WOODVIEW, ON - Sometimes, the best vacation destinations are the ones closest to home. Take this sleepy little hamlet, located just two hours north of Toronto in Ontario’s pristine Kawartha Lakes District, for example. Besides featuring one of Canada’s loveliest landscapes — a Group of Seven-worthy backdrop thick with pine and maples that’s reflected on the shimmering glass surfaces of crystal-clear lakes — Woodview is also home to a remarkable resort that may be the best weekend escape in the province.
“Welcome to Viamede,” says Charlotte, the lovely young woman manning the reception desk when I arrive at this historic resort that sits perched on the shores of tranquil Stoney Lake.
Viamede has been a fixture in the Kawarthas since the mid 1800s, but in 2010 it went through a renaissance when Ben Sämann purchased the property and transformed it into a state-of-the-art resort.
However, Sämann went to great lengths to make sure the charm, character and history of Viamede were not compromised during the upgrades, and while the resort now offers all the comforts modern-day travellers demand, it remains true to its rustic roots — low beam ceilings and lots of homey pine fixtures still dominate.
Left: Viamede Resort in the Kawartha area of Ontario is one of the loveliest getawys in the province. Middle: The lovely historic chapel at Viamede has seen many a wedding. Right: The whole family, even the dog, is welcome at Viamede.
“What would you like to do first? Go snowshoeing, ice fish, skate, cross-country ski, or just relax in your room before dinner?” asks the charming Charlotte as she outlines just a few of the winter activities Viamede staff can arrange for guests during a stay in this wilderness wonderland. This place makes you like winter again.
That said, looking out across frozen Stoney Lake, where a teepee has been erected to shelter those brave enough to go ice fishing on this -14C winter’s day, I elect to retreat to my spacious room in the Hilltop Lodge where a roaring fireplace and a bottle of wine are waiting.
Mine is one of 50 well-appointed guest rooms at the resort, which also features some charming pet-friendly lakeside cottages that look like giant dollhouses. The latter is especially popular in the summer months with families, many of who make a trip Viamede Resort an annual event.
“We have a very high repeat rate,” Charlotte tells me.
The rooms are bright and airy and feature private balconies with gorgeous views of the surrounding brilliance. My room even came with a whirlpool tub in the master bedroom.
Viamede is beautiful any time of the year, but when Stoney Lake warms up in the summer months, it quickly fills with vacationers trying to escape Toronto’s sweltering heat and humidity.
Summer vacationers are treated to lots of fun activities, as well — canoes, pools, disc golf, paddleboats, tennis, stand-up paddleboards, a water trampoline, six kilometres of wilderness trails and bicycles are available — and it’s all complimentary. And several of the province’s best golf courses are an easy drive away from the resort.
Above: In the summer, when Stony Lake warms up, Viamade will warm your heart.
And if you don’t want to bring along the four-legged member of the family, then Toby and Daisy, the resort’s resident dogs, are available for walks. In fact, the resort, which does a lot of fundraising for rescue organizations, will donate $10 to Golden Rescue in your dog’s name if you bring Fido along.
One of the things that defines Viamede as a great resort is its rich culinary tradition, which is now being safeguarded by Executive Chef Kevin McKenna.
McKenna, who honed his culinary skills in England and Canada, joined Viamede after being featured as a Guest Chef at the famed James Beard House in New York.
Now McKenna rules the kitchen at Viamede’s main dining room, Mount Julian, which is located in an historic building across from the resort’s main lodge.
Ryan, my server and the room’s sommelier, tells me he and McKenna worked together at another of Ontario’s excellent resorts — Taboo — and he quickly jumped at the opportunity to rejoin the chef at Viamede.
“It’s a decision I don’t regret because working with Kevin and his staff is a real honour — and just look around at this wonderful room and setting,” exudes Ryan, who tells me the creaky floorboards and sagging walls date back to 1865.
McKenna’s tasting menu is revered in Ontario’s culinary circles and Ryan pairs each selection with Ontario wines.
Above: The lovely winter scene at Viamede will stay with you for a long time.
There’s no better example of farm-to-table dining than Mount Julian, where most of the ingredients used in McKenna’s menu selections are grown locally or on the resort’s farm.
“We have pigs, chickens, ducks and turkeys and what we don’t raise or grow here, we purchase from local producers,” says Ryan as he delivers canapés of butter poached Traynor beef, marinated garden radish and yellow perch, followed by a Kawartha split pea soup featuring some of Viamede’s own pork. The sommelier pairs the first courses with a Southbrook Semillion from Four Mile Creek winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it’s the perfect complement to the first courses.
What follows is an orgasmic delight for my taste buds: Manitoulin organic rrout served with rye berries, crisp brussel sprouts, radish and lard (wine pairing is Long Dog Chardonnay from Prince Edward County), and Jarrod’s heritage pig, a slow-roasted loin served with sprout sauerkraut, radish, homemade church key mustard (excellent) and juniper (wine pairing is Tawse Gewürztraminer from Beamsville Bench).
I get a taste of Pastry Chef Dylan’s black Artisan Bread while I wait for the next course, which was Greenly Farms duck accompanied by apple smoked squash, fried Cannon Farms carrots, maple bacon powder and whiskey glaze (wine pairing Half Moon Bay Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County).
To top everything off I enjoy “C,W,F” wild blueberry panna cotta: sumac curd, sugar plum Florentine drizzled with a blueberry foam — I wash it down with Chambord.
Wow, what a finish!
As the evening comes to a close, Ryan tells me that late at night, after all the customers have left, “I sometimes hear noises and windows and doors suddenly close. So I guess we have ghosts.”
Or maybe it’s the spirits of Viamede guests who just never want to leave this remarkable, romantic resort.
Viamede Resort is a 165-acre lakefront resort that’s open all year round. / Address: 595 Mount Julian-Viamede Road, Woodview, ON, K0L 3E0. T: 1-705-654-3344 / For rates and specials, go to viamede.com/