The Crime Traveller goes to Cottage Country

The Crime Traveller takes it to Ontario's north and encounters some diplomats along the way

By Edward Prutschi

On Monday July 5th, 2010

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Whenever I suggest to The Crime Traveller’s Wife that we spend a week at a cottage, her face scrunches up in thinly veiled derision. Mosquitos. Outhouses. Well water. These are the thoughts that dance through her head as I wax poetic about clean country air and getting back to nature.

It was therefore a stroke of marital brilliance when I gleefully reported that I had been invited to bring the family up north to Red Leaves in Muskoka as a guest of The Rosseau.  As the first of Marriott’s luxury JW brand in Canada, The Rosseau is what would happen to cottage country if it were designed by Shane Baghai, decorated by Martha Stewart and financed by Donald Trump. Leah Leslie, Director of Sales and Marketing for the resort calls this philosophy “nature, on your terms.”

My terms indeed.

As I pulled the minivan up the dramatic circular driveway to the valet I passed a small fleet of Toyota Camrys decked out in diplomatic plates. My visit took place less than 24 hours before Muskoka played host to the G8 and The Rosseau was home base for the Russian delegation. With over two hundred guest rooms and a fully functional conference centre, The Rosseau is accustomed to meeting the demands of dignitaries and directors alike. Keeping one eye open for PM Putin, I rode the plush elevator to the third floor and opened the door to my one-bedroom suite.

The first sight that caught my attention was the small but well appointed kitchenette decked out in elegant pink and grey granite countertops with matching wood-panelled dishwasher and fridge, capped off by a Miele cooktop range. As my gaze followed the chestnut hardwood flooring, I entered the living room and took note of the wood-panelled ceiling with contrasting wooden ceiling fan. A stone-laced gas fireplace sat invitingly beside a flat panel television and an ample deck opened out to a vista of Ontario’s woodland, lovingly nestled in the liquid embrace of Lake Rosseau.

I turned my attention to the bathroom. No outhouses here, as The Crime Traveller’s Wife ran her hand approvingly across the granite counter, over the double sinks, and into the separated soaker tub and shower oasis. A second flat panel T.V. rested on the simple but elegant wood furniture facing the overstuffed king-sized bed.

My kind of cottage.

Only two small blemishes stood out amidst a room that otherwise perfectly married rustic with luxury. First, charging $15 per day for use of in-room Internet in a hotel as upscale as The Rosseau was akin to dining at Nobu and being dinged for the bread basket. With rates hovering in the range of $300 to $500 per night, I expected my web surfing to be complimentary. Second, my suite — although decadent and spacious — had its lake-facing view obstructed by a high tree line. If you’re dead set on salivating over the water during your stay, be sure to request a lake-view room in the Paignton House wing.

After settling in, I wrangled the kids downstairs to Cottages restaurant where they chowed down on grilled cheese and spaghetti. We adults pampered our palettes with somewhat more sophisticated fare, taking in a portobello mushroom burger sprinkled with crumbled feta and a tangy garlic mayo, along with a bowl of warm Asian noodles mixed with green mango, snow peas, peanuts, mint and coriander with a ripple of red curry yoghurt and topped by two crispy spring rolls. Burgers and beers it’s not, but I wasn’t complaining.

We allowed our stomachs a few minutes to settle before the kids led us on a pool-by-pool tour of the resort grounds. Pools at The Rosseau are as ubiquitous as ice machines are in a lesser hotel. There seemed to be a new one around every bend. Indoor. Outdoor. Wading pool. Hot tubs. Spa pool. You could spend weeks here without ever even making it down to the lakefront — which would truly be a shame, because despite the opulence and attention to detail evident in the materials and design of the hotel rooms, the real star of the show is Lake Rosseau herself. The quintessential Muskoka lake, Rousseau gently winds its way around densely treed shorelines dotted with cottages and boathouses. The resort will rent you canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and even 20-foot power boats, leaving no excuse not to explore the lake’s mysteries.

If you’d rather keep two feet on solid ground, kilometres of hiking paths and nature trials surround the resort. Depending on the season and date of your visit, the hotel offers astronomy classes, scotch tastings, art clinics and other unique activities including a round of golf right next door at Nick Faldo’s famed course, The Rock.

After a quick shower and change, we sat down to an early dinner at Teca . The kids enjoyed a simple cheese pizza while my wife and I shared a remarkable tray of unique bruschetta appetizers that include inspired creations like brie and figs in a honey balsamic glaze topped with a roasted grape. We followed that up with pan fried halibut (served in the pan) and a rich agnolotti dripping with goat cheese and stuffed with truffle whipped potato.

Deferring dessert, I led the kids down the stone stairs to the dock, where we watched a live wakeboarding presentation before heading over to one of the hotel’s many firepits where a helpful staff member provided each of us with skewers, marshmallows, chocolate drops and graham crackers. Just because our ”cottage” has 24-hour room service and WiFi doesn’t mean we couldn’t end our day with a traditional cottage s‘mores fest.

Morning began with a lazy breakfast on a patio overlooking the lake followed by a quick meeting with The Rosseau’s in-house naturalist, who recommended an easy trail on the hotel grounds where the kids could enjoy some of Muskoka’s wildlife. After another dip in the pool (while The Crime Traveller’s Wife availed herself of the resort’s extensive spa offerings) we hiked over to the neighbouring pond and enjoyed an hour amidst the flowers, frogs and birds. Before returning to our room, my family left its mark on a hunk of Canadian Shield by assembling a small inukshuk out of roadside stones.

All too soon my 30 hours in cottage country came to a close. Stratospheric real estate prices are a significant barrier to Muskoka lakefront living for all but the truly well heeled. But, if you’re looking for an occasional slice of the millionaire cottage lifestyle, a few days at The Rosseau could be enough to scratch that itch — at least until the next class action law suit settles down on Bay Street.


The Crime Traveller and his family were guests of The Rosseau during their stay.

When not jetting around the world as his alter ego, The Crime Traveller, Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email ed@thecrimetraveller.com.