This Ontario cottage country may be a playground for the rich and famous, but the sandbox is for sharing.
Muskoka has developed a reputation as a summer playground for A-list Hollywood celebrities, titans of industry and just about anyone who has ever played for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. Just grabbing some supplies at the Glen Orchard General Store, you might bump into casually dressed weekenders like Kate Hudson or Cindy Crawford filling their carts with ripe local tomatoes, the last of the season’s thick asparagus or the first summer corn.
A leisurely cruise around any one of the area’s three lakes – Joseph, Rosseau and Muskoka – in a vintage racing boat, the preferred mode of transportation around here, will quickly reveal what attracts the rich and famous. Towering pines flourish alongside granite cliffs, warm black lakes reflect soft white clouds and the long days unfurl with languid ease.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a multimillionaire to share in the experience. For a taste of classic Muskoka, cruise over to the 100-year-old Clevelands House Resorton Lake Rosseau. The beautiful main house with its red mansard roof resembles a classic cruise ship and is surrounded by over 400 acres of land. It’s like a summer camp that parents and kids can attend together, and the best part is that you don’t even have to see each other. Leave the kids in the capable hands of the Children’s Play Village while you work on your short game or backhand at the hotel’s golf course and professional tennis facility.
Lake Rosseau’s grand Windermere House dates back to 1870, but the original structure burned to the ground in the 1990s during the filming of The Long Kiss Goodnight. They rebuilt and reopened the following year, and as recently as 2008 completed a series of luxurious upgrades. This season marks the opening of the much-anticipated WH Spa and the first Muskoka branch of the popular Sanctuary International Day Spa.
The new face of Muskoka is represented by places like the chic, modern Taboo Resort on the southern end of Lake Muskoka. Grab a chair at the “culinary theatre,” an 18-seat marble bar surrounding the open kitchen. You pick the ingredients and the chefs improvise a menu that might include Indian-spiced, braised guinea hen, bison salad or halibut with sea urchin butter sauce.
After a day spent alternating between dips in the lake, laps in the infinity pool and napping on the dock, guests of the chic new Touchstone in Bracebridge can choose between dinner at the resort’s Taste restaurant (smoked duck with baby lettuce, perhaps) or prepare their own meal in their villa’s gourmet kitchen.
When leaders from the world’s G8 nations held their annual conference in Muskoka in 2010 they chose the elegant Deerhurst Resort. There’s no word on whether Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama, David Cameron and the other leaders duelled it out in the paintball zone, but the lakeside golf course did get plenty of use.
Glen Orchard General Store, RR 3, 4000 Hwy. 169, Glen Orchard, 705-765-3251
Clevelands House Resort, 1040 Juddhaven Rd., Minett, 1-888-567-1177, clevelandshouse.com
Windermere House, 2508 Windermere Rd., Windermere, 1-888-946-3376, windermerehouse.com
Taboo Resort, 1209 Muskoka Beach Rd., Gravenhurst, 1-800-461-0236, tabooresort.com
Touchstone, 1869 Muskoka Rd. 118 W., Bracebridge, 1-866-928-1098, touchstoneonlakemuskoka.com/resort.html
Deerhurst Resort,1235 Deerhurst Dr., Huntsville, 1-800-461-4393, deerhurstresort.com
Ontario Tourism, 1-800-ONTARIO (1-800-668-2746), www.ontariotravel.net
Chris Johns is an award-winning food and travel writer based in Toronto.