Wisconsin’s hidden eco-wellness hotspot

INHABITAT.COM | written by Teresa Bergen | READ MORE

Madison, Wisconsin is defined by water. It’s only one of two cities in the US built on an isthmus (the other is Seattle), and it has five lakes. The population of just over a quarter million is overwhelmingly young and educated, thanks to the massive University of Wisconsin. Mad City is one of the Midwest’s more progressive places and regularly features on “best of” lists. But you have to be tough to live here. Winter temperatures regularly dive below freezing, while summer temperatures often top 90 degrees.

Wellness in Madison

The Garver Feed Mill building is the latest wellness star in the Madison scene. After the US Sugar Company constructed this brick behemoth in 1906 for beet sugar processing, it became known as the Sugar Castle because of its dramatic arched gothic windows. Later it was a factory for formulating livestock feed, before sitting derelict for a couple of decades. But just last November, it reopened as a spectacularly popular event space, site of the farmers’ market during winter, and home of wellness providers and artisan food makers. The whole building is gorgeous, with lots of exposed brick walls, big windows and chandeliers.

For the perfect wellness-focused day at Garver, take a class at Perennial Yoga, eat a healthy meal at plant-based Surya Café, then visit Kosa Wellness Spa & Retreat to relax in the steam room and sauna or to get an Ayurvedic treatment.

“Something society doesn’t afford us is quiet and space,” said owner Shilpa Sankaran, who aspires to provide Madison with just that. “Where do you hear your own voice? That’s where the remedy lives, in our own knowing.” She sources most of her spa products from Wisconsin and has a special interest in supporting women in business. Women in India who have escaped sex trafficking manufacture the spa’s robes. I especially liked how they left some of the more attractive graffiti in place on the treatment room walls from the years that squatters filled the building.

If art uplifts you, the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW campus houses lots of work by famous artists, including Miro, Picasso, and Louise Nevelson, plus interesting installations by UW art faculty. This big museum is free and well worth visiting.

Madison is an easy town for vegetarians and vegans. The Green Owl Café, Madison’s first all-veg restaurant, is a cheerful and comfortable hangout spot for bowls, veggie burgers, vegan wings and vegan desserts like lava cake and coconut cream pie. Surya Cafe, in the Garver Feed Mill, features more adventurous — some might say startling — combinations, such as a curried cauliflower waffle with maple-cumin kale and mango jalapeno sauce.

Himal Chuli serves Nepali food, with several veggie and tofu-based options. The roti is so excellent I ordered a second serving. Ian’s Pizza has several locations and is one of my favorite Madison eateries. You can custom order a gigantic salad with more than 40 mix-in options, and they often have vegan slices. For vegan dessert, don’t miss Bloom Bake Shop. This bakery has a whole case of vegan cupcakes.

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