The Reviews Are In
BY MIKE MICHAELSON - MAY 7, 2000
Correspondent You're relaxing in an Adirondack wooden rocker on the deck of your cabin just 10 feet from the water's edge. It's dusk, and bass ripple the still water as they rise to flies. A pair of Canada geese honks as they circle the small lake As darkness settles on the water, fireflies flicker and tree frogs begin their nightly concert. An evening chill creeps into the air and you light the gas-powered "campfire" and warming flames leap into the slight breeze. A spotlight beneath the deck illuminates cattails that rim the lake and you sight a muskrat powering through the water. Looking back into the cabin through the sliding glass door you note a red light glowing above the "butler's door." It signals delivery of dessert - creamy cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies. Earlier, you had studied a menu and ordered dinner delivered to the cabin - clam chowder, New York strip and king crab legs. Everything was delicious, catered by a local restaurant, Portofino. Except for the hum of Interstate 94, which soon blends into the background, it is hard to believe you're not at a northwoods retreat. You're near LaPorte, less than an hour's drive from Lake County and just across the Porter County border. Serenity Spring is an adults-only retreat that opened last fall. So far, five cabins are completed with foundations in for a total of 36. A second lake is being excavated, connected to the existing lake by a canal. When owners Rich and Laura Ostergren bought the property, the lake was a pay-to-fish operation. Today, the remaining populations of largemouth bass and bluegill are getting fat and guests are invited to fish for them on a catch-and-release basis. Each cabin is equipped with a bamboo fishing pole, and bait is available at the office. "Most guest who fish are successful," Rich says. "It is not uncommon to catch a six-or-seven-pound bass." Around the lake are birdhouses that provide shelter for about 500 purple martins. "Our guests love to watch them," Laura says, "and they also like the fact that each bird consumes about 2,000 mosquitoes a day." When you arrive, you'll park your car and perhaps leave it for the weekend, as some guests do, as a carriage pulled by a pair of Belgian draft horses transports you and your luggage to your cabin. Or you may prefer to use Serenity Spring as your headquarters for exploring LaPorte County and Michigan City. Plenty of attraction await - gambling, shopping, and scrambling up and down the massive sand dune know as Mount Baldy. Anglers will want to check out Michigan City's large charter fleet. Birdwatchers head for Northern Indiana's Harbor. Country parks, spanning prairies and wetland as well as miles of lakeshore habitat. Art fanciers can explore "Millennia Nexus," a large-scale exhibition of contemporary sculpture on Purdue's North Central campus. It runs until August. Should you decide to hang at Serenity Spring, you can relax in a double whirlpool tub and order a deep Swedish massage in the privacy of your cabin. Included in room rates is a one-hour horse-and-carriage ride around the 85-acre wooded grounds, during which you might encounter deer that make their home there. Also included is a microwave and a supply of microwaveable popcorn, a refrigerator stocked with complimentary beer, wine coolers and soda, baskets of snacks and continental breakfast delivered to the cabin. Guest also receive a framed photograph of their arrival by carriage, a loaded disposable camera and tote coffee mugs. "We appeal to adults looking for a retreat where they can snatch a night or weekend away from careers and kids," Laura says. Although the resort opened last fall and is far from complete, guest stayed over the Christmas holidays. Pre-construction rates are $149 a night Sunday through Thursday and $249 Friday through Saturday. Get directions to Portofino Grill, which caters dinner at the resort. It is located at Briar Leaf Golf Club, the only golf course in the area to stay open year-round. The comfortable dining room is decorated in burgundy and hunter green with light oak and brass trim. An outside deck overlooks well-tended greens and fairways. For lunch, sandwiches ($5-$6) are well made and soups are a specialty. Varieties include carrot bisque, chunky clam chowder, fresh green pea, chicken lemon, broccoli and French lentil made with beef stock and chunks of sausage. Desserts, including ice cream and sorbet, also are homemade. Another excellent - and romantic - nearby dining option is Cafe L'amour in downtown LaPorte. An unlikely find in a small Hoosier town, this restaurant does a fine job with standards such as French onion soup, rack of lamb and steak au poivre. This eatery also is pretty to look at. Converted from a former bank, circa 1867, it features a balcony with iron railings that overlooks a mural of a 19th-century Paris street scene, featuring cafe society and the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop. On Saturdays, a classical trio adjoining wine bar occupies another rehabbed storefront that once was a theater dating back to 1889. Another new lodging option is a 188-room hotel adjoining the pavilion of Blue Chip Casino. Modern and comfortable, it offers bountiful value-priced buffets as well as find dining at Brio, specializing in steaks, pasta and pizza prepared in a wood-burning oven. The Blue Chip Hotel not only is convenient for patrons of the sleek gaming riverboat, but also for shopping at nearby Prime Outlets. Shopping is a major pastime at Michigan City and the mall offers outlet stores with brand names such as Polo, Espirit, J. Crew, Crate & Barrel, Royal Doulton and Mikasa. Sprinkled with nooks of coffee and ice cream, fudge, soup and sandwiches, it is a pleasant place to search for not-so-hard-to-find bargains. Another big attraction is nature's massive mounds of sand, especially 123-foot-tal Mt. Baldy, a "living dune" that actually moves. Northwest winds push it inland at the rate of four or five feet a year. The view from the top includes Chicago's skyline. A muscle-testing climb of its steep slopes and a skittering romp down are popular activities at Mt. Baldy (but parking is limited at this National Lakeshore Park, so do plan to arrive early).