MUSKOKA – I love a hotel where a general manager pitches in and gets his hands dirty.
In the case of the Sherwood Inn up in Muskoka, it’s true in both a figurative and literal sense.
I arrived with my Dad and a friend last week, only to see GM (he calls himself the ‘general manipulator”) Esa Paltanen in shorts and a t-shirt in the lobby. He’d been planting annuals that day and was planning to do so again the next day with a member of his family.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer a GM in shorts and a t-shirt versus some snooty guy with an upper crust accent and a fancy tie. I think that’s true for a lot of us Canadians and Americans and those of us of both persuasions.
Mind you, a GM who does the grunt work doesn’t count for a whole lot if he runs a crummy hotel. And the Sherwood Inn, part of the extensive Resorts of Ontario group, is the farthest thing from that.
The central building is a white and green painted beauty with tons of character and it harkens back, I think, to a kinder and gentler day. Makes sense as the property is celebrating its 75 th anniversary this year.
There’s a lovely dining room and a great room for weddings, and they have wonderful, helpful staff and gorgeous grounds with plenty of lakefront to explore and glorious views of Lake Joseph.
We arrived to find a small fire burning in a fire pit in front of the main building; a nice touch even on a warm day. There also was a nice fire burning in the smoker, where chef Everett Bell smokes bacon and salmon and veggies and other bits.
He’s a great chef from what I could see in my limited exposure to the place. The seafood chowder was lovely (I think he snuck some bacon in for extra flavour and, I’m told, used it make a bit of a roux for his base) and he did a superb job with my rack of lamb, nicely presented with grilled veggies and potatoes without being too fussy. Again, I much prefer a simple, honest meal like that versus some molecular gastronomy cuisine that looks too pretty to eat and is too small to fill up a fork.
He also makes a great roasted pepper soup and a terrific Caesar Salad, complete with more of his smoked bacon.
The next morning we have terrific blueberry pancakes and thick sausages and wonderful, fresh pastries with good coffee. The music is a bit loud so Paltanen turns to his staff with a mock, pained expression and gestures for the volume to be reduced.
“It’s background music, guys,” he says with a smile.
Later, he talks about his welcoming philosophy.
“We like to say come as a guest, leave as family,” he told me, and it’s a lovely thought.
The property is 12.5 acres and has 49 units in different buildings. My Dad was upstairs in a three-storey building with nice views of the lake, while I was down near the water in a nice unit near the dock, with a couple of wood chairs to enjoy the great morning sunshine.
The morning sun is great, but they also have spectacular sunsets out over Lake Joe. We got up from our dinner when I noticed the light was particularly good in the western sky, and made our way down to the northwest point of the property. The clouds were amazing; looking either like Adam reaching out to the hand of God or perhaps one of those wavy, air figures they always seem to have out in front of car repair or tire shops. Whatever description you want to use, it was like nothing I’ve seen before.
They have kayaks and canoes if you want to take part, of you can borrow a movie from their library. They also can set up a game of golf at the nearby Lake Joseph Club or Grandview or up the road at Rocky Crest, a personal favourite of mine. If you’re not a golf fan, you can play shuffleboard or swim or use the tennis court or the bikes for a ride around the area or into Bala or charming Port Carling.
I absolutely adore Muskoka, and I would highly recommend this property to anyone who feels the same way, or who wants to get a little closer to nature while driving only two hours (or maybe a bit more) from Toronto.
They do a big business with weddings and already have 17 wedding-only bookings for the entire property this year. But there’s plenty of room for average guests and they do a lot of corporate events, too.
They also have the Wenonah steamship docking on the property for several weeks each summer, so be sure to check that out. The Wenonah and the Segwun are both outstanding ways to see the lakes of Muskoka and feel the romance of the open water on old-style ships.
If you want to stop by the Sherwood, they’re holding an open house on June 30, with free cake and coffee from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. If you do stop in, be sure to say hi to Esa for me. Don’t act surprised if he’s in his shorts, or scuba gear or maybe dressed as a tennis instructor. Those “general manipulators” have a lot of jobs to do.