There’s nothing quite like the Ontario cottage experience: sipping your coffee as you watch the morning mist float above a perfectly still lake, spotting wildlife from the trail or your canoe, swapping stories and songs with friends around a bonfire. But what if you don’t have a cottage, or, like thousands of other urbanites, have been stymied by skyrocketing demand for rentals since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Fortunately, there’s another option: Somewhere Inn Calabogie, a new 11-room motel with a distinctly cottage-y vibe, located in a picturesque and relatively uncrowded corner of the Ottawa Valley, just an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital.
Joel Greaves and Devon Vaillancourt, the husband-and-wife duo behind Somewhere Inn, were well aware of the massive demand for cottages, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, even before COVID; their Muskoka property, which they’ve listed on AirBnB since 2017, was so popular it was difficult to find time to enjoy it themselves. So, says Greaves, they decided to take their side venture to the next level. Their plans to purchase and make-over a motel were temporarily halted by the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020, but the subsequent surge in local travel bookings only bolstered their confidence. One year later, Greaves left a 12-year career in telecommunications in Toronto and moved to Calabogie to oversee the reinvention of their chosen property, a classic 1970s roadside inn formerly called Jocko’s Beach Motel.
“We wanted to take the experience we love about the cottage and realize it in a hotel,” he says. “That’s what this place is about: escaping the city, unplugging, and being in the restorative power of nature.”
To recreate the cottage experience, Greaves and Vaillancourt filled the spacious rooms with Canadian-made furniture, cozy textiles and art, as well as thoughtful touches like vintage board games for whiling away a lazy afternoon and picnic blankets guests can take down to the beach at nearby Barnet Park. Each room has a propane fireplace and some have free-standing soaker tubs for an added element of luxury.
The surrounding property, which slopes gently toward Calabogie Lake, has been transformed into the ultimate outdoor hangout, with fire pits that are lit every night an hour before sunset, weather permitting, and hammocks offering restful views of the water. The motel lobby doubles as a bottle shop and concession stand, with craft beer, wine and snacks curated by Collingwood’s Gibson and Co. The vibe is a mix of hip microbrewery and friend-of-a-friend’s cottage, especially on weekends: “Friday and Saturday nights the music gets pumping and locals and guests come and sit by the fire. We’re slinging beers and meeting people; it’s great,” says Greaves.
The best part is, at Somewhere Inn, cottage season doesn’t really end: Calabogie is a four-season destination offering downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing in the winter, and excellent hiking and water sports in the summer. When you complete your booking at the motel, you have the opportunity to have a 15-minute call with a staff member, where they’ll ask what kind of experiences you’re looking for in the area, offer recommendations and even make reservations for restaurants or excursions.
“It’s important to us that people have the real Calabogie experience,” says Greaves, adding he’s excited about the changes he sees happening in the area. “We think this place is about to explode.”
What to do in Calabogie
Get a bird’s-eye view of the scenery
Situated in the midst of rolling highlands, Calabogie offers some of the best hiking in eastern Ontario with varying degrees of difficulty. A popular hike is the Eagle’s Nest Lookout, a short, easy loop trail that offers a breathtaking panoramic view of forest and wetland from atop a sheer cliff. For those seeking a longer excursion, the lookout trail connects with other trails in the Manitou Mountain network.
Sip a local brew
Thirsty after your hiking excursion? Swing by Calabogie Brewing and see what’s pouring in the taproom. The knowledgeable staff will even recommend one of their craft beers based on what trail you completed. A long trek on Manitou Mountain calls for something big and flavourful like the Bogie West Coast IPA, while the Brown Cow Milk Stout is the perfect followup to a scenic ramble in Centennial Lake Nature Reserve.
Enjoy pizza and a show
Located in nearby Burnstown, Neat Cafe offers gourmet coffee, wood-fired pizza, and sandwiches by day, and live music and stand-up comedy by night. The 90-person venue has hosted some big names in Canadian indie rock, including The Sheepdogs, Great Lake Swimmers, The Trews, Terra Lightfoot and more. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Neat has pivoted to outdoor “Shed Sessions” so the beat can go safely on.