Featured Project

Sundara, Renewed

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

With Ambitious New Expansion, the Trailblazing Sundara Inn and Spa Reveals Another Facet of Its Potential

There are two sides to the Wisconsin Dells. There’s the brash, loud modern side of this travel destination: waterslides, theme restaurants, fudge and moccasin shops. But then there’s the quiet side, the older side, the naturally beautiful side that attracted all the travelers in the first place: rolling landscapes, sandstone bluffs, and the winding riverways that define the place. 

Sundara Inn and Spa has been a part of the Dells landscape for 15 years, and it’s a conscious personification of the natural beauty of this part of the Upper Midwest. You can see it in the deer that traipse across the resort’s winding, tree-lined driveway; you can feel it in the warm water that anchors the resort’s bathing ritual; and you can touch it when you run your hands over the sandstone features that visually anchor the spa’s new swim-up bar, a highlight of its recent expansion.

“Everything in here is really neutral,” says Heidi Michel, who heads up marketing and creative management for Sundara. “The color’s coming from outside. The green from the trees, the flowers that are outside, the blue is coming from the sky.”

At Sundara’s heart is the idea that this retreat from the modern world would offer a connection to the natural beauty of the landscape, a place where couples and individuals can deeply relax, and friends can renew their relationships.

“The original side, that’s going to be the tranquil side,” says Michel, referring to Sundara’s ambitious recent expansion. “The new side is all about reconnection, because all of these spaces are designed around social gatherings. Reconnection is the term I prefer – it’s not going to be crazy, it’s not a wild party, but it’s time to reconnect and talk with each other.”

Michel says that in Sundara era before the expansion, all of the inn’s various travelers – solo travelers, couples, and group getaways – overlapped in one relatively modest common space. Now, groups of friends reuniting and catching up have more opportunities to swap stories and hang out without overlapping with couples and individuals looking for a more deeply restful experience.

A newly created swim-up bar pool is a key part of the new side of Sundara. “It’s got little conversation coves,” says Michel. “It’s all about reconnection. It’s a little noisier because it’s got waterfalls and the sandstone bluff that bounces sound around, so it’s going to be a little louder and you can feel comfortable speaking. The other side is going to be a little more hushed tones and quiet. People generally follow what the others are doing.”

Also key to the new Sundara is a fresh emphasis on dining and food. Kurt Grutzmacher of Boelter Landmark, a leading foodservice design and equipment company, provided the know-how and gear to outfit a greatly expanded restaurant kitchen, a teaching kitchen, and a swim-up bar that take the guest experience at Sundara up to the next level.

“Food was not a main focus when the spa was founded,” says Michel. “We’ve grown to realize that food is important, it’s part of your experience wherever you go. Nobody wants to get dressed to go to a restaurant, once you’ve gotten yourself to slow down. What we knew we needed – we did a survey when we were working on this expansion – was a real restaurant, where you can go and eat. We will see people who will dress for dining, but you can have a fine dinner in your robe. Some nights it’ll be more robes, and some nights it’ll be more regular clothes. How great is that to spend 24 or 48 hours or be in a robe the whole time?”

Architectural Design Consultants, Inc. worked to give Sundara its distinctive refit and new emphasis on food. ADCI Partner Michael Maas explained the working relationship between the various teams committed to the project.

"Sundara is a world-class destination with many unique qualities," says Maas. "While designing the expansion, we collaborated closely with our client and design and construction partners to ensure every portion of the facility reflects the tranquility and sophistication that are Sundara hallmarks."

The work relied on a smooth working relationship between all the partners involved in the project, explains Maas.

"Softened fit-and-finishes were key to upholding the Sundara guest experience throughout the new spaces," says Maas. "To this point, ADCI and Boelter/Landmark partnered to ensure food service and beverage amenities blended with the peaceful surroundings of their environments. The end result is an enhanced dining and beverage experience for guests to savor."

Executive Chef Christopher Medwetz is tasked with tapping into fresh ingredients and offering guests a culinary experience worthy of natural beauty that surrounds them both indoors and out. “People need to be able to come here and pamper themselves,” says Medwetz. “I try to stick with what works. We’re not breaking barriers, the molecular thing – we’re doing solid food. They know they’re going to get a good meal when they come here.”

Good food, of course, starts with the fundamentals. Medwetz builds the Sundara menu from scratch and with care: “You want to have the best ingredients possible – if you wouldn’t eat it by itself, I don’t think you should eat it in your food,” he says. “Same with using cheap wine – if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t put it into the food.”

Sundara’s new teaching kitchen has opened up a new way to integrate healthy fine dining into spa life. The spa offers cooking classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays – they’re quick (45-60 minutes) and open to any guest.

“Last Tuesday I did a fabrication class,” recalls Medwetz. “I had a piece of halibut – I skinned it, portioned it, and made a mandarin orange and yuzu butter sauce and heirloom fingerling potatoes and used the platform to explain these things… people are interested in what we’re doing in the back, and that demo kitchen is a perfect place to explain it. People were very intrigued by that.”

Another key part of the pivot toward food is an emphasis on feeding a broader population of guests, including diners who might want more robust options.

“We don’t cater to just women,” says Michel. “Spas used to be this idea that it was just women, and they’d eat salad and put cucumbers on their eyes… we have a pretty high volume of men who come in, between couples and men coming to do a spa day, we have to have a meal that caters to both.”

Sundara’s versatility isn’t an attempt to please everyone, or a compromise of its initial vision – it’s a broadening of its potential, balancing quiet contemplating with social reconnections and healthy, minimalist fare with satisfying culinary nods to the heartiness of the Upper Midwest. In that regard, it’s a perfect reflection of the landscape that surrounds it: varied, surprising, but ultimately unified as a spellbinding whole.

Sundara Inn and Spa, 920 Canyon Road, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965, 888-735-8181