Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Muskoka: Fantasy Land of Arts, Mystical Creatures and Gardens

Photo taken from artists website >> HERE
this painting, along with some illustrated children's books are what
made us have to visit her enchanted castle

One of the most well-known Ontario summer rituals is the drive to cottage country. The long drive (usually in traffic) is the last struggle before you can pull up a Muskoka chair, a refreshing drink and a good book to relax away the weekend before you do the return drive.

This summer, we decided to make the journey the destination. On the way to an enjoyable stay at the Port Cunnington Lodge & Resort near Huntsville, we got off the highway and took the scenic route all the way around Muskoka.

We realized our decision to stop in Gravenhurst first was the right one as soon as we walked into Arts at the Albion. ( This artists’ collective includes twenty of Muskoka’s best artists from the Gravenhurst area who have come together to create an amazing new creative hive in the historic Albion Hotel, which is well known as Gravenhurst’s most recognizable building. While perusing the stunning paintings, sculptures and jewellery on display, we were drawn to the work of Bonnie Bews. (bonniebews), whose Hinterglas paintings were stunning. Hinterglas or reverse glass painting is a traditional European technique in which the artist paints on the reverse side of the glass.

Along with the paintings, we were also drawn to the stunning illustrations Bonnie created for the Zelda and Esmeralda series of children’s books. We wanted to see more and luckily there were directions to the Hinterglas Castle, Bonnie’s stunning home and studio on the way to Bala from Gravenhurst.

Hinterglas Castle is a must-see for any visitor to Muskoka. We came upon what seemed to be a private home, but turned into a unique and enchanting studio and gallery, the centrepiece being a large castle surrounded by beautiful landscaping and a fairy garden. After exploring the grounds, we were so happy to actually meet Bonnie who was working in the studio and got to talk to her about her work and home. We also got our copy of Zelda and Esmeralda signed – topping off the perfect Christmas gifts for nieces and nephews!

After a stop in Bala and some amazing local ice cream at the Ice Dreams Soda Shop (thank you Katie for the recommendation!), our drive took us to another stunning discovery – the Artful Garden ( just outside Bracebridge. Located in the spectactular gardens of potter Jon and Suzzane Partridge’s studio and home, this once a year event showcases the work of over 40 artists created for or inspired by gardens. It was the perfect combination of beautiful landscaping and art and made us feel like we were walking through the perfect wonderland for green thumbs and artists. It was the perfect escape on a hot summer day. Jon & Suzann are very open to visitors just taking a stroll and enjoying the beauty, but of course we could not leave without purchasing our own little piece of the Artful Garden to take home.

mini passage way for fairies or other little minions
we wish we took pictures of the real chickens walking through the grounds!
It looked like they were wearing pants - muahaha too cute
such a happy place how can you not help but smile! :D

lushness, feels like an alpine retreat
After enjoying a relaxing evening on the shores of the Lake of Bays, our drive back through Dwight brought us to what at first appeared to be a traditional log cabin, but turned out to be the one of the most charming stores we have ever visited. Surrounded by a stunning garden (beautiful landscaping was the common thread throughout the trip), the Oxtongue Craft Cabin and Gallery (oxtonguecraftcabin) opened in 1979 by artists Geraldine Slater and John McConnell who nailed their artwork on the fence in front of their summer log cabin. Today, the store showcases the work of more than 85 Canadian artists and has one of the most eclectic selections of fine Canadian craft north of Toronto. We spent a lot of time browsing (and of course bought some amazing pieces) and noted how friendly not only the staff, but the customers were. We were lucky enough to be there while a charming couple was visiting and found out that they were regular visitors and knew the staff (and their dog) very well.

doesn't this look like a rustic cabin version of our very own Freedom Clothing Collective?

It is a definite must stop and a great opportunity to see pottery, jewellery, wood, original paintings and prints, glass, metal, leather and toys (to name just a few items) all in one stop!

Overall, it was a perfect trip to the ‘cottage.’ Next time, we might spend a little more time relaxing. But why do that when there is so much to see and so many great people to meet?