>>Best Resort for All Seasons
THE WINNER IS: Grand View Lodge
Any Minnesota resort on a lake is easy to love in the summertime. But winter is the real test: Would you want to spend time there, bring your group there in January? Is there enough to do, and is it worthwhile? My answer is a resounding, repeated "yes" to Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake.
The year-round offerings are some of the best features at this resort: a luxurious world-class spa, great food and wine, kids programs and cozy cabins. In winter, there’s dog sledding, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
In summer, guests flock here for golf and water activities in and around that glorious lake. The resort’s impressive Gull Lake Center boasts meeting rooms for all sizes, from 600 in the Grand Ballroom, to an intimate group in the clubby and exclusive Headwaters Wine Cellar, which also is the site of monthly public wine dinners and wine tastings. I can’t wait to go back.
>>Best Special Event Venue
THE WINNER IS: Van Dusen Mansion
For the poshest, most elegant events, I can think of no place more perfect than the Van Dusen Mansion. Reborn as an events center last June, this storied house, located in the heart of Minneapolis, was built in 1892 in the Richardson Romanesque style, complete with spires and turrets of the French Renaissance and made entirely of hand-carved pink Sioux Quartzite.
A lavish interior has all the trappings-rich woodwork, Persian rugs, stained glass windows and glistening chandeliers. Besides the mansion, other event spaces there include a two-tiered Carriage House, a spacious Grand Event Center and an iron-gated courtyard graced with oriental lilacs, birch clusters and a stone wall.
THE WINNER IS: Woodland Hill Winery
On a scenic, winding country road on the outskirts of Delano sits one of Minnesota’s newer and most beautiful wineries. After planting in 2005, making a commitment to the land (to use no herbicides and only natural compounds and fertilizers), and first harvesting in fall 2007-owners Katie and Mike Dickerman have been reaping accolades ever since.
No wonder. The setting is picturesque (pretty buildings surrounded by pine and oak trees and well-tended flower gardens); the wines are top-notch (winning eight medals at the 2010 International Cold Climate Wine Competition); the tasting room/boutique a delightful place to spend time; and the winery calendar is filled with fun activities all year, from sleigh rides and teas to Girls Nights Out, art fairs, German festivals and holiday dinners.
In season, there’s live music on the covered patio, winery tours, wine tastings and more. The gorgeous setting is also making Woodland Hill a new favorite option for weddings and events.
>>Best Way to See a Winery
THE WINNER IS: Star Limousine
Here’s a luxurious, carefree way to tour Minnesota and Wisconsin wineries. Star Limousine handles all the arrangements and transportation to a variety of local wineries. So you can ride in style, and leave the driving to someone else. The fleet ranges from a six passenger stretch limo to 56-person motor coach. Other Star offerings include a holiday lights tour, casino service, concert and game packages, and special-occasion packages.
>>Best River Activity
THE WINNER IS: St. Croix Boat & Packet Riverboats
Perhaps the only more perfect way to enjoy a Minnesota day than by the side of the St. Croix River in Stillwater is to enjoy it ON the river in Stillwater. And the best way to do that is on one of St. Croix Packet’s five historic 1800s-era riverboats. (They also have one modern luxury yacht. But give me those great-looking paddlewheelers).
The company claims this is the best way to see the river, and I wholeheartedly agree. Sitting high up on the deck of a historic riverboat, it’s an unmatched bird’s eye view, and a great way to spend a couple hours in spring, summer and fall. Full meals, full bar service, public excursions and private charters available.
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