Buried under all that snow, across the province of Ontario, are a collection of winter-perfect accommodations that feature incredible dining and exciting outdoor activities.
Packing for these winter escapes can be challenging. Winter boots. Check. Favourite sweater. Check. Winter parka. Check! I highly recommend Helly Hansen’s winter gear. With a versatile collection, they have you covered for every winter activity you can think of. I put their Norse Parka to the test in this season’s minus 20 degree temperatures and was not disappointed. It’s water repellant, windproof, breathable and most importantly warm without being overly puffy like a human marshmallow. Using Allied traceable European down (duck down 60/40 550 fill power), Helly Hansen keeps you warm and in style.
With my bags packed and ready to go, I decided to go on a provincial-wide search for my five favourite winter resorts perfect for your next weekend escape.
The Briars (Jackson Point – Lake Simcoe)
The Briars is the perfect balance of a country inn and a lakeside resort. With a rich history dating back to 1840, The Briars sits on over 200 acres of lakefront property featuring a vegetable garden that is over 200 years old and entirely organic and sustainable. The original manor house built by British navy captain, William Bourchier, is designated as a heritage site and is one of the best preserved examples of 19th century architecture in Canada.
There are over 50 rooms and 16 cottages on site, along with an all-season dining room, Drinkwaters Lounge, library, full-service spa, private waterfront access, two outdoor pools, an indoor pool (for the winter), sauna, whirlpool tub, fitness centre, games room and an 18-hole golf course (in the summer). For a winter stay, there are also fun activities such as live music, horse-drawn sleigh rides, mulled wine and hot chocolate by the fire, snow trails, ice skating, skiing and yoga onsite or nearby.
During my stay, I took the History Tour which brings you around the property highlighting stories about the building, décor and artifacts that fill The Briars. The history of the resort is what truly makes this place great.
On Saturday evening, they even had a live DJ spinning tunes in the dining room allowing guests to bust a move. Needless to say, I took full advance of this amenity and put in a few song requests too.
In the kitchen, Executive Chef Trevor Ledlie knows exactly how to please his guests with a tasty menu with hints of Italian influence. I started my meal with the Mushroom & Wild Rice Arancini which is a must-order in my opinion. For my main, I suggest the Duck Breast with roasted brussels sprout and parsnip puree. To finish it off, I opted for a classic, the Briars Crème Brulee.
The Briars is open for 365 days a year, however their outdoor amenities are in hibernation during the winter season. Not to worry because they have you covered with their winter package getaways.
Sherwood Inn (Port Carling – Muskoka)
Sherwood Inn sits on the infamous Lake Joseph, known as Muskoka’s most star-studded lake. With many celebrities and business titans who have cottages on the lake, it’s no surprise you feel like one while staying at the Sherwood Inn.
Pulling onto the property, you feel a sense of privacy among the century-old pines with smaller cottages surrounding the main inn. In my Robinwood Cottage, the wood-burning fireplace kept me warm while reading on the couch while overlooking the snow-covered lake. It couldn’t be more picturesque.
On the property, you’ll find scenic trails for cross country skiing, snow shoeing or fat biking. Their equipment is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Or keep up with your New Years’ Resolution in the Maplewood Building, home to their onsite fitness centre.
I decided to venture out on a 5-minute drive to Johnston’s Cranberry Farm, home to a 1.2km ice trail around 12 acres of cranberry fields. With a forest on one side and cranberry beds on the other, this is a one-of-a-kind experience. Its open weekdays from 11am to 4pm and on weekends from 10am to 4pm (weather dependent). Best of all, its home to Muskoka Lakes Winery, serving mulled wine by a campfire to warm you up after a skate.
Back at the Sherwood in the Vintages Dining Room, Executive Chef Robert Huff eloquently cooks up dishes that complement the region and the season. For the winter, our server Alexandra recommended the escargot sitting on a puff pastry. She couldn’t have been more right. For my main, Chef Huff brought out a baby New Zealand lamb shank with a mushroom ragoût, heirloom carrot purée and roasted fingerling potatoes. This dish felt like a warm hug for my insides. If you delay your visit to the Vintages Dining Room until the summer, keep an eye out for Chef’s creative fresh and local menu like a house smoked salmon with a maple cream appetizer or his yellow-fin tuna with gluten-free egg noodles in a miso broth.
The Sherwood Inn is open seven days a week May through October, but during the winter from November through to April, they are available for individual bookings on Friday and Saturdays.
Elm Hurst Inn (Ingersoll – Oxford County)
Since 1872, the Elm Hurst Inn has been a local landmark of Southwestern Ontario. Sitting on a 33-acre property surrounded by quaint farm landscapes, this iconic Victorian mansion is a perfect escape during the winter chill.
The Elm Hurst Inn was originally built as the home of James Harris, known as the father of Canadian commercial cheese industry. Today, there’s nothing cheesy about the beautifully restored mansion. With 46 rooms, 3 luxury suites, an Aveda Spa, a fitness centre, whirlpool Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and business centre, Elm Hurst acts as ideal winter retreat. A hearty Country Buffet Breakfast and parking are also included in your overnight stay.
The Spa offers a wide variety of hand, foot and body therapy treatments including one-on-one or group session yoga. Open Sunday to Thursday from 9am to 8pm and Friday to Saturday from 9am to 10pm, there is no reason why you shouldn’t treat yourself during your stay. If you’re looking for the whirlpool Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna, they can be found inside the spa, accessible during spa operating hours, not requiring an appointment.
The Elm Hurst Mansion Restaurant features 9 private dining rooms, each with its own distinct historical charm. Their Executive Chef Michael Davis, C.C.C. who has been with the property since 1996, has cultivated an incredibly hearty menu with culinary classics.
For dinner, I recommend ordering from the Chef’s Choice Menu. Chef Michael has put together a three-course menu that features some of his most perfected dishes. I started with a Sautéed Sun-Dried Calimyrna Figs and Goat’s Cheese Salad; a generously portioned salad with fresh fruit flavours complementing the creamy cheese and vinaigrette. Your choice of entree will be a tough one with five outstanding options on the menu, but I would suggest the Pecan Crusted Pork Tenderloin Scaloppini for its tenderness and taste. The meal is finished off with coffee or tea and a selection from their dessert menu. The level of excellence that Chef Michael brings to the plate is reason enough to visit Elm Hurst Inn.
Elm Hurst Inn is open year round as well as the spa. They also offer a number of packages at their property that will make planning your visit a breeze.
Viamede Resort (Woodview – Kawartha Lakes)
It’s hard to put into words the warm and homey feeling that Viamede Resort provides, but the source of that feeling can easily be attributed to the owner and General Manager, Ben Sämann. He makes each and every guest feel like they’re a part of this big family experience, where all the fun, resort amenities are theirs to enjoy too.
This century-old traditional Ontario resort hotel has not only kept up with the times, but has progressively ventured into a boldly different culinary adventure. They offer a locavore program, with ingredients right from their on-site farm and front lawn, supplemented by ingredients and beverages from the surrounding region. The culinary team does a masterful job of balancing creativity with comfort food, especially at Club 1885 in the winter and the Boathouse in the summer.
On the property is Mount Julian, a fine-dining experience open for dinner Thursday-Sunday, with a 5, 7, 9 course tasting menu. The focus at Mount Julian during the winter is warming, hearty foods and wintery ingredients like squashes, apples, pears, parsnips, preserves and their onsite turkey and pork.
Aside from eating, Viamede has an incredible indoor pool with a swim-out door beside a fireplace which overlooks Stony Lake. There’s also a state-of-the-art fitness centre and yoga studio onsite, along with a steam room. At check-in, they’ll also provide you with a list of indoor activities like wine tastings and movie nights scheduled for your stay.
Best of all is their 165 acres of property which has plenty of winter hiking trails to venture out on. Build a snowman. Snowshoe the wildness. Get into a snowball fight. There’s no shortage of outdoor fun here.
Viamede is open for weekends through the winter, with check-ins starting on Thursday evening. They also offer a number of winter packages you’re going to want to check out.
Queen’s Landing (Niagara-on-the-Lake – Niagara)
Queen’s Landing takes you back in time with architecture reminiscent of the Georgian Era, a style born during the reigns of the British monarchs George I to George IV. Thankfully, it also has all the amenities of the new world, making your stay as comfortable as possible. With 140 guestrooms, Queen’s Landing provides an old world charm that makes anyone who has watched The Crown on Netflix smile.
I was fortunate to have a room with a view of the yacht club, along with an electric fireplace to complete the ambiance. After putting on one of their bathrobes, it was hard to convince me to ever leave the room. However, Queen’s Landing has a number of amenities you should definitely check out. Their library is the perfect spot to feel like Belle from Beauty & The Beast, while the fitness centre, indoor pool, hot tub and sauna offers a refreshing way to enjoy Queen’s Landing to the fullest.
Onsite, the Tiara Restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is notable for their farm-to-table dishes complemented by award-winning wines, many from the region itself. Executive Chef Marc Lyons’ winter menu features fresh and hearty dishes creatively marrying unique yet familiar ingredients. However, I recommend opting for the Tasting Menu to truly experience’s Chef’s talents. Next door, at the Bacchus Lounge, you’ll uncover an old-school iconic cocktail bar serving sophisticated comfort food that pairs well with their variety of local beers and wines.
Above all, location is everything. Queen’s Landing is steps away from downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is home to the dramatic arts at the Shaw Festival, Exchange Brewery, Fort George National Historic Site (open on weekends during the winter), and dozens of great restaurants and shops. Of course, you can always arrange for a winter wine tour of the region, warming up tasting the local harvest and ice wines.
Queen’s Landing is open year-round with winter-specific packages that embrace the variety of the region.