Quintessential Cottage Country – that’s how National Geographic Traveler magazine described Muskoka, Ontario, when it included it in its “Best of the World: Must-See Places for 2012” list, which was featured in the Nov-Dec 2011 issue. The article describes Muskoka, a place I am very familiar with, as “the heart of Ontario’s cottage country.” I grew up visiting the cottages of friends in Muskoka, which is a 2.5 hour drive north of Toronto. Later, in University, I worked for two summers as a live-in nanny to a family who summered there. It was, without a doubt, the most picturesque and relaxing way to spend the summer. Even the drive up to Muskoka, often dead-locked on the highway with other Torontonians trying to make it up to their cottages for the weekend, held the promise of something great. Visiting Muskoka is the archetypical Canadian way to spend a summer – boating, having bonfires, and relaxing on the dock in a Muskoka chair. There’s so much to do in the 2500-square-mile area, which is dotted with lakes, waterfalls, and rivers. I was so happy to see that it made the National Geographic list – it’s such a mixture of old-school charm and high-end real estate, chic shops, and some of the best resorts around.
When I was a nanny, my days were filled with children’s sailing, tennis, and golf lessons at the nearby country club. Afterwards, we would go swimming in the lake, make friendship bracelets on the hammock, and collect wild blueberries that hung to the rocky cliffs. Those were magical summers, and every year I try to make it a point to visit up there. Port Carling is a great town to visit – lots of nice patios and independently-owned shops. You can venture there by boat or by car, and easily walk the little town in an afternoon. Tours of the lakes, and the gorgeous cottages that dot them (ahem – that’s a boat house in the photo above, not the actual cottage (!!)) can be purchased through Lady Muskoka Cruises, or the traditional Segwun steamship. Resorts like Taboo and Touchstone offer great amenities, like infinity pools and modern décor, while the traditional Windermere House has been a favourite place for families visiting Muskoka for decades. If you’re traveling with children, there’s even a Santa’s Village amusement park that operates in the summer!
My favourite time of day in Muskoka is the early morning, when the boats haven’t begun their rides on the lake, and the sea-planes have not yet landed. The water is glassy and black, and occasionally a loon will cut through it as it floats by, creating ripples that spread across the surface. Sitting on the dock in the early morning, bundled up in a sweatshirt with a cup of coffee, is such a peaceful time. And at night, it seems like you can see all the stars in the galaxy – I’ve never seen stars as bright as those up in Muskoka. So while I’ve heard some grumblings about National Geographic’s inclusion of Muskoka on its recent travel list (i.e. “oh no, our real estate prices will go up! it will become more expensive to find accommodations than it already is!”), I think it’s great that Muskoka was included – everyone should get the chance to experience the slow-paced, sometimes luxurious, way of life that Muskoka has to offer.