Natalie Preddie is a travel and lifestyle writer, speaker and guest expert on Cityline, Your Morning and Global’s The Morning Show, and we are excited to welcome her as Post City’s newest columnist.
At this point, we know that summer 2020 will be focused primarily on domestic travel. Luckily for Ontario, we live in a province rich with stunning views, sparkling lakes and magical sunsets in cottage country. Whether you’re in search of a quiet lakefront getaway or the fun, sightseeing experience of a rural provincial community, here are the best places in Ontario for a luxurious cottage getaway.
Explore in the Rideau Lakes
The Rideau Lakes in eastern Ontario are beautifully tranquil and attract many retirees. Only recently has this area started to draw the younger crowds — the numbers and the dollars make it a sought-after cottage country destination. Rideau Lakes include Big Rideau Lake, Little Rideau Lake and Newboro Lake at the summit of the Rideau Canal. The region enjoys more than 500 kilometres of coastline with more large, luxurious and modern cottages accompanied by beautiful boats popping up every year. Many cottages have private shorelines with private boat launches, multiple boat docks and walk-in swimming. Boating is big here.
The Rideau Lakes region is teeming with history: the famous canal built for military purposes with lots of locks, falls and accompanying hiking trails. In 2007, these waterways were designated a UNESCO world heritage site, recognizing the canal as a masterpiece of human creative genius.
This is the place to show off one’s boat while spending the day cruising the lakes or the locks. No boat? No problem. There are multiple marinas where you can rent luxury speedboats, pontoons and more.
Although the nine local museums are closed throughout the pandemic, this summer destination is ideal during COVID-19 due to its many options for social distancing. In addition to days spent relaxing on the water, the Rideau Lakes have many parks, conservation areas and hiking trails for exploring either by foot or on horseback. Fishing is a huge pastime here, and residents are happy to share their stories of the one that got away.
Unique stays in the Kawarthas
It is not just the delicious Kawartha Dairy Ice Cream that draws those in search of city escapes to the Kawarthas: The word “kawartha” itself means bright waters and happy lakes. This cottage country region boasts 250 sparkling lakes and rivers connected by the historic Trent-Severn Waterway.
As the Kawarthas is the houseboat capital of Ontario, one can expect to find fleets of beautiful, fully equipped houseboats available to rent throughout the summer and a skipper to guide one through the waters if needed.
For those in search of something equally as unique and perhaps even more opulent, try the famous upcycled Off-Grid Solar Shipping Container Cottage designed by HGTV’s Rebecca Purdy. On a private lake, with a private pool and 140 acres to explore, this property is the ultimate getaway.
If visitors are looking for more traditional cottages, luxurious, intimate and private lakefront properties are not hard to find.
If food fuels a family getaway, prior to the pandemic, the Kawarthas had full-day, food-focused itineraries that covered breakfast to dessert and everything in-between. There is the ice cream, of course, but one cannot forget the famous Butter Tart Tour, the Chip Truck Trail or chocolate tours.
Canada’s longest running free admission summer concert series, Peterborough Musicfest, is on hold this year, as is the Dragon Boat Festival and the underwater dining series in the Peterborough Lift Lock, but one can still spend the day at one of the area’s indulgent day spas or take part in a modified wellness retreat experience on a lake.
Luxury in Muskoka
There is a reason that Muskoka is consistently named one of the best places to visit in Canada — to start, it has 1,600 lakes and 14,000 kilometres of shoreline. Add rivers, beaches, rolling green countryside, wineries and art, and it is easy to see why celebrities like Martin Short, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks choose to spend their summers in this popular spot in cottage country.
The type of cottages on Muskoka’s most famous lakes (Lake Joseph, Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau) typically err on the luxurious side — cottages by name but sprawling lakeside houses in reality. They are private and tranquil with towering trees, and some may only be accessible by boat. For those looking to rent, expect large multi-bedroom properties, elegantly designed and tastefully furnished. Boats are often part of one’s rental agreement, which is good. Everyone needs a boat.
Boating, swimming, wakeboarding are all in a day’s work in Muskoka, as is fishing, hiking or a round of golf at one of the region’s stunning golf courses. Before COVID-19, the Muskoka Brewery offered tours with both beer and spirit pairings, so did the Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery with their enticing cranberry marsh, ciders and fruit wine. Although both facilities are now open, masks are mandatory and other restrictions are in place, meaning a slightly different experience than in the past.
Many restaurants, operating within provincial restrictions, are offering takeout or delivery. A brunch from Soul Sistas is always a good idea, and a famous butter tart from Ladybug Café will cure any sweet tooth.
Pre-COVID, the third weekend of August would have been the Dockside Festival of the Arts, but it, along with the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery and Arts & Crafts Summer Show, has been cancelled. Festivals or not, a day spent in magical Muskoka is never wasted.