With illustrations by Jamie McLennan.
Looking for a piece of rural heaven to call your own but not sure where to start? Follow our map to find a cottage-country haven that fulfils your dreams — and suits your wallet.
Gatineau Park Area
Want a place within 30 to 60 minutes’ drive of Parliament Hill? It is possible, and this may be the time to buy, says Christian Ouellet, a real estate broker with Groupe Gatineau Hills in Chelsea. “Inventory is high and demand low to fair, so yes, many cottage sales are ‘bargains’ these days,” he says. For instance, a two-bedroom 1950s fixer-upper on Lac de l’Isle near Low, 45 minutes from Ottawa, was recently listed at $109,900. However, Ouellet adds that demand is slowly increasing, partly driven by recent improvements to Highway 5 near Wakefield, so prices may start climbing. The median price in this region skews high because many waterfront properties are four-season houses, like the ultra-modern place on Lac Meech listed for $1.3 million in late 2015.
Central towns: Chelsea and Wakefield
Median price: $319,000
Insider tip: Tante Carole in Chelsea is a charming spot for lunch or dinner. Check the chalkboard for a carefully chosen selection of wines to complement your meal, which might be anything from a juicy bacon burger to crispy fried smelts (there are vegetarian options too).
The neighbourhood: Influential — fellow “cottagers” in Gatineau Park include the prime minister and the speaker of the House of Commons
Escape from rusticity: Enjoy the Scandinavian-style baths, massages, Källa saltwater float pool, and restaurant at Le Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea.
Getting to bona fide cottage country in about an hour or less is pretty sweet. Cottage prices vary widely in this hilly Quebec region, so you may still be able to score a fixer-upper (in late 2015, a rustic 500-square-foot summer cabin on Lac Bois-Franc was going for $89,900). However, especially on the bigger lakes (St-Pierre, Grand, McGregor), you’ll also find elegant four-season houses, such as a four-bedroom 2,115-square-foot contemporary property with 10-foot ceilings on Lac McGregor ($924,900). “What people term a cottage can vary greatly,” says Ouellet of Groupe Gatineau Hills.
Central town: Val-des-Monts (Perkins)
Median price: $299,900
Insider tip: Even though it’s only
43 kilometres to Val-des-Monts, count on heavy traffic on routes 307 and 366 on weekends.
The neighbourhood: Outdoorsy — the ziplines and caves at Arbraska Lafleche Park are a big attraction.
Escape from rusticity: La Fournée in Café-Boulangerie Val-des-Monts serves up exhibitions by local artists along with artisanal bread, cakes, pastries, coffee, and Quebec cheeses.
Vallée de la Gatineau
The Gatineau River gives this area its name, but the surrounding pine forests are dotted with zillions of lakes, including popular Bitobi, Blue Sea, and Cayamant. It’s quite possible to find a property for under $200,000, although it will likely be small or rustic or both. The majority of cottage properties available in late 2015 came in at under $350,000. The farther you drive from Ottawa, the more the prices drop — unless you’re heading to lakes near Mont Ste-Marie, such as Lac Heney and Lac Desormeaux, where winterized cottages come at a premium.
Central towns: Gracefield and Messines
Median price: $162,500
Insider tip: Summer fun at Mont Ste-Marie includes a cycling and music festival in July.
The neighbourhood: Rural — lots of trees, casse-croûtes, and the occasional covered bridge. Though the surrounding lakes have always been a draw for anglers, the scenic roads are becoming increasingly popular with cyclists.
Escape from rusticity: Get in a round of 18 holes at the Algonquin Golf Club in Messines.
Swim in summer, ski in winter, golf in three seasons, and get back to Ottawa with ease on the recently widened 417: these are the attractions that draw cottagers to Calabogie, White, Norcan, and other popular lakes southwest of Arnprior. Properties vary widely, from modest A-frame cottages to a four-bedroom property on Calabogie Lake with central air and a laundry room, recently listed for $749,900. As in Gatineau Park, the fact that many waterfront properties are fully equipped, year-round houses nudges the median price upward.
Central town: Calabogie
Median price: $309,900
Insider tip: Calabogie Peaks Resort hosts several big summer events, including the Mountain Man Music Festival in June and the Calabogie Blues and Ribfest in August.
The neighbourhood: Sporty — the mountain at Calabogie Peaks has one of the highest vertical drops in Ontario, and you can also indulge in everything from snow tubing to wake surfing.
Escape from rusticity: Trendy Krave Bistro in Arnprior opened to raves in April 2015. Local celeb chef Randy Paulen whips up such dishes as salmon on naan, vegetarian black bean burgers, and jambalaya.
The cottage-country region of the Rideau Valley stretches from south of Smiths Falls to north of Kingston. Landscapes in the region are surprisingly varied, with granite cliffs near Chaffey’s Lock and flatter, gentler vistas elsewhere. Access to the 202-kilometre Rideau system is one of the region’s main drawing cards. In late 2015, the median price of $295,000 would buy you a traditional three-bedroom cottage on an island in Big Rideau Lake; for a cool $2.6 million, you could pick up a 100-acre estate featuring two cottages (one a 10-bedroom behemoth with an indoor pool) and “ample dockage for boats and float planes.”
Central towns: Westport and Portland
Median price: $295,000
Insider tip: The Cove Country Inn in Westport is a live-music hub.
The neighbourhood: Cultured — the Westport Arts Council hosts a painting festival in June, a music festival in August, and many other events.
Escape from rusticity: Extensively renovated by new owners Fiona McKean and Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke, the Opinicon Resort has been a landmark at Chaffey’s Lock for decades.
West of Arnprior, the landscape gets more dramatic and prices slowly start to drop. “We don’t have a lot of cottages over the $500,000 mark,” notes realtor Cathy Pitts of Re/Max Country Classics Ltd. Brokerage in Combermere. Popular lakes include Golden, Bark, Round, Kamaniskeg, and Aylen. True wilderness buffs look for properties bordering Algonquin Park. You can still get a handyman special, but be prepared to buy quickly, warns Pitts, as the market for cottages of all kinds has been steady for the past seven years. Seeking elbow room? The only waterfront property listed at over $500,000 in late 2015 sits on 379 acres and includes its own 25-acre lake. The price: $1.5 million.
Central town: Barry’s Bay
Median price: $259,900
Insider tip: Munch on perogies and cabbage rolls as you check out the live music at the Wilno Tavern.
The neighbourhood: Friendly — everyone seems to know each other or at least know each other’s co-workers or cousins. Come up here a few times, and you’ll be part of the family too.
Escape from rusticity: At the Couples Resort in Whitney, at the edge of Algonquin Park, lakeside châteaux feature outdoor hot tubs and private saunas.
The Gananoque–Thousand Islands area is a bit of a cottage-country anomaly. In most cottage regions, lakeside property commands a premium over riverfront lots. But here, holiday houses on the shore and islands of the St. Lawrence — with their sweeping views of passing ships and the U.S.A. — are the coveted spots. Inland, many buyers are drawn to Charleston Lake and its provincial park. While modest properties are available, there are also jaw droppers, such as the 1920s mansion on a three-acre private island built for a member of the DuPont family. Buy a piece of history for just $2.1 million!
Central town: Gananoque
Median price: $329,900
Insider tip: St. Lawrence Islands National Park — Canada’s smallest — is a great place for a kayaking tour.
The neighbourhood: Historic — hop onto a tour boat to romantic Boldt Castle, abandoned in mid-construction in 1904, when the owner’s wife died.
Escape from rusticity: You’ll need your passport to check out the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton, New York, with its Jacuzzi suites and indoor pool. It’s about a half-hour drive from Rockport, across the Thousand Islands Bridge.
Prince Edward County
Pretty Picton is the heart of increasingly yuppie Prince Edward County. The County (as locals call it) isn’t typical cottage country: rather than a cozy lake, you’ll have huge Lake Ontario as your backyard, and your nearest neighbour may be a country inn or an organic farm. If you’d rather relax overlooking barns and sailboats than a rocks-and-pines Canadian Shield view, the County’s for you. Because most waterfront properties here are four-season houses, prices are high; in late 2015, you could find a modular house in a campground near water for under $160,000, but most waterfront properties came in at over $300,000. Feeling flush? A 7,000-square-foot estate on the lake with a two-storey conservatory was recently listed at $3.4 million.
Central town: Picton
Median price: $549,900
Insider tip: Get off the 401 at Kingston and drive via Highway 33 for a more scenic trip with a unique perk: a free 15-minute ride aboard the Glenora Ferry.
The neighbourhood: Gourmet — with more than 35 wineries and an ever-growing list of fine restaurants, this is the destination for cottagers who know their way around a charcuterie board.
Escape from rusticity: The chic Drake Devonshire in Wellington — the small-town outpost of Toronto’s hipster haven, The Drake Hotel — has garnered international raves since its grand opening last year.
What Muskoka is to Toronto, the Laurentians are to Montreal: a slice of rural heaven north of the city. In general, the farther north you go, the more plentiful the bargains. Lac Prévost and Lac des Becs-Scie, both near Saint-Sauveur, have waterfront properties ranging from simple cottages to four-season lakeside mansions. If lakes don’t float your boat, you can buy a ski chalet near Mont-Tremblant or a golf course condo.
Central towns: Mont-Tremblant and Saint-Sauveur
Median price: $434,900
Insider tip: Brush up on your French; unlike the Gatineau Hills, where anglophones comprise
40 percent or more of the population in many areas, most parts of the Laurentians are at least 80 percent francophone (although many residents are bilingual).
The neighbourhood: Festive — annual events include countless art fairs, as well as a dance festival and classical, blues, and country music festivals.
Escape from rusticity: At Tremblant’s Hotel Quintessence, indulge in a hot stone massage and choose from almost 5,000 bottles in the wine bar before unwinding in front of the wood-burning fireplace in your suite.
Hastings County covers a vast chunk of the middle of Ontario, and its northern section — roughly between Highway 7 and Algonquin Park — is prime unspoiled Canadian Shield landscape peppered with pockets of rocky, forested crown land. And good news for bargain hunters: the three-hour drive from both Ottawa and Toronto keeps prices relatively moderate. “What we have here is just a lot of affordable cottages,” says Tim Fulford, a broker with Bancroft Real Estate Inc. and the incoming president of the Bancroft and Area Association of Realtors. For $250,000 on a small lake or $300,000 on a bigger lake, he says, “you can get yourself a pretty nice cottage.” If you see something you like, be decisive, as properties are turning over smartly. Fulford says that by September 2015, his brokerage had already surpassed its sales volume for all of 2014 by 32 percent.
Median price: $248,000
Insider tip: The route from Renfrew to Bancroft — along highways 132, 41, and 28 — is gorgeous, but gas stations are sparse. Fuel up before you leave town.
The neighbourhood: Traditional — cottage-country stores sell milk and bread along with homemade pies and fishing licences.
Escape from rusticity: At the Grail Springs Retreat Centre in
Bancroft, you can get a massage, relax in the sauna, or book a session with a shamanic coach.
In the Haliburton–Minden area, you’ll have some 600 lakes and rivers to choose from. Kashagawig-amog (just call it Kashag, as the locals do) is one of the largest and most popular. Shorelines vary widely across the region, from flat and sandy to steep and rocky. The Highlands are a good compromise if you’re hoping to share your idyll with Toronto-based friends: it’s a four-hour drive for you, three hours for them.
Central towns: Minden and Haliburton
Median price: $399,000
Insider tip: Prone to cabin fever? Check out nearby golf courses, riding stables, and the canopy tour of Haliburton Forest.
The neighbourhood: Artistic — the Haliburton School of the Arts runs both full-time and summer programs in disciplines such as fibre arts and sculpture, and some graduates have set up shop in the area.
Escape from rusticity: The WaterSpa at Sir Sam’s Inn, north of Haliburton, features a saltwater float pool enhanced with under-water music and lighting.
North and Central Frontenac
Just next door to the Rideau Lakes is this more sparsely populated — and largely more affordable — swath of unspoiled lake land. If you like doing day trips to provincial parks, you’re in luck: Bon Echo, Sharbot Lake, and Silver Lake are all on your doorstep. You can find bargain properties under $200,000, but they might be a bit off the beaten path, such as a two-
bedroom cottage on Little Marble Lake near Cloyne with 140 feet of sandy lakefront, recently listed at $159,000.
Central town: Sharbot Lake
Median price: $239,900
Insider tip: Drop into the Sharbot Lake Country Inn for live Celtic, folk, or jazz music.
The neighbourhood: Serene — once you’re off Highway 7, you’ll find quiet country roads leading off in all directions.
Escape from rusticity: The Cardinal Café and Shop, housed in a converted church in Sharbot Lake, sells unique housewares handcrafted by four artists — and you can get your espresso fix at the same time.