A good retreat uplifts spirit, connects friends

My heart is enriched and eased because of a recent retreat for women in Lake Geneva. It was one of the rare quiet times for the otherwise bustling tourist area.

The retreat site was Covenant Harbor, a nondenominational setting with accommodations for large and small groups. Our group of three dozen took over a two-story lodge: two meeting rooms with fireplaces, four sleeping rooms with about six bunk beds in each. And that gorgeous, moody lake was right in front of us.

There was a wonderful age range – 20s to 70s – and a nice mix of silence and chatter, heartfelt dialogue and humor.

One of the splendid magnets during free time was a walking path that hugs the lake. In this case, it was a 15-minute hike to downtown and about twice that much time, in the opposite direction, to gawk at the Wrigley Mansion.

It takes eight hours, or more, to complete the entire lake loop. For more about the area, go to www.lakegenevawi.com or call (800) 345-1020. For more about the retreat site, go to www.covenantharbor.org or (262) 248-3600.

Let’s acknowledge that a spiritual retreat isn’t within the reach – or interest – of every woman. Want to just hang with friends instead of baring your soul to strangers? No problem. There are refreshing options for girlfriend getaways, particularly as the peak of deer hunting season approaches.

I love the Twin Cities but know how easy it is to bypass another worthwhile stop along the way. Hudson, on the St. Croix River and off I-94, is a charming community with an eclectic downtown that is experiencing a renaissance. Shop after shop is an example of new energy and creativity.

Most of these businesses are operated by women, some who are Minneapolis transplants, and they are here partly because the cost of doing business in Hudson is far less than it is on Grand Avenue.

Grapevine Interiors, Et Cetera, Coco Bello, House Calls, La Rue Marché and Lavender Thymes – all within two blocks on Second Street – are but a handful of examples of this growth spurt.

Restaurant choices – such as San Pedro Café, Barker’s Bar & Grill, Idaho Chuck’s, Winzer Stube – demonstrate a similar spurt of inventiveness in cuisine and atmosphere. There are wine bars as well as the more traditional taverns.

Even Minnesota Monthly magazine this fall praised Hudson and nearby Stillwater, Minn. (another worthwhile stop) as “the other Twin Cities,” because of their rich character and potential to interest visitors.

“Hudson’s draw has always been the river,” says Kim Heinemann, chamber of commerce president. “Now the emphasis has evolved into being trendy, upscale.”

Chamber members call Hudson a great community because of its progressive approach to retailing and marketing.

The second Thursday of each month is Girls Night Out in Hudson. Each participating retailer (“follow the pink balloons”) is open late and sponsors classes, has free treats, music and/or puts merchandise on sale. There are monthly themes: family fun for November, holiday gifting for December.

For more, go to www.girlsjustwant2havefun.com or call (800) 657-6775. There are several swanky bed and breakfast options in the city’s historic district. The annual Christmas Tour of Homes, an elaborate production, is Nov. 20-21.

Here is a sample of other getaway packages for women:

Olympia Resort, Oconomowoc, presents a spa and shopping package Nov. 19-21. The cost per person depends upon the number of people per room; it’s $176 with four, $323 with one.

That includes two nights of lodging, drink coupons, a Sunday brunch, a spa service, shuttle service to downtown and Johnson Creek shopping areas, comedy show and other entertainment. For more: (800) 558-9573 or go to www.olympiaresort.com.

In Galena, Ill., at least two lodging establishments have created a haven for women to relax together. Go to www.galena.org or call (877) 464-2536 to learn more about Hawk Valley Retreat and Cottages, which offers weekend “one-stroke” painting classes and two nights of lodging for $195 to $306 per person, and Bielenda’s Mars Avenue Guest House, which encourages up to eight women to rent the whole house for $780.

Cherry Valley Lodge, east of Columbus, Ohio, has created a MenoPause Escape ($350 for two women, $260 for a single room) that includes wine, breakfast, lodging, a massage, hand fan, chocolate, “cooling pillow” and the book “The Wisdom of Menopause.”

This hotel is the only one in the nation that has been designated an official arboretum and botanical garden. For more: (800) 788-8008 or www.cherryvalleylodge.com.

Several Chicago hotels have decadent getaways for women. There is the “Divine Diva” package at the Hotel Monaco (www.Monaco-chicago.com, 800/397-7661), “The Es-scent-tial Woman” promo at the Hotel Allegro (www.allegrochicago.com, 866/672-6143) and the “Give the Lady What She Wants” and “Goddess” packages at the Hotel Burnham (www.burnhamhotel.com, 866/690-1986).