By Tim Johnson
While Ontario’s Muskokas may get much of the attention as Toronto’s most popular cottage getaway spot, the Kawartha Lakes are growing in popularity. About 90 minutes northeast of Toronto, this area includes a string of picturesque lakes, charming villages and Peterborough, a university town with a surprising amount of culture. And the best part? Everything is relatively close together, so you can experience the best of both worlds in a single day—spend the afternoon at the lake, head into town for a great dinner, then bed down in a resort on the water.
Lakefield, a village just north of Peterborough on the Otonabee River, has one of the most perfect little main streets in all of Ontario and a surprising literary history. Legendary 19th-century writers Catherine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie lived here, as did the late contemporary writer Margaret Laurence, whose home (8 Regent Street; not open to the public) still stands in the central part of town.
Buckhorn is a lakeside hamlet that bustles with activity. It has a busy wintertime calendar of festivals and farmers markets and festivals. (Check out the January–February Polarfest, for one.) In summer, the town’s Lock 31 of the Trent-Severn Waterway, which connects Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay, hosts a steady string of watercraft moving down the system, from houseboats to yachts. Have lunch at a lockside café, browse the used bookstores, and just soak up the parade of boats passing by.
4th Line Theatre, located near the village of Millbrook, top-quality productions are staged in a barnyard. Now in its twentieth season, this theatre company—which uses the tagline “epic in nature”— takes its storylines from its surroundings. Stories are gathered from the region’s history and turned into dramas and musicals, garnering a faithful following and a number of awards along the way.
EatLa Hacienda, in Peterborough’s Café District (an area in the city’s downtown laden with locally run eateries where sidewalks have been widened to allow for al fresco dining), offers delicious, authentic Mexican fare. “We cook what we would eat, if we were still back in Mexico,” says Sandra Lennox, the restaurant’s owner who was born and raised in Mexico (something that’s also true for most of her staff) and was one of the first to open a place in the Café District, back when it was mostly appliance shops and second-hand stores.
Black Honey is a great place for decadent desserts and premium coffee that’s always roasted within a couple hours of when it’s served. The place, says owner Lisa Dixon, takes its name from a BellRays song, and seeks to invoke a mix of sinful and sweet that’s consistent with the shop’s philosophy.
The fine dining at the Inn at Mount Julian at Viamede resort is alone is worth the drive to quiet Woodville. “My passion is food, wine and people,” says owner Ben Samaan—and, accordingly, he has hand-picked an impressive culinary team and expanded Mount Julian’s wine list to more than 100 offerings. Try the seven-course tasting menu, which includes plenty of fresh, local and tasty offerings.
On the lovely shores of Stony Lake, one of the most beautiful of all the lakes in the Kawarthas, is Viamede Resort, a regional institution with new and energetic ownership that has poured resources into room renovations and equipment for the marina.