By Brandon Sousa
Note: To see more pictures from this trip, follow Brandon Sousa on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/brandon_sousa/
Whether it’s Muskoka, Georgian Bay or the Kawarthas, every Friday after work an onslaught of traffic pours out of downtown and heads for cottage country. It’s a Canadian tradition, or at least a Toronto one, where we escape the chaos of the city for 48 hours of cottage country living.
In keeping with tradition, I packed up the new 2016 MINI Cooper Convertible with weekend essentials: bug spray, summer clothes and a cooler full of drinks to keep hydrated. Contrary to its name, the MINI Cooper Convertible is not so mini. It’s the first open-top MINI with a BMW Group 1.5 litre 3-cylinder turbocharged modular engine, providing a powerful punch and an efficient drive. Best of all, it only takes 18 seconds for the soft-top to go from closed to fully open, even when travelling at speeds up to 30 kilometres per hour.
Planning the perfect road trip means being prepared.
It’s better to focus on the drive than trying to find a place to fuel up. With the car packed and my sunglasses on, I drove to my local Shell to top off my tank. If you’re going to do a road trip in first-class style, there’s no question you should be using first-class fuel. Shell’s V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline is just that. V-Power NiTRO+ has a triple action, total engine protection formula that protects against gunk, corrosion and wear.
While paying for my gas, I noticed two things inside. First, Shell is offering up to 10x AIR MILES Reward Miles on Shell V-Power Premium fuel purchases until Aug. 28 at participating stations. That’s a huge win for travel-lovers like me, as I’m always collecting points to cover the cost of my next adventure.
Second, Shell has now partnered with one of my favourite coffee brands in the world – Costa Coffee. I can’t even begin to count how many spots around the globe I’ve sipped Costa Coffee and now more than 100 Shell stations across Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are offering this liquid joy. And it’s not just a regular cup of coffee; their Costa Coffee Express machines provide barista-style options using high-quality espresso and fresh milk. I hadn’t even hit the road and my weekend escape was off to a great start.
After driving about two-hours east of the city, I pulled into Viamede Resort just as the sun was setting. This boldly different, full-service resort is one of Ontario’s finest and their 2,000 feet of shoreline against Stoney Lake is a visual that’s hard to miss.
With my stomach rumbling during check-in, I opted not to unpack the car and went straight to their casual dining option, The Boathouse.
The Boathouse is a pub-style restaurant that blends fine dining with comfort food. Their locavore philosophy is evident across the menu, with ingredients right from their on-site farm and front lawn. I started my dinner with a craft cheese board and house pickles out on the patio overlooking Stoney Lake, but within a matter of minutes a summer storm reminiscent of a fireworks show drove me back inside the restaurant. My Manitoulin Organic Trout hit the spot after a long week. Best of all, the service was as attentive to us as the chef’s attention was to detail on the plate.
I stayed in a charming, one-bedroom cottage on Mount Julian that offered a private deck and view of Stoney Lake through the trees. The resort provides the option of guest rooms in their main lodge or private cottages across the property to meet everyone’s desires, needs and budget.
The next morning I thought it was appropriate to throw on my Cotty Bound tee for the day. What makes this cottage-apparel company unique is that 100 per cent of their first-year profits are donated to Speaking of Dogs , a North York charity that focuses on dog rescue and assisting dogs from Ontario and Quebec shelters. Their stylish designs not only look great, but make a positive impact in our local communities.
The next day started with a Big Breakfast in the Viamede Dining Room. After a hearty helping of bacon, scrambled eggs, home fries and grilled tomatoes, I met “Dangerous Drew” for a guided hike through Mount Julian. With evidence of the Canadian Shield present amongst the trees of this young forest, the beauty of these trails left me speechless. One area in particular called “The Chute” is a narrow pathway walled by the Canadian Shield and covered in green moss, looking more like a movie set than a hiking trail.
After working up an appetite out in the forest, I headed back to The Boathouse for lunch, curious to try their Irish Nachos. What sounds like a typical pub staple is anything but average at Viamede, dressed with potato skins, baked beans, local stout veggies and goat yogurt. And yet again, as I devoured this mind-blowing appetizer on the patio, the rain returned, forcing me back inside for the main course.
There’s no shortage of activities and amenities at Viamede. Every day the staff put out an itinerary that includes early morning fishing, ice cream socials, hikes, games and even craft beer tastings. As for amenities, there’s a gym and yoga studio with cardio machines, free weights and strength training equipment. There’s an indoor/outdoor pool (separated by a swim-through doggy door), along with two steam rooms.
Viamede also has a fully outdoor pool with unobstructed views of the lake. On its shoreline is a sandy beach equipped with a water trampoline, canoes, paddle boats, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, free for all guests to use. For the kids, there’s an elaborate playscape; for the dogs, a large off-leash dog park right on the property. There’s also a wedding point overlooking the lake, a historic chapel, a recreation cabin, an on-site farm and a disc golf course.
That evening, I had reservations at The Mount Julian restaurant; Viamede’s farm-to-table, fine-dining option led by Executive Chef Kevin McKenna. McKenna works with Viamede groundskeeper Jarrod Craig to cultivate a menu filled with ingredients from their backyard.
The servers are incredibly informative about the menu and excellent in pairing wines that bring out its flavours. I highly recommend opting for the full experience with Mount Julian’s nine course tasting and pairing menu, as long as you’re willing to be open-minded and adventurous. Over the few hours of dinner and the many glasses of local wines, I had the opportunity to chat with Viamede’s owner and General Manager Ben Sämann. His passion for providing a unique service experience for all his guests is what guarantees a memorable stay.
Early Sunday morning, I woke up to watch the sun rise amidst the grey sky, illuminating the clouds a bright silver. In that moment on the dock, I was transported into a Group of Seven painting, reminding me that there’s nothing more majestic than the beauty in my own backyard.
Viamede is the quick escape from the city’s chaos for those looking for exceptional service, amenities and cuisine. Open year round, there is never really a bad time to treat yourself at this luxurious Kawartha property.
Writer’s Note: This trip was in part sponsored by Viamede Resort, BMW Group Canada and Shell Canada through in-kind services. All opinions expressed are independent.
Brandon Sousa is a communications professional in his 20s who loves to meet new people. A Metroland Media Toronto paper boy as a kid, he uses traveling as a means to explore new cultures, new personalities and new adventures sharing it with insidetoronto.com Addicted to social media, he keeps a record of his journeys by tweeting every step of the way. Follow him at @brandon_sousa