I had just settled in for some serious note taking on the screened in porch of my fabulous cottage at the Lodge at Pine Cove, overlooking the French River west of North Bay, near the town of Noelville.
I’d only been on the property an hour or so but when the owner of a lodge suggests I take a boat ride I usually find there’s a reason. And who doesn’t love riding a boat on a beautiful Ontario lake on a fine summer’s day?
I walked three minutes or so through the trees and reached the main lodge and the main dock, then clambered aboard a pontoon-like boat with a large, flat metal surface and some collapsible, canvas chairs.
Alex Strachan, the owner/innkeeper of the lodge, gently pulled away from the dock and we were soon passing small, pretty and not even remotely over the top cottages. But we only saw a few before we were suddenly in the middle of pristine, southern Ontario wilderness, with nothing but beautiful water and rocky shores and towering, scented pines.
Strachan explained the history of the area and how so much of the surrounding area is part of a native Ojibwa reserve or part of the French River Provincial Park.
We saw maybe one other boat on the ten-minute or so ride to the spot where he was supposed to pick up guests who had gone on an afternoon picnic at the rapids.
“Come on, let’s go have a look.”
A two-minute walk along a bit of a path, spongy mossy and bleached tree branches under a canopy of thick pines revealed one of the most picture perfect sets of rapids you’ll find anywhere; with one small set churning away to the left and another to the right, melding below a large flat rock before joining forces in a large, tranquil pool below our feet.
It’s a magical spot.
A few feet away is a small, perfect lake with another small chute at the far end, forming a wide circle surrounded by rock and tree. The very picture of Ontario, I thought, and the sort of thing you’d see time and again in a Group of Seven painting. There’s also a deep chasm that looks perfect for diving off some rocks that are a good five metres high, I’d think.
He does the trip over and over again every summer and fall, but Strachan still takes huge delight in showing off the backyard to his wonderful property.
“All the Ontario government people told me I was crazy when I bought the property” in 1998, he told me. “A lot of them only understand hunting and fishing, which are both in decline.”
Strachan converted an old hunting and fishing lodge into a series of 17 cottages sprinkled over a rocky coast on the south side of the French River, maybe a half hour off Highway 69 and an hour or so north of Parry Sound.
He figured folks from the GTA would like a wilderness spot without the action of Muskoka or Huntsville or the Kawarthas, but still with high thread-count linens, beautiful wood interiors, full kitchens and baths with locally made soaps scented with eucalyptus and lavender. Not to mention a lovely, open air lodge with a library, pool table, wi-fi service, a bar and high-end dining.
“The emphasis really is soft adventure,” he tells me as we ride back from showing off a huge beaver dam that’s maybe 50 metres long and took generations to build. They do “morning mist” canoe rides at 6:30 a.m., but you also can borrow a canoe for a zip around the river (really a lake more than a river) or a kayak or do some fishing or swimming or hiking. They’ll also pack you a gourmet lunch and room rates including a wonderful breakfast with croissants, granola, orange, juice, yogurt, milk, fresh fruit and jam and butter. The coffee maker and various teas are already in your room and they also have the kitchen and a gas bbq if you want to do your own cooking.
I enjoyed a fine steak with veggies and potatoes and salad on the screened in porch, chatting with Alex and his wife, Nicky, and Moira, a friend who’s a painter from southern Ontario..
It’s a hugely relaxing place in a lovely setting, with good food and all the amenities. Yet you feel like you’re out in Georgian Bay or maybe in a quiet part of Muskoka.
Rooms are available this summer starting at $197 a night Sunday to Thursday, $219 for Friday, Saturday and holidays. Rooms rates drop after Sept. 15 until closing time in late October. There’s usually a two-night minimum but you can stay one night if you pay a 30 per cent surcharge.
Most definitely a two thumbs up kind of place. And then some.