“Is it better here in the summer or the winter?” asks a good-looking German guest. He was finishing a business contract in Toronto and chose Elmhirst’s Resort’s 13th annual Snowkiting weekend for a guys getaway. Funny, I was attempting to answer that question for myself from the moment I arrived. My thoughts rewinded to my memorable lunch during a summer visit to the resort. It was the same peaceful, rural property in cold weather, only Rice Lake was frozen and the herb and vegetable garden was buried in snow. Nonetheless, I was excited to experience a winter escape in my own renovated lakefront cottage and maybe I would find the answer.
When you visit Elmhirst’s you’ll receive a warm, family-style welcome. After all, this four-seasons cottage resort in Keene, a quick 20-minute drive from Peterborough and 90 minutes east of Toronto, has been a family affair for more than a century. In a post-COVID-19 world, it is one of the places that already has much in place to accommodate new protocols and address guests’ concerns.
Place your order for fresh farm-to-table vegetables and meat from the farm to personally prepare in your cottage. Or, dine in the Hearthside Dining room, with sweeping views of Rice Lake and a cozy working fireplace. Settle in at the Wild Blue Yonder Pub & Patio for a casual dining experience where the ambiance is all things aviation and mementoes from the Elmhirst family. Take for instance the whimsical clock propeller, made from their grandfather’s World War II aircraft, or their childhood sleigh and canoe on display above the bar.
After my snowkiting lesson on the frozen lake, I enjoyed the Saturday night roast beef buffet dinner. Elmhirst’s Own Angus Beef is bred and raised on the farm and will not disappoint. The culinary experience at Elmhirst’s is second to none. The menu boasts turkey and Peking duck, raised on the farm. Fresh eggs are available for sale at the font desk, along with honey from the beehive. A farm tour is a good way to experience an understanding of the family’s commitment to sustainable farming and environmentally friendly farming techniques.
In warmer climates the private flight landing strip is accessible in the nearby field for sightseeing tours of the area. There’s horse-back riding, and to really get into the spirit of the cowboy way, partake in a “cowboy breakfast” in the pasture. In the winter take a horse-drawn sleigh ride with the resident Clydesdale horses. There’s an intimate, rustic wine cellar stocked with Ontario wines for tastings and corporate events, and the Paint and Pinot wine weekend every spring includes a spa treatment and Sunday brunch. Warning: leave room for dessert.
No matter the season, there is always something fun going on — like snowkiting. I had never heard of this winter sport and was admittedly nervous about after discovering it’s considered an extreme sport. I wouldn’t be wearing skis or a snowboard, though.
My first lesson taught me how to fly a kite in a winter environment. Navigating the “wind window” and steering techniques ensured that my feet stayed on the ground and I didn’t take off with the mighty gusts. I liked the sound of the wind blowing in the lines and once I got comfortable would even allow myself to glide along the ice as the wind pulled the kite forward.
I had fun. I learned a new skill, but ultimately I turned to one of my go-to winter activities and strapped on my snowshoes. Later, in the spa I enjoyed a Chinese therapeutic Tui Na massage with dōTERRA essential oils. It’s similar to a Swedish massage and promotes balance and harmony.
I still can’t decide if I prefer summer or winter. I do know I’m looking forward to spring and fall.
MORE ABOUT ELMHIRST’S RESORT
Address: 1045 Settlers Line, Keene, Ontario (see map below)
Nearby Places to Visit
Rolling Grape Winery: There’s grapes in them thar hills!
In 2018, winemaker Jonathan Drew and his wife opened their small batch winery on his family farm in Bailieboro, just north of Rice Lake. With a focus on growing cold hardy grapes, varieties offered are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Vidal, Chardonnay, Frontenac Petite Pearl, and Marquette. Try the unique Frontenac Amplified Orange, a dry white with notes of citrus. Sample a full flight for $10. Bottles retail between $26 and $40. A roster of seasonal events includes the Rice Lake Long Table five-course dinner, the annual harvest party in the fall, and a spring celebration with live music and tastings.
ZimArt Rice Lake Gallery: Experience a forest of traditional hand-carved Zimbabwean Shona stone sculptures in a unique outdoor setting in Bailieboro. Enjoy a picnic lunch and the freedom to explore the grounds. Artist-in-residence Tapiwa Mapuranga provides sculpting workshops and showcases his designs to patrons. During the winter, ZimArt is by appointment only in the indoor gallery. Admission is free.