Wine & More: Lake of the Ozarks Getaway

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I love exploring destinations that don’t always get the media attention they deserve.  Places that include all the amenities and adventure a traveler could want, but done in a style that is all their own.  Sometimes finding these places is as easy as a recommendation or invitation from a friend, a chance article on the Internet, or a blind stab at a map. Mine was an invitation.

The Lake of the Ozarks (Lake) is a lake resort destination.  Ahhh, I see I have your attention.  It offers world-class boating, golfing, shopping and fishing, and a wide variety of lodging, culinary innovation, state parks, and other recreational activities to suit any budget and taste. Make no mistake however; this Lake defines itself for couples looking for some significant quality time together through the mammoth body of water, upscale waterfront accommodations, funky to pricey restaurants, and thoughtful entertainment venues.

Day 1:  We arrive early afternoon at our first night’s lodging, Regatta Bay. A three- bedroom condominium on Horseshoe Bend is our home for the night featuring 2 Master Suites, a screened deck overlooking the water, covered boat slip, and a complex with two pools and tennis courts. Plenty to do here and rates are comparable to a high-end lodging alternative.  A quick look at the bay, a couple of whacks at some testy tennis ball, and a few porch-side cocktails and we were ready for dinner.

We head out for The Duck Restaurant.  About 10 minutes from Regatta Bay, it’s easy to find and parking is plentiful.  A long staircase winds down to the beautiful lakeside restaurant.  The view is magnificent, the food is magnificent, the owners are magnificent, chef is magnificent, the wine list is magnificent…need I say more? Try the SMOKED TROUT ($12), the TEMPURA VEGETABLE PLATTER ($11), and the ROSEMARY RACK OF LAMB ($43).

Day2:  We’re told “the” place to breakfast is Stewart’s on Bagnell Dam Strip. It’s just a few minutes from our condo, and right on the way to our next stops.  Home of the biggest buns ($5.99) (cinnamon) at the Lake, this is comfort food at a great price. We were lucky to find a place to sit, the restaurant was packed…and for good reason. Big portions, attentive service and a “Diet Plate” (8.99) that consists of a split biscuit, topped with two eggs, two sausages, gravy, cheddar cheese, two slices of bacon and fried potatoes…means no one goes home hungry. Be sure and try the BREADED PROK TENDERLOIN ($8.99).

After breakfast we took a stroll down the “strip” visiting various stores.  Lots of souvenir and clothing shops to choose from.  We liked Dogpatch Gift Shop  for its fun atmosphere, checkers table outside, friendly service and variety.  The  Amish Country Corner Lake of the Ozarks  was also a favorite for its plethora of hand-made goods that include gorgeous furniture, jam, Jellies, hand-made rugs, candles, and artwork.

Golf was our next on our agenda at the beautiful Tan-Tar-A Resort in nearby Osage Beach.   Think beautifully maintained greens, affordable fees, and a cute cocktail lounge – be sure to order an Arnold Palmer. 
Seven Springs Winery seemed right for lunch as it sits atop 160 beautiful acres of rolling green Missouri foothills.  Located between Camdenton and Osage Beach, the winery is less than a 10 minute drive from either location. Owner Mike Bleile met us at the door leading us to the covered porch and patio area to enjoy a private wine tasting, a lovely deli lunch, some great music by Sax on The Beach, and sweeping views. Keep your eye on the chef and the owner.  These two are “in it to win it. “

Full of great food & wine, we decided to finally see what the buzz was all about and the destination we came to see – Lake of the Ozarks.  We boarded the Tropic Island Cruise, a new 75', 150 passenger motor yacht, for a 90-minute narrated cruise by Captain Omer Clark. This was luxe bliss.  A time to relax, a time to sip on a cocktail and a time to get familiar with this magnificent man-made lake.  At the time of construction it was one of the largest man-made lakes in the world and the largest in the United States. Though built to provide hydroelectric power, the lake quickly became a lively tourist destination for the Midwest. There are over 70,000 homes existing along the lake, many of which are vacation homes. Spectacular scenery characteristic of the Ozarks has also helped to transform the lake into a major resort area. More than 3 million people visit the lake annually. I was glad to be one of them. 

After the cruise we checked in at our lodging for the next two nights - Camden on the Lake Resort. Luxury has arrived!  OMG aptly describes this property. It’s the newest and most luxurious full-service Resort to open at the Lake of the Ozarks in nearly a decade. The Resort is located at the seven-mile marker of Lake of the Ozarks and covers over a quarter of a mile of shoreline.  Our suite featured a fireplace, high-end cabinetry and moldings, built-in flat screen televisions, stereo tuner and surround sound, DVD and CD player, Hi-speed wireless Internet access, kitchenette, king size bed with high thread count linens, lavish comforters, plus pillows, leather sofas with pull out sleeper beds, and more. Definitely an ah-inspiring moment as we stashed our luggage and lounged on the balcony.

Our two days were filled plenty of choices to relax, renew and revisit our relationship:  a 48 seat movie theatre, retail shops, a full service salon and spa, a fitness center, an open aired swimming pool with a swim-up bar, outdoor Jacuzzis, a sand volley ball court, and next door, the Toad Cove Entertainment Complex, featuring gourmet dining and the very best in Lake of the Ozarks Entertainment.

Day 3:  We tore ourselves away from the Camden for a few hours to tour the Inn at Harbour Ridge – a nearby B & B.  Owner Sue Westenhaver had invited us to breakfast and a tour to see another option for lodging when visiting the Lake.  Located in near-by Osage Beach, it was a lovely example of why people love B & B’s.  The breakfast was delicious, the rooms were well appointed, varied and not too frilly, and the grounds were spectacular.  I can highly recommend this place. 

Lunch was at Michael’s Steak Chalet.  Located in a Swiss-themed village, we had a great view of the Lake. Award winning cuisine, a notable wine list, and some exquisite steak and seafood dishes await you.  Chef Blackburn is no stranger to gourmet style dishes.  Try the Escargot with Scallops (10.95) and the English Cut  Prime Rib ($29.95).
We headed out for nearby Bridal Cave. Rated as one of the most scenic caves in America

Guided tours leave every few minutes and last approximately one hour.  Tours are conducted over concrete pathways through the Cave's refreshing 60 degree environment.   Park interpreters lead us through room after room of incredible mineral deposits. Giant columns, delicate soda straws and massive draperies are everywhere in the cave.  It’s a breathtaking experience must do. Warning!  You should be fairly fit, flexible, and firm footed to enjoy the tour.  It’s not that it’s so steep, but lots of stairs, some moisture, and bending can make this a challenge for some. 

Back to the hotel for more Lake front fun, a nap, some wine and relaxation before we headed out to our final activity – dinner at the venerable Lodge of the Four Seasons.  We were lucky enough to have dinner with owners Pete and Susan Koplar Brown.  What a beautiful property.  What amazing hosts. We were able to tour the spa, the night club, and the Japanese Gardens before we set down for dinner at the property’s classy HK’s Steakhouse.  The romantic décor is like a step back in time when restaurants really cared about the diner’s experience, not the amount of the check at the end of the evening.  You can expect an inspired menu from new Executive Chef Joseph Elliott. Offering one of the area's most diverse menus, be prepared to dine on lobster skewers, crab cakes, buffalo & prawns, a selection of KC and Missouri finest quality steaks and other great Midwest dishes unique to THE LODGE alone. The wine list was to die for. I don’t have one recommendation for you – try it all. Really.  Mrs. Brown walked us to our car when we departed, handing us a book about the lodge and her father, Harold Koplar.  The book, Meet me in The Lobby tells the story of the world-famous Chase Park Hotel in St. Louis and three generations of the Koplar Family. It’s a fascinating read.  If you like the “rat pack era,” you’ll love this insider’s peek into a time not so far away.

On the way back to the Camden, we reflected on our three days here.  Final decision?  This is a perfect place for couples. Head on pillow now, we keep our eyes open just long enough to watch a movie and fall asleep dreaming of the perfect vacation on the perfect Lake. Thanks Missouri.
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