HALIBURTON HIGHLANDS: A Little Piece of Heaven
For anyone looking to get away from the big city for a little down time, Haliburton Highlands (aka Haliburton Village) is a quaint Ontario town nestled within miles and miles of deliciously Canadian forest, and boasting just about every stereotype typical of a small, out of the way community that sees seasonal summer tourism.
Complete with turtle and moose crossing signs, a plethora of art studios and shops, the village itself is a showcase of local talent and creative offerings. Freshly baked goods scent the sidewalks and here and there, storefront windows show off colourful stained glass, picturesque paintings and crafts of all kinds and sizes. The village has one 'Super Store' (an independent grocer) and only a handful of drug, hardware and corner stores. But somehow that seems just enough.
A recently opened pizza franchise, 2-4-1 Pizza and a Subway are really the only big name chain restaurants in operation, however a number of other restaurants line the two main streets. McKecks - The Blue Line, Ray's Pizza and 212 - Fine Foods, to name a few, are local favourites. If you're in the mood to visit a small, independently owned shop with an eclectic selection of goodies, The Hilltop won't disappoint. Empanadas, fresh cinnamon raisin bread and an array of old time style bottles of soda pop line the shelves and display cases. Reminiscent of a 50's or 60's general store, The Hilltop has an interesting collection of goods that one usually wouldn't go out of their way to find, but can't help themselves from picking up in the spirit of 'touristy' impulse buying.
Everywhere, the people are friendly and all the time one feels as though they have stepped into a world that honours its slow paced traditions while embracing its emerging enthusiasm for the taste of 'city life'.
Willow Beach Cottages
Willow Beach Cottages
My family and I stayed for a week in cottage #2 of Willow Beach Cottage Resort. We were finally able to take a much deserved and long awaited belated summer vacation in October of this year, 2010. Willow Beach is a scenic, ten minute drive from Haliburton Village and is a fabulous place to spend some quality time with the family.
Because it was technically off-season during our stay, we pretty much had the whole grounds to ourselves. There are roughly 12 cottages on the property and lucky for us, ours was the second closest to the water. We arrived on a Wednesday evening (should you travel from Niagara to Willow Beach, DO NOT use MapQuest for your driving directions as they will get you as close as 20-30 minutes to the cottages before becoming completely incorrect. USE the directions from the Willow Beach website) and left for home on the following Wednesday morning. When we arrived, only one cottage was in use, and the next day another became occupied. By Sunday night, we had the resort to ourselves and it remained that way for the rest of our trip.
It was eerily peaceful when our aloneness was realized, by myself anyway. Each day the resort's cleaning lady would make an appearance on the grounds, and although we didn't always speak, it was oddly comforting to know that there was someone else roundabout. For on our first evening, after dark, we met with the property's maintenance man. He proved helpful and personable and a great guy, but in conversation he let us know that on Monday evening (two days before our arrival--Oh my God, TWO DAYS AGO, I thought to myself as I remained calm and listened with one ear as the conversation progressed) a bear had turned over the dumpster in the night. The dumpster was a good 300 feet (?...math is not my strong suit) away from our cottage, but 300 feet is pretty damn close when you are the only people within 300 feet who have cookies in the cupboard, and meat in the fridge. Needless to say, I attained a whole new appreciation for the power of nature throughout my subsequent stoic attempts to be cool and not let the periodic panic I secretly felt take me over.
Yes, yes I understand, it would be a pretty desperate bear who would break into my cottage through the night because of the slight whiff of granola he smelled through the packaging, fridge and walls of the cabin. I was able to fall asleep with that thought in mind, yet every time I awoke throughout the night to a strange noise I listened intently, not breathing for what felt like a full minute, thinking to myself that a desperate bear suddenly seemed not so silly, as it WAS autumn, and food probably WASN'T in abundance elsewhere in the forest, and we, foolishly, HAD been saving that roast for the weekend. The next day we cooked the roast.
Beyond my own irrational (but totally rational under the circumstances, don't you think?) fears, we enjoyed having the run of the place, so to speak. I would highly recommend visiting this resort during the off-season. Not to say that the summer months wouldn't be phenomenal...But knowing that when you walk out your door in the morning, there is nothing there to meet you but wind and water and trees, is food for the soul. I'm sure that sun and sailing with a backdrop of children's shouts of delight and good food, wine and company would be a marvellous way to spend a summer holiday, but our family vacation was exactly what our family craved; OUR family vacation.
One really comes to know their counterparts when their counterparts are all they see. I saw my kids playing without feeling the need to tell them repeatedly to watch for cars. I taught them to play billiards; they kicked my butt at air hockey. My husband disappeared for firewood on occasion and when he returned, with an armful of timber, I felt a content unattainable amongst the pressures of our 'real' lives.
We fished, played games together, gave each other space and came together naturally. The atmosphere of the resort is to be envied by those living in the city who just can't find the time to focus on the quiet moments of the day. Rather than working, doing laundry, answering the phone and sending the kids to do their chores, finish their homework and clean their rooms, my husband and I spent a glorious week tending to the perpetual wood fire, resting our minds and appreciating our nesting tendencies.
At Willow Beach the grounds are lovingly kept; the cottages are a home away from home; the bonds with nature are solid and the build-up to relaxation is realized. If anyone were to ask me to recommend a place to go with the family, Willow Beach would be a foolproof suggestion.