A modern take on the Muskoka cottage vacation

By Jane Muller

Muskoka, otherwise known as cottage country, is situated north of Orillia, between Georgian Bay and the gateway to Algonquin Park. Running up the middle is Highway 11 that passes through Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville.

That’s the route to Deerhurst Resort, a Huntsville tourist attraction since 1896. One of the resort’s two golf courses can be seen from the highway but the expanse of the 760-acre property can only be fully appreciated by heading into the heart of the resort. There you’ll find hotel accommodations, restaurants and other amenities along with a wide variety of resort home enclaves. Opened this summer on the shores of Peninsula Lake is Lakeside Lodge on the site of the original resort.

Featuring one-, two- and three-bedroom units, the $60 million, five-storey waterfront lodge provides vacation rentals with a modern cottage vibe. The views are spectacular, especially from the lake-facing units where a swimming pool, patios and docks add to the beauty that nature has always provided in this part of the province. On the other side of the building, our balcony provided an appealing outlook of the bay, resort landscape and the Pavilion, the hub of the resort just a 10 minute walk away.

The lodge’s spacious entry area showcases the lake that is seen through towering windows that scale two floors beginning one floor below where automatic sliding glass doors provide easy access to the pool, patios and lakefront. Wall art and furnishings read upscale cottage, a theme that continues into the units. Our one-bedroom accommodation offered a dining table for four, two queen-size beds and best of all, a comfy royal blue velvet couch positioned in front of the gas fireplace.

The welcoming set of Muskoka chairs on the balcony provides the ideal place to ponder the day’s agenda. There are two golf courses on site, kayaks and canoes for exploring the lake and the quiet canal just a short paddle away. There’s horseback riding and hiking through the forest that is even more spectacular when transformed by fall colours. Or there’s the chance to take in the beauty from your perch and perhaps enjoy a good book and a beverage from nearby Muskoka Brewery. Since this cottage doesn’t require housekeeping there’s more time for everything, including a visit to Deerhurst’s Amba Spa. The units are “refreshed” after four days and there’s a thorough cleaning that includes fresh linens once a week. There are discounts for extended stays so it’s okay to get comfortable.

Cottage with extras

Providing a cottage-like experience, the units are compete with a full kitchen, stocked with all that meal preparation requires, except for the food of course. The resort’s restaurant options mean that you don’t have to cook. Meals at the Eclipse Bar and Terrace are served with a view of the lake that can be enjoyed from indoors or on the deck. It’s open daily for breakfast and Friday and Saturday for dinner from September to June. It’s obvious that executive Chef Rory Golden encourages his team to be inventive and creative while delivering on quality and flavour.

Media and special guests were treated to superb surf and turf to celebrate the launch of Lakeside Lodge in July. A nod to the campfire favourite, dessert was dark chocolate pot au creme topped with roasted mini marshmallows and a graham cracker cookie. It definitely made me want s’more. A welcome dinner the previous evening on the lawn at the bay shore featured a seafood bisque that guests agreed was unrivalled. The space was once a golf green but now provides a perfect setting for events.

The Compass Bar and Grill is open daily and features an outdoor patio that overlooks the bay and on weekends there’s live music. The resort cottage experience continues daily at Maple Pub and Patio with upscale pub fare, more incredible views and campfires on the patio on weekends. In addition to the restaurants, grand reception area, gift shop and spa, the Pavilion houses a large indoor pool in a spectacular space flooded with natural light as well as a rock climbing wall and play-space in case you have the grandkids in tow and the weather keeps you indoors. The mix of amenities and variety of accommodations make Deerhurst ideal for intergenerational vacations.

When the outdoors beckons, answer the call by exploring the resort’s hiking trail that climbs to a viewing point that reveals the resort and a swath of Peninsula Lake. With Algonquin Provincial Park a short drive away, there are plenty of other hiking opportunities and there is no better time than the fall to explore this amazing wilderness with seemingly endless rolling hills that resemble a patchwork quilt of fall colours.

On the way you’ll pass Kawartha Dairy that was first established in Bobcaygeon more than 80 years ago. The website lists 45 flavours, most of which are ready to be scooped at the Huntsville location. The creamy confection is now available at select grocery stores in the south but there’s nothing like stepping up to the order window and testing a spoonful of the latest offerings at the source.

Follow Highway 60 to the park and carry on along the winding route through the nearly 3,000 square mile park that is mostly accessible by canoe and hiking trails. Stops along the way include an assortment of trails, the Visitor Centre Museum and Logging Museum. The stunning vistas that the one-hour drive reveals inspired the Group of Seven painters whose work is portrayed in more than 80 dramatic mural reproductions that can be seen in Huntsville’s outdoor gallery.

More local culture can be found at Huntsville’s Algonquin Theatre that features performances throughout the year including a Woodstock tribute in October and in November the Huntsville Festival of the Arts presents Burton Cummings performing at Deerhurst’s 900-seat convention space. That link to Huntsville culture speaks to the fact that Deerhurst has been part of the community for more than 120 years. Most of the resort’s hosts come from the area and strive to make guests feel at home, even if it’s only for a few days.

Find more details at deerhurstresort.com.