Your Guide to a Relaxing Summer Weekend in Madison, Wisconsin
Madison is known for being the most progressive city in Wisconsin, a cultural center of craft beer, food, art and music. Dane County is the most vaccinated large county in the country, and with restrictions lifting completely in Madison and Dane County beginning June 2, the Dane County Farmers' Market will be returning to the square surrounding the Capitol on June 19. It's the largest producers-only farmers' market in the country and a great place to stock up on fresh, seasonal produce from regional family farms, along with honey, cheese, bread and pastries. After a hot summer morning browsing the market, cool off with a tour of the majestic State Capitol building and its beaux-arts style architecture.
My favorite new place to spend time in Madison is the Garver Feed Mill, a renovated historic brick building that was originally constructed as a beet processing facility and was the largest factory in Wisconsin in the early 20th century. Later, the building was used for decades as a feed mill and granary and now it's home to a dozen local businesses, including food artisans and wellness studios. It's a short bike ride from downtown with Madison BCycle electric bike share, with a station right out front.
Start the morning with a relaxing yoga flow class at Perennial Yoga before treating yourself to a day of self-care at Kosa Ayurvedic Spa next door. Founder Shilpa Sankaran operates the boutique spa retreat with her sisters and mother, serving family recipes like khichdi and sesame carrot fenugreek soup for lunch in the meditative sanctuary. Infused waters, teas and snacks change with the seasons, to balance and nourish your body and spirit. Techniques like abhyanga warm oil massage, Kansa wand face and scalp massage and herbal foot soaks both restore and rejuvenate. Allow yourself enough time to enjoy the sanctuary, including a hot stone sauna and water therapy ritual, after your treatment. You'll never want to leave.
During the pandemic, Sankaran launched a line of locally made Ayurvedic skincare products too, including lotion, shampoo, conditioner and body wash all custom-made for your dosha. Whether you're just discovering Ayurveda or interested in incorporating Ayurvedic healing into your daily routine, Kosa is such a welcoming and enlightening destination to learn. Sankaran pours her heart into every detail and her love is palpable.
Downstairs, Ledger Coffee is an ideal spot to meet friends or catch up with colleagues in person at a time when many of us are still working remotely. They are the best micro roaster in town, and serve intriguing snacks like vegan doughnuts, espresso dusted potato chips and sourdough chocolate chunk cookies to accompany. Ian's Pizza, NessAlla Kombucha and Calliope Ice Cream are all part of the collaborative culinary community at Garver Feed Mill too.
Across the street from Garver, soak up some vitamin D with a leisurely stroll through the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The 16 acres of outdoor gardens, including a two-acre Prairie-style rose garden, fragrant herb garden, shaded wildflower garden and peaceful birch walk, are free and open daily while the exotic plants, orchids and birds at Bolz Conservatory require a modest $6 admission.
When it's time for dinner, there's one clear choice. L'Etoile has been Madison's preeminent fine dining destination for more than a decade and after a year in hibernation, the food is as exquisite as ever. The husband-and-wife team of chefs Tory and Kristine Miller and their stalwart crew don't miss a beat with the colorful and creative plates, thoughtful service and daring wine pairings. From the first bite, an amuse bouche of rhubarb chèvre gougère, you know you're in for a special treat. Copper River sockeye salmon tartare over crispy rice with bagel spice furikake and cheesy mushroom and ramp crêpe galettes are just a couple highlights, with surprises sprinkled throughout. L'Etoile can graciously accomodate all dietary restrictions with advance notice too.
Wisconsin is also famous for its cheese production, making half of the country's specialty cheese, with more than 600 varieties and styles. Fromagination boasts the best selection of Wisconsin artisan cheese in Madison, including farmstead cheeses and raw milk cheese. When Ken Monteleone opened Fromagination 14 years ago, this was Madison's first cut-to-order cheese shop, inspired by traditional European cheese shops but celebrating Wisconsin's cheesemaking heritage.
Curate a bountiful cheese plate with locally made jams, crackers and charcuterie or pick up a couple souvenirs to gift friends and family. The parmesan chips make a great travel snack. Adventurous chocolate truffles by Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier are another excellent locally made gift that's sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Try pairing chocolate and cheese for a sweet and savory indulgence.