THE ROSSEAU,A JW MARRIOTT RESORT SPA
1050 Paignton House Rd., Minett, Ont.; 1-866-240-8605; http://www.jwrosseau.com. ROOMS AND RATES 221 rooms and suites from $199.
Some would argue that owning a cottage - or at least having regular access to one - is Canadians' God-given right.
But the down-home feel of Ontario's Muskoka region, its landscape honoured in the paintings of the Group of Seven, was long ago traded in for ultra-manicured golf courses, antique shops and gigantic "cottages" that are more like castles. If that real estate is out of reach - or friends' invitations are not forthcoming - there's the new Rosseau, Canada's first location of the Marriott's upscale JW Marriott resort brand.
Built atop a 100-foot granite bluff overlooking Lake Rosseau, the 221-room condo-hotel dominates the landscape. Located on the site of what was a mom-and-pop cottage resort, the four-season Rosseau is part of Red Leaves, a full-service resort and condo community.
(It's separately owned from the rest of the development, which became an issue recently when the hotel went into receivership; since it's still being run by Marriott, the hotel says it's business as usual for guests, though the landscaping will now be finished.)
It may be part of a big development, but the hotel pays tribute to its locale. The main floor library is stocked with Canadian and cottaging literature, while artistic touches pay homage to Muskoka (a local gallery chose much of the art on display throughout the hotel, including replica models of paddle wheelers that once plied the region's waterways).
Location About a 2½-hour drive from Toronto. Lake Rosseau is connected to Lake Joseph.
Ambience Boutique cabin. The resort is swank without much gilding, following the philosophy of the JW Marriott brand. You can easily make the transition from a demanding paddle in North Face attire to dining with your best weekend sprezzatura.
Clientele Well-to-do outdoorsy types share the lounge with nanny-toting young families and chess-playing retired couples. Upon arrival in winter, you might see a line of 15 parked Ski-Doos in the parking lot, while a new Range Rover pulls up for valet service. It's so Muskoka.
Design Hotel designer Frank Nicholson (who has shaped the style of many Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons hotels) includes all the bling of today's deluxe hotels on the inside, but maintains the feel of grand old Muskoka lodges on the outside. If they were building Château Montebello today, it would look a lot like this. The rooms, all painted in pleasing greens or yellows, feature pine-cone and oak-leaf light fixtures, adding whimsy to the cottage theme. Instead of generic hotel-art prints, rooms feature Muskoka lake photography: men reclining in motorboats, autumn lake scenes and plenty of red maple leaves.
Rooms The Rosseau, which is run as a condo hotel, offers single studios, as well as one- and two-bedroom suites. The two-bedroom suites are especially nice for parents, who don't have to tiptoe around once the kids are asleep. Solid-core doors throughout the resort keep it quiet anyway, so you don't have to worry that the kids' roughhousing will bother the neighbours. Many rooms have views of the lake and patios, and all rooms feature a gas fireplace, flat-screen TV and soaker tubs. Even the single studios boast a galley kitchen with Sub-Zero appliances. Beds are also topped with down mattress covers.
Amenities There's a private beach and 700-acre nature reserve to explore. Down the road at Wallace Marina, you can rent gear for outdoor activities - cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter and boating and fishing in summer. Nearby, golfers can take on The Rock, a course designed by Nick Faldo and operated by Marriott Golf.
Service There's a friendly, local vibe here, almost like entering a resort town. Staff, from the front desk to the cleaning crew, offer warm smiles. The valets are attentive and remember your and your kids' names.
Food and Drink The main restaurant, Cottages, strives to serve Ontario-grown and -raised cuisine, including pan-fried Milford Bay trout. The kids' menu boasts everything from grilled petite steak with mashed potatoes and veggies to "Mom's chocolate pudding." Teca, with its boutique-grotto feel, features Italian cuisine. And the lobby bar, Lakes, has an unusual menu that is divided according to timeline: 5-, 10- and 20-minute "Little Bites." That way, you won't miss your guided astronomy tour or canoe ride while waiting to refuel.
Things to Do On any given weekend, you can sign up for art classes and lectures (led by Pat Fairhead, who was taught by Franklin Carmichael of the Group of Seven) or yoga classes. Guide and naturalist Robin Tapley adds value to hikes with lessons on loons, mushroom foraging or astronomy. And there is a wide range of other activities available through Red Leaves, including horseback riding and geocaching.
Of course, boating is a big part of the Muskoka experience, and boat rentals, waterskiing and cruises are available.
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TOP DRAW The interpretive work of guide Robin Tapley helps guests make the most of their Muskoka visit.
NEEDS WORK Exterior construction - such as a cabana and docks, as well as some landscaping - that the hotel says will be finished in July.
BOTTOM LINE If you're sick of not getting invites to your friends' Muskoka cottages or want to live like Kurt and Goldie for a bit, come.