Typically, cottage resorts are beloved rustic getaways where guests forgive wonky plumbing or a tear in the window screen. Wander, a 10-cabin waterfront resort in Ontario’s Prince Edward County, couldn’t be further from those old-timey notions. Indeed, Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines have already crowned it the “best new hotel in Canada” and one of the “best new hotels in the world,” respectively.
Designer-turned-hotelier Shannon Hunter, who began her career as a cancer researcher in Toronto, used her interior design and hospitality skills to transform a sleepy retreat into a much sought after, $800-plus a night bolthole that’s been booked solid for months. Five-star amenities in the cabins – heated floors, Dyson hair dryers, Miele appliances, even Polaroid cameras with a complimentary roll of film – plus products and partnerships with local vendors, everything from seasoned oil and vinegars to cabin cannabis delivery, make for a very memorable stay. Hunter tells The Globe and Mail how she wants to “reinvent the resort” and that the pandemic may have also kick-started a greater demand for luxury accommodation.
The vibe at Wander, and certainly its beachfront, feels more like a Caribbean escape, not an Ontario cottage resort.
On vacation at Be Tulum in Mexico, my husband and I picked up on how all of their rooms and spaces were comfortable and subtle and subdued. You instantly felt relaxed when you walked in. Nothing was fussy where you felt like you were going to damage something. If you got sand on something it wasn’t a big deal. That’s how we designed things at Wander – there was no need to make everything Instagram-able.
And yet Wander’s king-sized beach beds and canopied rattan loungers are making an impact on Instagram.
I don’t think Canada has done a good job about maximizing its beaches. Nobody has made that leap to say, “I know we don’t have it for that many months of the year, but that’s all the more reason to make it amazing!” Why doesn’t Canada have beach beds and nice places to sleep in the sun on the beach with the breeze off the lake? There’s no reason why it has to be Muskoka chairs and that’s it.
I noticed there was not one Muskoka chair on property.
And that was very purposeful. There are other resorts with beaches, but they’ve always just had the stacking plastic chairs and never really made the focus: “You’re going to go down to the beach and listen to live music and fully relax.”
Is that part of how you’d like to rethink the resort experience here?
When my husband and I would go to resorts that were geared to families, we always felt like they went too far to the kids’ side. The fact that the parents were also on vacation was lost. We don’t feel you should have to discount the level that you travel at just because, suddenly, you’ve become parents.
At Wander, if you bring your children you are not going to annoy other people because there are things for them to do, there is space for them to run, and they will be happy and therefore your vacation will be better because they are happy. Our guests are 50/50 families and couples, which is what we were hoping for.
Has there been any upside to opening the property during the pandemic?
If there’s been a benefit it’s that people have started looking around and saying, “Huh, there actually are some pretty amazing places to visit that I can drive to in two hours. I don’t have to get on a plane.”
So there’s a chance travel restrictions may have helped your bookings, but were you still surprised that Wander has been sold out for months, even at $600 to $800 a night?
We looked at what was available in Prince Edward County and felt like [luxury accommodation] was lacking. Even now we’re realizing that it’s lacking in Ontario as a whole. There were a lot of people coming to the County who wanted that experience, who were going to wine-tasting dinners, but there were so few places for them to lay their heads at night.
I do think this will change in the next five years and there will be more at this level coming onto the market because there has suddenly been this recognition that if you build it, they will come. That’s what has happened for us. We built something that everyone told us wasn’t going to work because it was going to be too expensive and people aren’t looking for that when they are travelling in Ontario and, obviously, that has not been the case.
This interview has been edited and condensed. The writer was a guest of the resort. It did not review this story before publication.
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