Holidays & Travel

Could this Canadian cottage be the holiday home of the year?

Kirsty Masterman heads to Ontario’s Muskoka Lake for a homely stay surrounded by forests, waterfalls and lakes.

Falcon’s Nest holiday home
Falcon's Nest holiday home (Vrbo/PA) Falcon’s Nest holiday home

“Don’t take your foot off the brake!”

I hear my instructor’s firm command ringing in my ears. But how on earth am I supposed to get these dogs to move if my foot is on the brake?

“Mush, Mush!” I shout, persisting with my efforts, and finally we’re off.

I’m out in the forests of Muskoka, trying my hand at dog sledding. My partner in crime sits back and enjoys the ride as I struggle with a pack of dogs. The sledge nearly topples over, but somehow, probably due to extensive breaking, I manage to make a full recovery. But it’s no easy feat.

Muskoka, a lakeside retreat, is just a two-hour drive north of Toronto. Known as Canada’s answer to the Hamptons due to the high number of holiday homes in the area, it’s easy to see why people head here to get away from it all. The winter months produce scenes to rival Narnia, while summers are laidback and glorious.

Dogsledding in Muskoka
Dogsledding in Muskoka (Kirsty Masterman/PA) Dogsledding in Muskoka

My short stay in February is at Falcon’s Nest, a holiday home sold through the Vrbo rental site. This lakeside cottage, nestled among towering pine trees in a secluded cove overlooking Lake Muskoka, boasts six bedrooms, a chef’s kitchen, two bright living spaces and six bathrooms, all spread over three floors, making it the perfect location for a get-together with family or friends.

Short for Vacation Rentals By Owner, Vrbo has more than two million properties worldwide and is due to announce its Holiday Homes of the Year list on March 20. This list showcases Vrbo’s most spectacular properties located in a variety of popular holiday resorts, and Falcon’s Nest is a hot contender. I’m here with a group of pals to see if it could make the cut.

Kirsty warming up outside Falcon’s Nest
Kirsty warming up outside Falcon's Nest (Kirsty Masterman/PA) Kirsty warming up outside Falcon’s Nest

As I enter the cottage, I am immediately struck by the relaxed, calming space, with its neutral colour scheme, wooden floors and oak-panelled staircases. I choose a room on the lower floor, where I can look out over the water and see the sunrise.

Outside, there is a large seating area, set around a fire pit, while a wood-burning hot tub is not far away. A short walk down a stoned pathway brings me to a delightful boathouse, featuring a lounging area with bar and games space, and wraparound deck. During the summer months, it’s possible to borrow kayaks or stand-up paddle boards to explore the lake. It’s also an ideal location to practise yoga or have massages – both of which can be arranged by the home host.

Sunrise over the lake
Sunrise over the lake (Kirsty Masterman/PA) Sunrise over the lake

When renting the property, a fully customised, tailor-made itinerary can be arranged free of charge. My programme starts with dog sledding at North Ridge Ranch, an hour’s drive away from our lodgings.

We are given an extremely detailed lesson, primarily consisting of remembering to “keep your foot on the break”, before we are set free with our mushers to experience the twists, turns and hills of the snow-covered forest.

At first, I ride up front, cocooned in the sledge as we bump along the paths, admiring the scenery. Halfway through our 10km journey, I’m given the chance to ‘steer’. It’s a truly exhilarating – if somewhat challenging – experience, ending in a ‘hold on and hope for the best’ downhill race to the finishing post.

Back at the cottage, we are greeted by local country musician, Ty Baynton, who provides our evening entertainment. He performs many of his own songs as well as taking requests, interspersed with his stories of the local area. The performance is followed by a gourmet dinner prepared by private chef David Friesen who rustles up a decadent seven-course menu with wine pairing.

Chef David Friesen prepares a gourmet dinner at the cottage
Chef David Friesen prepares a gourmet dinner at the cottage (Kirsty Masterman/PA) Chef David Friesen prepares a gourmet dinner at the cottage

Due to the unseasonably warm time of year, and the melting snow, our snowmobiling tour turns into a waterfall chasing experience. This enables us to see more of the local area as we travel from town to town, admiring the rushing water up close. We round off the morning at Ontario’s oldest cranberry marsh, Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery, where we enjoy a lunch of cranberry chilli, with s’mores around the campfire before embarking on the Bog to Bottle Tour and wine tasting experience.

Kirsty chasing waterfalls in Ontario
Kirsty chasing waterfalls in Ontario (Kirsty Masterman/PA) Kirsty chasing waterfalls in Ontario

With activities such as cooking classes, ice fishing, snow shoeing, ice skating and snowmobiling, there are plenty of options to keep guests entertained in the lakes and forests of Muskoka – but at Falcon’s Nest it’s just as easy to curl up by the fire with a good book.

Whether or not it’s declared holiday home of the year, this Canadian hideaway certainly wins my vote.

How to plan your trip

Book Falcon’s Nest through Vrbo from £112 per person/per night (based on 12 sharing). Visit vrbo.com.