There hasn’t been much rest around these parts lately. The past nine months has felt a little bit like a race to the finish line as I’ve juggled a full-time job, writing a book and maintaining this blog (and all that goes along with that). There have been moments of closure though where I’ve seen glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel (especially concerning the book): the day we wrapped up shooting the photographs of the completed dishes. The day I hit “send” on the first draft of my manuscript. The day I wrapped up process photos (with a day in a photo studio with some of my students). The day I sent the photographs to the publisher (all 20gb of them). The day I hit “send” on my first round of edits. The day I sent my design brief to my editor. So yeah, there have been glances at what it’s like to “not have a book to work on” but mostly it’s felt like some kind of Amazing Race (without the $1 million at the end!).
Back in February I was contacted by the folks at Viamede Resort to see if I wanted to come and check out the resort and its fabulous restaurant, Mt Julian. Back then, I couldn’t even imagine having time to have “time off” so I explained my situation and wondered if I might wait until later in the spring to go. Fortunately they were very understanding and we booked the first weekend in June – seemed so far away at that point but it certainly was a nice treat to work towards!
Viamede is located in the Kawarthas on Stoney Lake about 2 1/2 hours outside Toronto, and, along with the adjoining Mount Julian (now an upscale restaurant), has been a Lake landmark since the late 1800s. The original building is said to have been built in 1885, although surveys from 1873 show a smaller building marked ‘hotel’. In 1907, this building burned down, and a ‘new’ Viamede Resort was built in its place, featuring modern amenities and comforts like electric light and running water. Ben Samann purchased the property in 2010 and has slowly been transforming it into his vision of “Boldly Different”. With 165 acres of pristine Canadian wilderness and 2,000 feet of shoreline, Viamede draws from this beautiful setting to provide guests with a unique “resort” experience in driving distance from Toronto.
We arrived at Viamede close to 7pm on a Friday night, slightly stressed out by the Toronto traffic and immediately figured out that this place runs on “lake time” (i.e. a much slower pace than we are used to!). Over the course of the next day and a half, we, too, adjusted to lake time and the resort and its staff did an excellent job of de-stressing and relaxing us.
The resort features a few different types of rooms – located in the main lodge and in the “Hilltop” building. From regular “deluxe” rooms to one-bedroom apartments and even cottages sleeping up to eight people, there is something for everyone. Our room was a regular room in the Hilltop building so it felt a little remote from the rest of the resort (it was still early in the season but it felt like we were the only guests in the building, whereas the main lodge was a bit more animated). That said, it is a 50m walk to the main lodge but because our room didn’t feature a lake view, it felt like we were much further away. We appreciated the super comfortable bed (we slept for close to 10 hours on the first night!) and the in-room gas pot bellied fireplace (which we used on the first chilly evening) – it was definitely conducive to relaxing. On the second night, we pulled the couch up to the TV and took advantage of the resort’s extensive DVD library and watched a film as we enjoyed a bottle of wine. Our room wasn’t fancy but it was extremely quiet and comfortable (which, to be quite honest, is all you really need, right?!).
The beauty of Viamede is that there are a lot of different type of activities to choose from… or you can choose to simply relax. When I was looking at the extensive list of things to do, I had big plans to try to do a whole bunch of them (“research”, right?). Unfortunately for you, readers, the resort has this magical effect on you whereby simply sitting by the lake and watching the world go by feels like an activity so we got a lot less done than we thought!
You can also visit the animals at the Viamede farm…
To be honest, the views are a little mesmerizing, especially for a city girl like me, so it’s easy to while away a few hours just sitting looking out on the lake… But should you choose to be more active, there are so many more activities to choose from.
A word about the activities: Viamede offers a few “programmed” activities that you read about on the website (cooking classes, guided nature walk, foraging with the chefs, farm visits with the staff, and a 4.30pm “tasting” with Ben in the Mt Julian lounge, for example). When you arrive at the resort, however, there is no information about these in the rooms and there didn’t seem to be any information board listing daily activities. Front desk staff also didn’t let us know about any of these so if you see something on the website that you are interested in, ask! I am sure they would be more than willing to accommodate you! As it was, we wandered into the Mt Julian building just at the right time where we enjoyed a private liqueur tasting with Ben!
Food and drinks
No doubt the highlight of our weekend was dinner at Mt Julian.
This 9-table restaurant with gorgeous lake views features playful food by Chef Jay Nutt. Nuts uses local food (from the resort farm, the surrounding forest and local farmers) to evoke a sense of time and place. Though the resort’s tagline is “Boldly Different”, Nutt prefers “Boldly Familiar” to describe his food. Ingredients you mostly recognize and some you might not, presented differently. Nutt’s philosophy is that food is best eaten where it’s grown and this is reflected in every plate he creates. Mt Julian offers 5, 7 or 9 course tasting menus with optional wine and beer pairings; the menu changes “as needed” – some dishes remain unchanged for weeks, others change from day to day, depending on what’s available and what’s good.
We enjoyed a 5 course menu (me) and a 7 course menu with wine pairings (Neil) and found the portion sizes to be just about right (the 7 course menu featured two meat dishes which were very generously portioned and be aware that the wine servings are not tasting sizes, they are full glasses so don’t be afraid to ask for less if you feel it’s too much).
As you can see, the plating is sophisticated…
Not what you’d expect in the heart of cottage country! Our meal was well-paced (around 2 1/2 hours) and we enjoyed chatting with Chef Jay throughout (the dining room was not busy that night, so we got lucky!). If you eat there and have the chance to chat with him, you’re in for a treat. He is so passionate about what he’s doing and also so down to earth. This might be fine dining but there is definitely no stuffy attitude!
Note that there is no wine list to speak of. According to the website, “wine pairings vary by day, season, and bottle as well – most wines are hand-picked from Prince Edward County by GM Ben Sämann. Many wines can only be sourced once, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.” For a wine aficionado like Neil no actual list (the wines are displayed in racks on the walls of the restaurant) was a little frustrating but, again, we gave in to the whole “lake time” attitude and allowed ourselves to relax and be taken care of. Neil’s wine pairings were, for the most part, excellent, and ranged from very local (Prince Edward County) to French and Italian wines. The only “off” pairing was the odd choice of Frangelico with the dessert and the cheese plate. Definitely not the best match.
You don’t have to stay at the resort to eat at Mt Julian (though after a multi-course dinner with wine pairings, it might be wise!)
- 5 course – $90, pairing $45
- 7 course – $110, pairing $55
- 9 course – $130, pairing $70
- All prices include tips.
We also enjoyed a meal and some cold beverages at The Boathouse…
The patio here is a wonderful way to while away a few hours and if you get hungry, they have an extensive pub menu to choose from. By far our favourite dish was the 595 Bratwurst Cubano featuring (very) local sausage (hi farm pigs!).
The resort also features the 1885 restaurant in the main lodge where you enjoy a buffet breakfast every day. Featuring fireside couches, board games, books to borrow and a complimentary assortment of snacks and treats, 1885 is open 24/7 to Viamede’s guests.
So, how relaxed were we after 2 nights?
Viamede worked its magic on us. Neither of us was ready to leave, we both thought that one extra day might have been very nice but certainly our two nights and one full day did the trick to help us leave the busy-ness of city life behind. Would I go back? I think I would. For Chef Jay’s food. For the peace and quiet. For those views (I’d choose a room with a lake view next time, for sure. It’s the jewel of the resort!). For the whole “lake time” attitude, which we all need a little more of in our daily lives, I think!
Disclosure: Neil and I were guests of Viamede Resort (accommodation/ food and beverages) for two nights. All opinions expressed in this post are our own. This post was not reviewed by the Resort before publication.