Escape Plan: five amazing Ontario getaways
Five off-the-radar summer destinations where you can eat, drink, fish, farm, bike or meditate to your heart’s content
Blue Fox Camp
A northern fishing lodge perfect for a guys-only mancation
Guys looking for an unironic place to sport their Paul Bunyan beards and buffalo plaid flannel shirts head to Blue Fox Camp. This Northern Ontario fishing lodge, a former logging camp, is a haven for city dwellers yearning for backwoods authenticity and the manly man days of yore.
The journey back in time begins with a six-hour drive to Blind River and a 25-minute flight on a 1956 Beaver float plane. The views are breathtaking as the plane skims the side of a 400-foot Precambrian cliff before swooping onto a 19-kilometre-long aquamarine lake surrounded by a forest of pine and maple trees. It’s desolate and secluded—quintessential Canadian Shield.
The camp, which was built in the 1920s, is a cluster of wooden buildings on a hillside overlooking Lake Kirkpatrick’s calm waters. There’s no cellphone reception or television (a satellite phone is only for emergencies), so any pledge to keep the office or the girlfriend at bay won’t be hard to keep. As for amenities, there’s good news and bad. Most of the cabins are decked out with wood stoves, knotty pine furniture and classic Hudson Bay blankets, and are equipped with propane appliances, pots, pans and enough beds to host a guys’ getaway for five buddies, but they remain pristinely untouched by modern plumbing. However, a newly built freestanding central shower facility surprises with a sauna and two whirlpool tubs—an incongruous but welcome 21st-century luxury after a long day on the lake.
Crystal clear streams beckon diehard fly fishermen, and for those looking to troll, the Blue Lakes area is the only place in Ontario with brook, lake and rainbow trout. The camp keeps a fleet of Lund fishing boats outfitted with sonar fish finders to help you land the big one.
There’s plenty for non-anglers, too: others come to rock climb (the camp provides free guides and equipment), hike, canoe, kayak and sail in a place where it’s possible to have an entire blissful lake to yourself. (Watercraft are included in the price.)
Most guests go for the all-inclusive three-meals-a-day option, which includes a box lunch to take along on expeditions. All other meals are served in the dining room of the main lodge, where guys tend to gather to trade fish stories. Fresh meat and veg are flown in weekly, and chef Ivan Williams, who trained at George Brown and has worked at top resorts in Whistler and Lake Louise, is there for May and June to whip up seafood, steaks and roasts that prove the old adage about men’s hearts.
TRAVEL TIME FROM TORONTO: Six-hour drive, plus 25-minute flight (about $180 per person, round trip).
ACCOMMODATIONS: Blue Fox Camp, 416-497‑7450, bluefoxcamp.com. $125 per person per night.
An idyllic weekend in wine country
You don’t have to spring for a transatlantic flight to cycle and sip your way through sun-drenched vineyards. Wheel and Wine excursions from Niagara Wine Tours International offer a guided group trip through Ontario’s wine region, and the pedalling keeps the blood circulating just enough to avoid a BUI charge. The leisurely ride, which includes enough tastings to satisfy neophytes and oenophiles, departs from the Picton Street office (bikes are provided, though you can also BYO) and heads down country lanes and tree-shaded trails flanked by grapevines and apple orchards. This isn’t the Tour de France, so don’t show up in spandex—in fact, anyone who’s wobbled home on their cruiser after a Friday night at the Gladstone Hotel will feel completely at ease.
The roughly 12-person pack makes pit stops at a minimum of three vineyards in one afternoon. At Frogpond Farm, Ontario’s only certified organic winery, eco-warriors will appreciate the guilt-free sips of an organic cabernet franc under Bullfrog-powered lights. Next stop: the riverside Reif Estate Winery, one of Ontario’s oldest and most accomplished. At Lailey Vineyard, visitors can taste wines straight from the barrel. Best known for its 2007 pinot noir, Lailey is a small operation; you may spot proprietor David Lailey pruning vines or waving from his tractor. The last stop on the itinerary is the tour office, for retrieving the cellar’s worth of bottles you’ll inevitably purchase along the way (they’re conveniently carried and delivered for you by staff).
To refuel post-ride, head to Queen Street, where the dining options are abundant. Canadian beef tenderloin with Ontario goat cheese gratin on the veranda of the Prince of Wales Hotel is a failsafe choice.
Bike and wine tours are included in the room rates at the Post House Inn, a historic B&B that was once the town’s post office. Built circa 1835, the red-brick Georgian oozes charm and is loaded with romantic cues, including bedside fireplaces and two-person ensuite hydrotherapy tubs.
A morning-after bounty fit to cure any hangover includes homemade muffins, English bangers, pumpkin-yogurt pancakes or mounds of French toast with locally grown fruit.
BIKE TOUR: Included in accommodations; from $65 per person if booking separately. 92 Picton St., 1‑800-680-7006, niagaraworldwinetours.com.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Post House Inn, 95 Johnson St., 1-877-349-7678, historicinnsofniagara.com. $159–$319 per night.
The Cookery School at The Waring House
A culinary hot spot in Prince Edward County for backyard barbecue enthusiasts
Toronto’s simultaneous explosion of charcuterie, southern food and all things smoked has restaurant-goers gobbling up dry-rubbed ribs, summer sausages and pulled pork. But the fine art of smoking food at home has yet to become a backyard phenomenon. To learn the basics, the truly (and newly) culinary hardcore will sign up for chef Kelly Attwells’s home smoking course, held this summer at the Waring House, an inn and cooking school just outside of Picton. The $75 class covers brining, hot and cold smoking, and—for cooks unlikely to fork over a fortune for a coveted Big Green Egg—how to repurpose an ordinary wok into a home smoker. (In short: line with wood chips, insert a grill rack, cover and stick it on the barbecue.)
Attwells spent 13 years as a chef in Fernie, B.C., perfecting the local delicacies of cedar-smoked salmon and Alberta rib-eye. He works through a full menu, including seafood apps, duck breast, beef carpaccio and a cheese plate, teaching his students how to match food and smoke flavours: buttery east coast scallops with tangy cedar, local duck breasts sweetened with cherrywood. The classes are small (no more than 14 people) and run three hours, giving Attwells ample time to impart the finer points of food prep and plating. The course culminates with a feast of self-smoked delights, leaving the afternoon free for waddling through the shops on Picton’s main drag, or belt-expanding trips to such foodie destinations as County Cider Company, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese and Vicki’s Veggies—all part of an epicurean itinerary fit for a Michelin judge.
The Waring House offers convenient on-site accommodations, but the nearby Claramount Inn and Spa, a 1906 mansion with decadent spa services, is worth the splurge. The Relax and Renew package (from $278) includes a steam bath, facial, body scrub and hot stone massage. Book the Tree Top suite; it has its own private staircase, a soaker tub, a sitting area, a king-size bed and a balcony overlooking Picton Harbour.
COOKING SCHOOL: The Waring House, County Rd. 1, 1-800-621-4956, waringhouse.com. $75 per person.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Claramount Inn and Spa, 97 Bridge St., 1-800-679-7756, claramountinn.com. $225 per night.
A silent retreat for stressed-out execs
Harried refugees from the urban rat race find solace at Loyola House, a world-renowned retreat promising the simplest of escapes: peace and quiet. The goal here is to get away from everyday pressures and routines, giving guests room to breathe—quite literally. The Jesuit-run centre, which is earnestly spiritual and contemplative (rather than hippy-dippy New Age), is just outside Guelph, on 600 acres of fields, forests, creeks and gardens. Silent stays last for five, eight or—for the truly devoted—40 days.
Guests are surrounded by 10 kilometres of trails, a historic Jesuit cemetery and a simple grass-mown labyrinth for walking meditations. The property follows Marden Creek and the Speed River as far east as the Guelph Lake Conservation Area.
Visitors don’t have to be Christian or even believers of any faith to partake of the restorative benefits; this is a strictly no-proselytizing zone. Some guests read, others hit the trails, and many pray, meditate, or simply scan the skies from the comfort of a Muskoka chair.
The single rooms are spartan—there’s nothing but a sink, desk, reading chair and twin bed—and bathrooms are shared. The outdoor swimming pool, while wonderfully open to the sky and surrounded by gardens, is unheated and sometimes chilly—Cancun this ain’t.
Unplugging isn’t by choice: there are no phones, TVs, radios, computers or Internet connections in any of the centre’s 49 rooms, and people are (gently) discouraged from using cellphones or reading newspapers. A respectful friendly silence is maintained in the common areas, and guests pass each other in the halls with a smile or a nod. Tasty (but silent) meals bring everyone together three times a day. It’s weird—and sometimes giggle inducing—at first, but you quickly get used to Loyola’s relaxed, more meditative way of life.
ACCOMMODATIONS: 5420 Hwy. 6 N., 519-824‑1250, loyolahouse.ca. About $90 per night ($455 for a five-day retreat; $725 for eight days).
Willo’Wind farm and B&B
A mom-and-pop farm stay for locavore families
Long before agritourism became fashionable, Elizabeth and Rudy Stocking were welcoming city folk to Willo’Wind, their bucolic mixed-use farm and B&B near Zephyr. Twenty-five years in, their philosophy remains simple: practise sustainable farming to promote stewardship of the land and preserve it for future generations. That includes sharing their rural lifestyle with those eager to embrace a 100‑mile regimen and families on the front lines of the all-organic, pure parenting movement.
The payoff for kids and parents willing to get their hands dirty is a true farm experience, whatever visitors want that to be. Pick weeds and tend to the organic vegetable garden; scoop up still-warm eggs of different sizes and shades from the chicken coop; help feed the sheep and ducks; try milking a goat; or simply wander the 50‑acre property and revel in the fact that there isn’t a skyscraper in sight.
The Stockings are busy from 6 a.m. onward and are happy to have guests participate in all activities. Elizabeth loves answering questions about country life, even going so far as to show kids the exact anatomical orifice through which a hen lays an egg (it’s called the vent—now you know!). When the chores are done, guests settle in with a book and a glass of lemonade in the front garden, explore country roads, hit the beaches of Lake Simcoe (about a half-hour north) or check out nearby Uxbridge, the biggest metropolis around (population 20,000).
Travellers looking for hotel-style accommodations should know that this 100-year-old farmhouse is a family home (shoes are left at the front door). The two second-floor guest rooms have double or queen beds, and the two guest bathrooms are shared. There is no TV, so Xbox-addicted youngsters will learn to play a leisurely game of cards or dig into the Stockings’ trove of retro toys.
In the morning, rise to the sound of roosters and the smell of a fresh-from-the-farm breakfast of scones, eggs and bacon. A dozen eggs make a great souvenir (from $3.50)—the rich taste and creamy deep orange yolks put store-bought to shame.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Willo’Wind farm, 2740 Conc. 5, Uxbridge, 905-852-3878. $35–$70 per night; kids $10 per night (under five free).
There’s even more vacation inspiration in the Toronto Life online Getaways Guide, featuring more than 200 in-depth reviews of getaway destinations. Plus, find out what to do if you’re citybound.