On this sunny, unseasonably warm day in a Muskoka forest, I have my eyes peeled for mushrooms. We’re having a Scavenger Hunt and all the items on our list can be found in this lovely stretch of woodland near Muskoka Soul‘s Cliff Bay House. A maple leaf is another challenge in this forest of oak and pine, but we find one. It’s a cooperative effort and I find myself revelling in the fresh forest scents.
We finish our hunt on a rocky ledge, overlooking Lake Muskoka. It’s nearly sunset. On the opposite shore, the trees are outlined in the rays of the sun, and our little group is etched in black and orange as we sit spellbound, enjoying the peace. As is inevitable here, a motorboat dashes along the water, but I’m willing to forgive its thrum in exchange for the sun-dappled ripples it leaves in its wake. It’s enough to make one start writing poetry.
What started as a group of girls who came together at this lovely Muskoka cottage has finished with tight bonds of friendship. There’s something special that happens when you share a home – sleeping, cooking, eating, talking and laughing together for a couple of days.
Cliff Bay is one of two Muskoka Soul properties in Gravenhurst; the other is Lake House. Both offer a modern, spacious house with plenty of bedrooms – and bathrooms – and several gathering spaces. I can imagine sitting around the huge fireplace on cold winter evenings. But on this warm, sunny day, the screened porch and sundeck beckon. What better place to enjoy a meal overlooking the lake?
We could cook together in the well-supplied kitchen; there’s even a blender for lakeside Margaritas. And successive guests have left behind an eclectic assortment of spices in the cupboard, a little nudge for one’s culinary efforts. There are alternatives if you’d rather indulge. Relish Real Food and Well Fed Inc. offer food to take home on those lazy days when you’d rather not cook.
The evening closes with a gathering at the fire pit around blazing logs. And this is Muskoka so a must is toasted marshmallows and s’mores. See the recipe here.
We start our first morning with Vinayasa yoga on our dock. Melanie Parsons of Freedom Yoga Muskoka comes to the cottage to lead a group session. It’s a curious feeling but there seems to be an extra energy from the water below us, as the dock rocks gently with our movements.
Our indulgence today is Chef Don Potter of Muskoka Catering who has been creating a lovely breakfast for us while we go through yoga poses. We return to freshly made omelettes, croissants, sweet breads, muffins, yummy! Why breakfast? Because it sets you up for a full day of activity and we were able to nibble on leftover goodies at tea.
It’s time to head into town. A day in Gravenhurst has to include some shopping. The town offers a host of lovely little boutiques with artisan crafts and antiques. My favourite find is Arts at the Albion, a cooperative gallery featuring the creativity of 20 local artists and crafts people.
Metalwork, fibre art, clay, jewelry, paintings, stained glass and some of the most unusual birchbark lamp shades I’ve ever seen – nothing in this gallery is ho-hum. Everything I see pops with imaginative originality.
Our next stop is The Shipyards for a cup of coffee and a treat and a chance to browse some more lovely little boutiques, all under one roof.
No visit to Gravenhurst is complete without a visit to the Muskoka Discovery Centre. I’m so taken with the displays here, I want to bring my grandchildren here. Unique in Ontario, the museum’s newly unveiled Watershed Wonders display includes a dozen interactive screens that take visitors deep into the watershed that defines Muskoka. For example, did you know that the Muskoka Watershed is almost the same size as Prince Edward Island?
The Discovery Centre also tells the story of Muskoka’s steamships and boats. This lake was once the home to bustling steamship traffic, beginning in 1866, eleven years before Confederation!
People would line up to take the 100 Mile Cruise. In 2017, RMS Segwun celebrated its 130th birthday, and the lake was alive with hundreds of small boats which accompanied the grand lady as she steamed her way across Lake Muskoka, repeating the historic trip.
She is North America’s oldest operating mail steamship. And she still offers full course lunch and afternoon tea tours of the lake.
Rather than drive back to the cottage, several of us chose to take a rather special taxi. Muskoka’s best kept secret is a chance to ride in the prized 1913 Idle Oak Minett launch belonging to Campbell’s Landing. With Gary Campbell or son Glen at the helm, this gleaming wooden craft hold seven or eight and is a delightful way to return home.
After dinner prepared by our little band, some time to share thoughts, and a refreshing dip in the lake, we headed to our rooms, to a comfortable bed and the arms of Morpheus.
We have jokingly called ourselves Muskoka Soul Sisters. But as we head home again, revitalized in body and spirit, we recognize that we have shared a special moment in time.