If there was one person who could truly be called an icon of the travel industry, it was Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.
MUSKOKA — Are s’mores considered luxurious? Absolutely.
At the JW Marriott Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa, the long-standing grande dame of Muskoka, Ontario, it’s not so much the ooey-gooey marshmallow treat that’s considered a luxury but rather the thoughtfulness behind it. Guests looking to capture a slice of Canadiana in Ontario’s famed cottage country can purchase s’mores kits at the front desk and roast them over a cozy firepit, in front of the resort, under the night sky.
It’s a sweet touch, particularly for families with young kids, that perfectly sums up what the iconic resort is all about: family togetherness, authentic experiences, all enjoyed in a contemporary setting that’s distinctly Canadian and ultra-inviting.
It’s impossible for any family, including my own, to not have a good time at the Rosseau. After a fun-filled weekend getaway this past September spent LEGO building, mug painting, watching movies, canoeing and, yes, making s’mores over an open flame, my husband, five-year-old daughter and I checked out with heavy hearts and a steadfast promise to return, not because we didn’t do or see enough, but because it was rather strange to leave a place that so easily felt like home.
Opened in December 2008, the 221-room (40% of which are suites) JW Marriott Rousseau is looking extra homey these days following a major refresh last year of its public spaces, including the lobby, Lakes Bar, Cottages Restaurant and the Activity Centre. This came on the heels of another renovation four years prior that saw the addition of the Muskoka Chophouse restaurant and an expansion of The Deck restaurant, now featuring multi-level outdoor seating.
All this achieved the look and feel of a cabin in the woods but without the plaid and mounted deer heads. Instead, what you get is an elevated version of the quintessential Canadian retreat, with honey-coloured walls, contemporary sculptures alongside historic photos and kitschy souvenirs, and expansive windows that bring the magnificent outside in.
“All design elements are true to the destination,” said Leah Leslie, Director Sales & Marketing. “Muskoka is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we want the décor to reflect our natural surroundings.”
You see this as soon as you step foot through the front doors and come across the ‘Canoe’, a stylized sculpture carved from Canadian white oak and made to resemble a floating canoe atop an azure-coloured mosaic rug. Its smooth edges and snake-like curves immediately sparked the imagination of my five-year-old who loved walking from one end to the other, back and forth and back again, all the while regaling us with fantastical tales.
Hung directly above the Canoe is the ‘Beehive’, a contemporary light fixture that not only adds a touch of whimsy to the space but also serves as a nod to the resort’s love of nature and its efforts to preserve it. This, too, delighted my young daughter, who mistook the floating winged orbs for tiny fireflies, which when you consider our surroundings, wouldn’t have been too far of a stretch.
As it was an unseasonably warm day in September, my family and I spent our first afternoon canoeing along the shores of Lake Rosseau, swimming in the indoor/outdoor pool and blissfully lounging in the outdoor whirlpool. Toronto and the daily grind of 9-to-5 seemed a world away, with the vastness of the lake and a never-ending treeline replacing the need for TVs and phones as our primary source of gratification.
Dinner that first night was the kind of meal one would remember long after the last bite. Teca, the resort’s on-site Italian restaurant, was all dark furnishings and low lighting, with an open kitchen that produced a welcome cacophony of sounds and smells that gave the place a spirited joie de vivre. Of course, we ceased to notice our surroundings upon our first bite of the Beet Fritters and Sweet Potato Carpaccio, both of which drew from our lips unintelligible sounds of satisfaction while we happily ate.
After a couple of early-night cocktails and a lively performance by a local musician at Lakes, the resort’s multi-purpose gathering place, sleep came easily for us in our sumptuous one-bedroom suite. Equipped with a kitchen, living room, a stone fireplace, expansive patio and a beautiful marbled bathroom, it was, in the words of my daughter, “soooo amazing.” The walls were brightly painted, the furnishings crafted out of wood, the paintings depicted classic Canadian landscapes. Traditional yet stylish, cozy yet spacious, it was like staying at Grandma’s house but ten times better.
The next day was met with rain and overcast skies but that didn’t mean there was a shortage of things to do. A full schedule of activities (many of which were included in the resort fee) ranged from fitness classes and bird feeder making, to guided nature walks, Segway tours and cookie decorating.
We opted for the LEGO Building workshop in the morning, a family movie at night with popcorn, and a scenic lake cruise in between, during which we idled past the elaborate homes of Maple Leaf alum Wendel Clark and ‘Shark Tank’ star Kevin O’Leary. As one of the three Big Lakes in Muskoka (along with Lakes Joseph and Muskoka), Lake Rosseau is not only the most popular but also the most glamourous, with multi-million-dollar cottages, some dating back to the late 19th century, lining its shores. During the summer months, birdwatching takes a backseat to celebrity sightings, which on any given day can include the likes of Martin Short, Steven Spielberg, Goldie Hawn, Tom Hanks and the Biebs himself, Justin Bieber.
The rest of the day’s minutes were easily filled playing checkers by the fire in Lakes, loading up on snacks at the Country Market, and trying our best at table tennis and foosball in the game room. And though I never made it to Spa Rosseau on this visit, I did walk past its doors several times, forlornly looking in and wishing what could’ve been. I’m told that the adult oasis offered an outdoor pool and whirlpool, an aroma-infused steam room, a sauna, relaxation lounges, indoor hot tubs that overlook the lake, and the all-new Hydrospa with H20 beds, massage chairs, foot massagers and an oxygen bar. Hearing about it and actually experiencing it, of course, are two very different things, which only means a return visit is in the cards, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
After an extraordinary breakfast the following morning at Cottages restaurant (believe me, if you tried their homemade granola you’d think it was extraordinary too), we packed up our bags and said one final goodbye to the lake views. The previous day’s rain gave everything an extra crispness, making us even more reluctant to leave. Everyone in the main lobby, from the front desk agents to the bellhops, wished us a safe journey home and thanked us for our visit, even though in our eyes all gratitude was owed to them for their unforgettable hospitality.
And as we drove away, with the reddening of trees blurring past, we rehashed all our favourite moments over the weekend. My husband’s was lounging poolside on arguably the last hot day of the year, while my daughter couldn’t stop raving about sleeping in an oversized bed and cooking up marshmallows on a starry night. My favourite moment was right then and there, in the car, with all of us still on a high from a weekend’s worth of happiness. For these and other lifelong family memories, we can never thank JW Marriott Rosseau enough.