Food lover’s guide to Muskoka

It’s dusk on the shores of Lake Rosseau and Chef Mark Marchment has just returned from a cook-out on the lawn at Windermere House, a classic Muskoka resort, 2.5 hours north of Toronto. He’s grilling fresh-caught lake trout over an open fire for the evening’s dinner and wants to add locally-grown shiitake mushrooms and s’mores to the menu. While chef’s whites might seem an usual sight against the iconic green backdrop of pine forest, the latest location of the Oliver & Bonacini restaurant brand, is as much about preserving cottage country traditions as it is about blazing culinary trails.

Big skies in Muskoka cottage country

Big skies in Muskoka

“We want to respect the past but add some modern flair,” says Marchment, of the new operation which includes four dining options, including Muskoka’s oldest pub, founded in 1870. I’m here to see if I can recreate the quintessential northern Canadian summer of my childhood — gnarled trees, Canadian Shield and endless days — minus the lumpy mattresses, musty Mad magazines and voracious horseflies. Sitting on the resort’s Victorian-style veranda and sipping a Summer Collins, a defty-mixed cocktail of gin, lemon juice and pink peppercorns topped with soda, I have to admit that Windermere House is a perfect beginning.

Aerial View of Muskoka Canada

Aerial view of Muskoka from a Cessna float plane

But you’ve got to get on the water to truly experience Canada’s north. While a classic Muskoka choice is to take the Segwun steamship tour and gawk at digs owned by celebs like Goldie Hawn and Tom Hanks, I’m looking to do some fishing. We head across the water to the J.W. Marriott The Rosseau Resort and Spa, a lakefront resort modeled on the Royal Muskoka Hotel, a 1901 landmark known for its high society clientele. You’re likely to see Lamborghinis in the driveway and plenty of million-dollar views, but the resort is committed to providing authentic Muskoka experiences along with the glitz. Today, the buzz is more about fish than celebrities.

Boathouses in Muskoka, Ontario

Boathouses in Muskoka, Ontario

“Sports-fishing is one of the best-kept secrets of the Muskokas,” says Dan Arcand, General Manager. He hails from Lake Nipissing so that gives him plenty of angler street-cred. I throw my first cast in Boathouse Bay and while I don’t catch one of the 4 foot long pikes Arcand reports, bobbing on the waves is fine with me. Sports fishing has meant sitting in a leaky 14-foot aluminum boat. Here it has been elevated to an art. I lounge on a white leather setee while a powerful engine gets me back to the resort in time for my spa treatment. Spa Roseau draws its inspiration from Muskoka’s rock, wind and water and I lose myself in a botanical infused facial that’s as relaxing as a calm day on the water.

Touchstone Resort in Muskoka Cottage Country

Moody Muskoka

Next stop is Touchstone on Lake Muskoka. Built on the former site of Aston Beach Resort and Tamwood Lodge, Touchstone does the Grand Resort revival well. Soaring buildings hug the rocky granite landscape and haute décor includes skylights and sleek furnishings. Instead of doing a cannonball off the dock, I float on my back in the infinity pool (Muskoka’s first) and look up at the night sky through the top of a 100-year-old long needled pine.

Touchstone Resort infinity pool

The small but picturesque infinity pool at Touchstone resort

I realize Muskoka captures the essence of northern cottage country perfectly. One thing is certain. I don’t miss the muddy lake bottom or seaweed grabbing at my toes one bit.

A version of this story originally appeared in enRoute onAir, an Air Canada publication.

Travel Planner

If you’re headed to Ontario’s cottage country and want to avoid the traffic, Cameron Air Services offers float plane service on their fleet of Cessna planes to Muskoka, Georgian Bay and Temagami. It’s not cheap but the scenic views are unforgettable.

A Cameron Air float plane in Muskoka

A Cameron Air float plane lands in Muskoka

By Car: A great base to begin exploring is Port Carling, located in the heart of the Muskokas along Highway 118 northwest of Gravenhurst. Known as the “Hamptons of the North”, Port Carling offers small town atmosphere with the cachet of the moneyed crowd. It’s not by accident that both the Lake Rosseau Circle Tour and the Lake Muskoka Circle Tour include Port Carling on their carefully chosen scenic drives. Pick up a Muskoka Driving Tour map at the Visitors Centre (1 800-267-9700;, Highway 11 north of Severn Bridge.

Resources: Ontario Tourism Official Tourism Site

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Showing 8 comments
  • Irene S. Levine

    Your post beautifully set the stage for a mouth-watering story. I had never heard of Muskoka. It looks like a wonderful summer getaway!

  • Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru

    Hi Michele – Your description of a Canadian summer – lumpy mattresses, Mad Magazines, et al. – took me back immediately to my own childhood in Michigan, and later to time whiled away at my husband’s family’s cabin in Northern Minnesota. We love that a bit of sophistication is being added to the classic traditional whitefish and s’mores camping menus! Muskoka has so much appeal not only for the nostalgic, but the present. It’s no wonder that celebrities have appropriated a lakeside hideaway for themselves.

  • [email protected]

    How fabulous to have such a beautiful area so close to Toronto. The hard decision would be to choose where to stay! I’m now intrigued and can see on that beautiful verandah, sipping a sumner Collins and deciding which restaurant to go for dinner!

  • Sue Reddel

    This updated classic summer resort looks like a perfect spot to relax and enjoy. That infinity pool looks so inviting and I’m sure the Summer Collins would help melt all your troubles away.

  • Billie Frank

    One of the things I love about reading travel blogs is discovering places I’ve never heard of. Muskoka is new to me- clearly not to celebrity radar. Would love to visit!

  • Cathy Sweeney

    I love it when I learn about cuisine that preserve traditions while creating unique dishes with new ideas. Sounds like Chef Marchment is doing just that. Muskoka certainly looks like a beautiful place to enjoy new culinary experiences. I admit I wouldn’t mind spotting celebs in the area, too. 🙂

  • budget jan

    Lovely writing Michele – very evocative – I felt I was along rediscovering Canada with you.

  • Culture Tripper

    The setting and infinity pool at Touchstone resort is stunning! Much more appealing than wading in on muddy lake floor–always think I feel fish brushing against my legs. I would definitely be up for the northern Canadian summer experience at one of these gorgeous resorts in the ‘new’ Muskoka.

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