spa treatments. Back then, the novelty of a destination spa experience was slowly taking hold, even in the Midwest. I also remember that my room was a few feet from the spa entrance, and in the block of rooms set up for spa guests; it also had a welcoming vase of lovely flowers greeting me each of the three day’s I was a guest.

The spa represented the area’s largest European-style spa. At 35,000SF and seventeen treatment rooms, it also contained separate areas for men and women, each equipped with its own enormous whirlpool, steam, and sauna. There were connecting hallways to the spa’s enormous atrium pool, which was solely dedicated for the spa guest (look ma, no kids!). The spa atrium pool provided guests with a place to do their laps, or take a soak in the built-in whirlpool, or juice-up, eat fruit, or drink flavored water, read, relax, have lunch delivered, or participate in daily aqua aerobics class. It was a temptation to hog a chaise lounge chair and try and veg for hours, but the spa schedule had to be maintained and spa-ing at a destination spa was serious business.

The spa was also the first in the area to introduce the concept of thalassotherapy-based treatments, including the first-ever such spa in the area to use Phytomer Products. Other first-ever type treatments included herbal wraps, salt glow, and mud treatments. And, while no longer offered on today’s menu, it also offered the area’s first Scotch Hose-Swiss Shower treatment; this circulatory therapeutic treatment has historical roots that go back to the turn of the Nineteenth Century; many international spas continue offering this treatment to their spa guests. I recall how I felt after the treatment, incredibly exhilarated!

Fast forward. The Avani Spa continues the tradition of offering therapeutic and healing spa treatments in a restorative environment. It continues offering its guest regularly scheduled fitness classes and seasonal treatment package specials; there’s also a wonderful retail area for guests who want to take the spa experience home with them. The amenities remain very impressive, but my all-time favorites are the whirlpool in the Women’s Relaxation Area, Sauna, and the exquisite Spa Atrium Pool.

For this visit, I experienced a Phytomer Custom Facial and a Moroccanoil Aqua Embrace hair treatment. My esthetician was Sarah, who was an absolute dear, as she recalled giving me an in-depth body treatment a few years back. Licensed estheticians, such as Sarah, are certified to also give certain body treatments in addition to facials. Sarah has also been affiliated with the spa since it first opened, which is a tribute to her commitment and passion for spa and wellness, but also her dedication to the resort and its spa.

The Phytomer Custom Facial exceeded all of my expectations. First, it started with a total upper-back massage and moisturization; after flipping over, the magic of the facial began with a scrupulous cleaning, gentle enzymatic exfoliation, steaming, rehydrating mask, toning and in-depth moisturization. While the mask was working its magic and my eyes covered with an eye mask, my feet, hands, arms, shoulder area and neck were gently massaged and also moisturized. (N.B. an upcoming edition devoted to the review of the Phytomer products used is on the horizon, so stay tuned.) This incredibly relaxing treatment that left my skin glowing, refined and rehydrated.

The Moroccanoil Aqua Embrace was given to me by Michelle, a multi-year spa professional trained in the areas of cosmetology, which also includes hair and nail work. If you’re not familiar with Moroccanoil, in a few words, it is “the it” product and has been for a few years now. It is an enormously popular Argan oil-based hair care line (at the recent Chicago America’s Beauty Show, this exhibit was a must-visit, but nearly impossible to get to due to the swarms of attendees clamoring to get up close and personal with this must-have product line). The product line is available for normal hair and hair that is fine, thinning or chemically treated. My hair type was fine, so all of the products used were geared towards restoring and rehydrating this hair type to healthy and vibrant levels. My treatment began with an intense scalp treatment, followed by a restorative hair mask, which was followed by a thorough rinse and then meticulous application of the precious Argan oil-based product. My head was then covered and I went under the hood for about twenty-minutes until the cumulative effect of all of the products had a chance to set in my hair follicles. My hair was still slightly damp, but a gentle styling was done. My hair was noticeably shinier and healthy looking; the texture also was less fine and seemed to have more body.

Throughout the year, the resort activities and spa treatment menu change and adapt to the seasons. The restaurants offer cuisine that’s refined or playful. Group meetings and weddings are a very popular aspect of the resort, and often include aspects of spa for attendees and guests. In addition to this being the ideal singles, couples, group or family destination, the Abbey Resort & Avani Spa also represents one of the finest Midwest destinations. Whatever the season, here is a place that thrives in the summer, but also adapts to the stillness of winter. Spring and fall are glorious times with all of the vegetation blossoming and fading. Seasonal sports, including fishing, golf, tennis, hiking, swimming and the like are additional guest attractions. Pack a lunch or romantic dinner and rent a boat to cruise on the beautiful Lake Geneva. Or, shop at the resort or take a quick trip into town for antiquing. The Abbey Resort & Avani Spa has it all. And, it’s closer and definitely better!

That’s it for this edition…until the next one…remember to take care of yourself and those around you.


…will feature reviews on Kohler Waters Spa Chicago Redux, The Spa at Trump Chicago Redux, PREMCHIT Naturals, Phytomer, Morrocanoil, Darphin, Natura Bissé, Sothys and more…so, stay tuned…..

By Terry Herman

Terry Herman is a recognized expert in the industry, and regularly covers issues that include business, management, operations, customer care, treatments, products, and trends. In addition to writing and reviewing, she is also a management consultant and motivational speaker. She also serves on EXPERIENCE | PREMCHIT Journeys In Retreat To Wellness Advisory Board, which is comprised of ten international experts in various fields of wellness and spa. She also serves as a Group Manager for the popular LinkedIn group, The Spa Buzz. You can email her at terry_h60559@yahoo.com.


(Photo credits as represented from the specific brand.)