This family-friendly resort in the Muskoka Lake region of Ontario, is the backdrop for a low key but luxurious vacation where watersports, nature, golf and fine dining keep everyone in the family happy.
Editors Note: In 2015, the Taboo Resort, Golf and Conference Center, now Taboo Muskoka is being re-developed. We will update the following information as soon as it has been completed.
The Taboo Resort’s property in Ontario’s Cottage Country encompasses over 1,000 acres, much of which is the private parkland that makes a vacation there exceptional. While hiking and biking on the varied trails, barely two hours’ drive from Metropolitan Toronto, you will pass beaver ponds, see many species of birds and other wildlife, observe the geologic architecture of the Canadian Shield rockland, and admire deep-rooted pine, maple and oak forests. At Taboo, the Great Outdoors is not merely an option for guests, but an organized program offering both self-guided and guided tours.
Dave Hawke, a naturalist who is dedicated to the preservation and vitality of the land, is Taboo Parkland’s Manager. He oversees the property and a staff, and presents an active, dynamic program for education and enjoyment. Four main trails are available for exploration and they are mostly quite gentle with benches placed along the paths. They’re the perfect place to pause and rest, and soak in the scenic beauty within the forest as well as the stunning views of both Lake Muskoka and the surrounding Parklands. Taboo’s guided tours include Wildlife at Muskoka, Nature Photography, Beginning Bird Watching, Deep Woods Hiking (for those who enjoy getting off the beaten path), Canoe Excursions and Winter Tracks. I thoroughly enjoyed a pontoon boat tour of the lake and a bird nesting sanctuary on nearby Eleanor Island. Dave was very knowledgeable and interesting, and his enthusiasm is infectious. This is an especially wonderful trait, as he works with the Kid’s Camp to introduce the children to the importance of ecology and the beauty of the land.
In the Past and Present
In the mid-1880s immigrants from Europe were enticed by Canada’s Free Grants and Homestead Act to farm Muskoka’s soil in exchange for free tracts of land. Later this frontier became popular with hunters and fisherman who needed food and lodging, and the area’s tourism industry was born. Soon, several grand hotels were established by wealthy Americans, followed by a variety of other accommodations including lakeside cottages, still prized as second homes. In the old days, travelers would take the train to the town of Gravenhurst (5 miles from Taboo) and then board steamships to transport them to their lodgings around the lake. Even today, the Royal Mail Ship Segwun, the oldest steamboat operating in North America, dating from 1887, offers sightseeing cruises. In addition to the amazing views, lunch or dinner is served on white linen tablecloths in the Royal Muskoka Salon.
In more recent times, many artists and craftsmen have flocked to Gravenhurst, nearby Bracebridge and other towns to garner inspiration for their work, and Muskoka has been nicknamed Hollywood North since its quiet, peaceful environment has become a haven for movie stars and sports heroes.
The Taboo Resort property has a history that dates to the 1920s when it welcomed guests who arrived by horse and buggy or sleigh from the nearby railway station in Gravenhurst. When fire destroyed the hotel’s main lodge in 1959, it was rebuilt and named the Muskoka Sands Inn. In 1984, the property was acquired by principals eager to reconnect with youthful summers spent on Lake Muskoka. Under their care, the existing lodge building has been completely refurbished, and new construction of suites and other multiple room units has been completed.
When Canadians want to “get away from it all,” they head to this region, also known as the Land of Lakes, where numerous farming communities, charming towns and villages dot the landscape. Lake Muskoka, one of three major lakes in the area, is where Taboo Resort is situated, making it perfect for a family vacation or reunion destination. The tranquil lake sets the scene for activities and relaxing. In summer, wooden Muskoka chairs (not unlike Adirondack chairs), are scattered on the lawn overlooking the lake’s sandy beach where guests build sandcastles and swim. From the 69-slip marina, families can go canoeing, rowing and kayaking, or hire equipment to windsurf, wakeboard and waterski. I even saw a seaplane docked at the pier! Other facilities include five tennis courts, basketball and volleyball courts, a kid’s playground, a fitness center, a game room, outdoor and indoor pools, hot tub and sauna. During other seasons, guests enjoy fantastic displays of fall foliage, snow sports such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing, iceskating and snowmobiling, and then the re-birth of spring wildflowers and the tapping of maple syrup.
The modern accommodations are more luxurious than typical Cottage Country homes. They range from rooms in the renovated lodge to two, three or four-bedroom condo units, nostalgically called “cottage chalets” with full kitchens and all the comforts of home. Their screened porches, gas barbeques and fireplaces are great features, and elegant touches throughout the resort include Frette sheets, fluffy duvets, rosewood cabinets and luxurious bathrooms with marble countertops.
Activities for All
A Kids Club entertains children from ages 3-7 and 8-12. The daily schedule of activities includes arts’n’crafts, games, nature study, tennis, swimming and boating. The group I observed were completely engaged in their game, and the counselors were energetic, cheerful and well in charge of the kids.
Golf is an extremely important element of a vacation at Taboo, and while the kids are having fun in camp, adults can play on the home course of Mike Weir, 2003 Masters Champion. Taboo’s course was designed by award-winning architect Ron Garl, and is set over 380 acres of towering pines and striking granite formations integrating the dramatic terrain into its design. Mr. Garl’s description of golfing at Taboo is that it “will be frequently challenging, always enjoyable and eminently memorable.” So memorable, in fact, that the resort took its name from a surprisingly successful, extremely difficult golf maneuver. The Taboo Golf Academy uses cutting edge teaching techniques, offers specialized women’s courses, an indoor golf studio and a junior program for kids 4-8, 9-12 and 14-18 years in separate clinics.
Another adult option is luxuriating at Indulgence, Taboo’s spa. The six rooms include three double treatment rooms, and I thought it was terrific that instead of being enclosed, they offer views and a balcony overlooking the lake. Due to the spa’s popularity, plans are in place to expand it into a brand new facility over the next year. Based on the European traditions of health and wellness, the complete spa menu includes everything from therapeutic and hot stone massage, to reflexology and facials. The unique Retreat for Two allows a husband and wife, mother and daughter or friends to indulge together in a private spa suite. After a signature Cranberry-Maple Body Polish for exfoliation, a fragrant aromatherapy bath in a Jacuzzi bath, and a relaxing massage, you are sure to feel pampered and rejuvenated.
The sunsets over Lake Muskoka are spectacular, and can be enjoyed from all three restaurants at dinnertime. The Boathouse Grill, the most casual dining room, offers a children’s menu and the more formal Winewood is the main dining room. Wildfire is the fine dining restaurant serving contemporary Asian-influenced cuisine using local Muskoka products as much as possible. The award-winning chef prepares an a la carte menu, as well as several “tasting” menus ranging from five to seven to eleven courses, served with appropriate wines. Wildfire offers seating inside the restaurant, on the outdoor dining patio, and, additionally, there are three private dining gazebos available for romantic dining.
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