The year in review: noteworthy lodging

I was in my own bed at the start of this new year, and that’s not a complaint. After spending two months of the past 12 away from home, it’s fine to stick around for a while. Besides that, Badger sports – football and hockey – would be a priority for this holiday.

Before My Guy pointed this out, I wanted to orchestrate a multi-couple overnight in northern Illinois, at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, about one hour south of Lake Geneva. The resort has several music and theater options along its indoor Bourbon Street; that includes the long-running “Flanagan’s Wake,” which is a mix of improv comedy and schmaltzy music.

The audience finds itself in the middle of an Irish wake, which is far more amusing than it sounds on paper. For more about the show and the property, go to www.pheasantrun.com or call (800) 474-3272.

“Roads Traveled” usually is about places close to home, or those with a Wisconsin connection, but I/we head elsewhere, too. It has been an energizing year, with plenty of great leftovers to share throughout 2005.

One way to reflect upon all the mileage is to page through a dozen notebooks about the past year’s travels. Here are a few scrawlings about accommodations, to help plan your next vacation or New Year’s Eve setting. Rates and packages can vary wildly; when possible, check both property Internet sites and an online travel service such as Expedia.com before booking.

Sticking with the Irish theme, let’s mention Carrigeen Castle in Cahir, Ireland. It looks like a castle on the outside but actually was a three-story jail in the 1800s. We swung over to this charming town, in County Tipperary, during summer and considered it a great and unheralded find.

Our room was clean but not lavish; our Irish breakfast was filling but not unusual; the bathroom was down the hall. What was extraordinary was the quaint setting: Sheep roamed on one side of a stone exercise yard; below us was the heart of town.

So it was a quick, downhill walk to pubs and Cahir Castle, on a rocky outcrop in the River Suir. After a couple of nights in Dublin’s rowdy Temple Bar district, this was a pleasant contrast. We had dinner at The Galtee Inn, beautiful and rich with woodwork, then a nightcap at PF Condon’s, a bare-bones tavern whose proprietor also is a funeral director (and sees nothing funny about that dual career).

Carrigeen Castle is listed in Bed & Breakfast Ireland (www.townandcountry.ie), but the lodging vouchers that so many tourists use are not accepted there. For more about Cahir, see www.tipp.ie.

That night in jail was probably our most unusual stay away in 2004. Here are other properties that made impressions:

Most luscious touches: Hotel Sofitel, just off North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, near Water Tower Place. Picture orchids in the bathroom. Not a mint at bedtime, but an assortment of eight white/milk/dark chocolate truffles. Turkish cotton robes by Frette, a candle next to the tub. A flat, woven basket held a back scratcher and bed socks as well as the more customary shoe horn, sewing kit and laundry bags. For more about these executive suites: www.sofitel.com, (312) 324-4000.

Later this year, we’ll devote a column to an outstanding, low-profile and secluded place, in Wisconsin. Canoe Bay Resort, near Chetek, provides the ultimate in pampering (for a price). www.canoebay.com; (715) 924-4594.

Best snoozing for kids: The Boathouse Suite at the Blue Harbor Resort, Sheboygan. It looked fun during a tour, and friends who recently took grandchildren there returned with rave reviews. The little ones get their own bunk beds and TV in a boathouse motif; there also is a fireplace, patio or balcony and two sleeping areas for adults.

The resort’s indoor waterpark, while not as massive as what exists in the Dells, had enough to entertain three generations of this family for a couple of days. www.blueharborresort.com, (800) 701-2583.

Roomiest digs: Fox Briar Inn at RiverPlace, in downtown Paducah, Ky., has apartment-like quarters and an Ohio River view. Décor is an effective combination of art deco and quilting patterns. The latter is an acknowledgment of the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society; it is just a couple of blocks away.

We’ll write more about the Wisconsin arts connection to Paducah this year. For more about the inn, it’s www.foxbriarinn.com and (877) 369-4661

Our runnerup is the Amoda Suite at Sundara Spa, Wisconsin Dells, which looks like an ideal escape for moms/daughters or girlfriends. It is two levels and big enough to sleep five.adults. Check out the robes: They are the softest around, and hard to give up after a spa service.

What’s truly amazing? Probably the fact that you can feel isolated in a city stuffed with thrill rides and in-your-face kid attractions. www.sundaraspa.com, (888) 735-8181.

If we had more room, we’d also talk about the great and healthful menu at Tuscon’s Canyon Ranch, which – at 25 years old – is a queen in the destination spa movement. Instead, we’ll promise to size up the growth of spa services and facilities – especially in Wisconsin – as the year goes on. www.canyonranch.com, (800) 742-9000.

We’ll also just give a passing nod – for now – to the historic Afton House Inn, which is on the St. Croix River in Minnesota, 20 miles from St. Paul (from Wisconsin, cross the river at Prescott). It’s small-town quiet. www.aftonhouseinn.com, (651) 436-8883.



Last, looking for a vacation getaway to own? A couple of co-workers have bought modest homes in Ironwood, Mich., an area that is a good match for skiers. It is a humble town of 6,000, near Hurley, with major downhill ski spots within a 15-minute drive.

Go to www.ironwoodrealestate.com to see residential listings that are as little as $15,000.