A Weekend Retreat to Viamede Resort

Viamede main building“How were the roads?” our waitress asks, as we sit down for a late dinner on Friday night. Winter is still in its final grip, but it’s an easy two-and-a-half drive from Toronto to Viamede Resort, in the heart of Ontario’s Kawarthas.

The main dining room with cozy-wood burning fireplace and close proximity to the resort’s collection of classic board games, books and DVDs for guests to make use of.

Viamede Resort is unpretentious and relaxed, in the heart of Ontario’s Kawarthas. And while it’s not hard to image families taking over the water front during the summer, but we discovered Viamede has just as much to offer in the winter.

Viamede viewThe century old resort sits on 165 acres at the edge of Stoney Lake, with six kilometres of private forest trails to explore, as well as a quaint wooden wedding chapel. There’s also a working farm on-site where Viamede staff tend to the livestock and grow vegetables that are transformed by Chef Kevin McKenna in the Inn at Mount Julian kitchen. The Inn at Mount Julian has been a landmark at Stoney Lake since 1885.

Our room was in main lodge, which was rebuilt in the early part of the 20th century after a fire in 1907. The spacious king guest room comes with a balcony overlooking Stoney Lake, and plenty of mod cons including an iPod alarm clock and flat screen TV.

Winter is an ideal opportunity to tick off items from my Canadian bucket list (originally from Australia, snow was something that came along once in a blue moon).

Viamede Trail snow shoeThe next morning, we headed to the Boathouse down by the lake, which houses all the equipment you could need for winter fun. Working on an honour system (various equipment is there to be borrowed and returned, no sign up, no credit card deposit required), it’s testament to the relaxed atmosphere at Viamede.

Usually you don’t complain any day is too warm in February. But with unseasonably warmer temperatures above zero, my dreams of ice fishing on Stoney Lake were dashed. Fortunately Viamede gave me the opportunity to try snowshoeing, an activity that requires very little equipment (or athletic prowess), just the willingness to walk like a duck.

Viamede snow shoeingIf snowshoeing, Nordic skiing or even ice fishing sound “ho-hum,” Viamede also offers skijorning. Don a pair of skies, as you are pulled along by a dog across the quiet trails.

Owner, Ben Samänn purchased Viamede in 2010 and in the short years since has steadily made improvements to the resort facilities, including a brand new indoor pool with sauna and steam room. The pool juts out of a glass wall, allowing you to swim outside and take in the wintery views of Stoney Lake. We discovered the outside plunge pool area is perfect for a quick dip between visits to the steam room.

Viamede PoolLate afternoon there’s just enough time for a glass of Ontario wine by the open fire before taking advantage of another of Viamede’s complimentary activities: bartending class. A small group of us gather at the Inn at Mount Julian to learn how to make specialty coffees. Having mastered the art of the espresso martini, we relax in the lounge and chat to the other guests.

Viamede Bartending ClassOne guest tells us her family stayed in a cabin at Viamede last summer and her children went shopping with Chef McKenna to the local market, followed by a family cooking lesson.

Cocktail hour over, it’s time to experience the tasting menu at The Inn at Mount Julian. The Inn offers a five, seven or nine course tasting menu, with wine pairings.

McKenna says his 100% Ontario tasting menu offered tonight “pays homage to the greats – my chefs and mentors.” McKenna began his culinary training at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Culinary School, as well as Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in the U.K. and is a founding member of The Group of Seven Chefs.

Viamede Chef Kevin McKenna

Viamede Chef Kevin McKenna

We opt for the seven course tasting menu and start with a delicate wild mushroom consommé, followed by a wild boar terrine with pickled cherries and heirloom beets served with Smithworks Blonde beer (so good, we stopped at the local LCBO the next day to stock up).

Built in 1874, Inn at Mount Julian was once a school house and a post office before morphing into a cozy restaurant. Interior décor dark wooden panels, with images of birds and wildlife framed on the walls. Heavy set floral curtains frame views of Lake Stoney. A record player plays “Hits of the 1940′s.”

Inn at Mount Julian tableNext course was a west coast halibut with Yukon potato crust, roasted fennel and shitake vinaigrette, served with a chardonnay from Tawse in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

McKenna’s food is modern and rustic, with an emphasis on locally sourced or foraged food. Forget farm-to-table, McKenna’s emphasis is on forest-to-table. Ingredients include Viamede’s own heritage pork and duck eggs from their farm, cellared veggies, and greens from an indoor garden. McKenna sources other ingredients from local butchers and farmer’s markets he knows and trusts.

“These are going to ruin fries for you forever,” our server says, as she paces the Steak Frites with a red wine jus and liver profiteroles in front of us.

Steak fritesMcKenna is known for his Heritage Breed Pork. Served with French beans and a German bread dumpling, it doesn’t disappoint.
Our cheese course consisted of creamy Ontario Cheese, served with toasted pumpkin seeds and honey from Herb Guy’s Honey House, served with a white port.

For our final course, I tuck into macaron with pistachio crème and blackberry coulis, served with a jammy sparkling red wine from Hinterland. My gluten free beau is served a dark chocolate torte with Niagara black cherry sorbet, dusted with Pop Rocks.

“I got Pop Rocks, what else do I need?”

What else, indeed.

After our seven course tasting menu, it was hard to imagine breakfast the following day (but we managed; Viamede lays on a full breakfast buffet every Sunday). One final lazy swim in the sunlit swimming pool and it was time to head back to the city. Relaxed and determine to come back, no matter how the roads are.

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