The Inn at Manitou has opened for its 34th season up near McKellar and was looking very spiffy in last week’s hot sunshine. The suites that climb up the steep, forested ridge are the most luxurious, their private balconies offering spectacular views down onto glittering Lake Manitouwabing. From there, it’s just a short stroll down to the main building for afternoon tea in a drawing room filled with Chinese antiques or a Negroni out on the terrace. Over on distant court number nine, diehards are getting in a last game of tennis before dinner and the pleasant pok… pok… of ball hitting racket gives a slow pulse to the early evening. Tennis was my first love and it will be my last. For others, it’s golf or canoeing, kayaking, biking and swimming—or going to the spa then lying for hours by the pool. There’s always plenty to do or not do at Manitou.
Before Relais & Chateaux changed its rating system, the Inn was one of only 33 properties in the world that boasted a gold shield. The quality of service (for sheer pampering, it’s unequalled in Ontario and probably Canada) was partly responsible for that, but it works both ways. A season at such an elite property looks very good on the resumés of energetic young French men and women ambitious for a career in the hospitality industry. The Inn’s owner, Sheila Wise, goes to Paris each November, takes a suite at the Hotel Crillon and auditions staff for the following season. The added bonus is that many of them end up staying in Canada, enriching our gene pool in kitchens and dining rooms to an amazing degree. Jean-Pierre Challet, Christophe Le Chatton, Pascal Labrouche, Olivier Boels, Philippe Coeurdassier, Christophe Leland, Thomas Bellec, Romuald Toulon… They all came into our lives through the Inn. The current chef is Bernard Ibanez and his cooking is firmly in the Inn’s tradition of precise French cuisine, with alternating haute and bistro menus. His lunchtime spa dishes are particularly delicious and leave everyone lightfooted and eager to get back on the court.