Nestled in the Kawarthas overlooking Stoney Lake, resting on over 2,000 feet of shoreline is where you’ll find historic and picturesque Viamede Resort. Only about one and a half hours east of the Greater Toronto Area, this beautiful resort, located in quaint Woodview, ON, has plenty to offer those who seek outdoor activity, relaxation, fine and casual dining, engaged staff and much more.
At the helm is Ben Samann, the young, dynamic, enthusiastic and modest owner of Viamede. With a Swiss education in Hotel Management, he’s been steadily improving the resort since purchasing it in late 2010.
Ben’s approach of “you’re only as great as your team is” rings clearly throughout all aspects of the resort, from the service, cleanliness, and food, to the atmosphere and overall experience. He empowers his team and the spirit of “every team member is a part owner” strengthens them, which reflects in the overall experience when visiting Viamede for the first time or tenth time.
It’s a simple approach that pays huge dividends. If there’s a problem that can be solved immediately, Ben encourages his team to do just that. There’s no maze of hierarchy to navigate through at Viamede - only the constant drive to provide a memorable experience for each guest.
Laura and I visited over the Labour Day weekend and were warmly greeted by Michelle at the front desk. She was friendly, engaging, and energetic and gave us a quick introduction to the resort, what activities were available and asked if we needed anything. Her outgoing and exciting attitude makes a great first impression for guests. I’ve been to several hotels/resorts and Michelle’s approach to customer service is hard to topple.
We decided to stay in one of the cabins on the Friday night and switch to a room in the main resort for Saturday.
Arriving mid-afternoon on Friday, the first order of business was to jump in a canoe and explore the water. We paddled for about an hour, making a stop on an empty island and enjoying the view all around.
Instead of having dinner prepared for us, we opted for the DIY BBQ approach, since all cabins come with a BBQ. With plenty of BBQ friendly food to choose from, it was ribs, steak, mushrooms and vegetables that we decided upon. About an hour later, there were two empty plates and two very full guests.
We had a perfect view of Stoney Lake and were close to where the outdoor weddings take place.
The folks staying beside us were incredibly friendly. In fact, everyone we came into contact with the entire weekend was friendly without being intrusive. I chalk it up to good ol’ Canadian politeness. Everyone was friendly, smiling and made for a true sense of community embedded within the resort.
The breakfast buffet (included in all stays) had eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, fruit, breads, etc. The staff was friendly and the food was almost as good as Laura’s cooking.
After breakfast, we swapped rooms to the main resort with a serene view of the lake. In fact, all rooms in the main house face the water, with four “back up rooms” facing away as overflow rooms. The room wasn’t better than the cabin, to us. It was simply different.
After breakfast, we hiked for a few kilometres on the nearby trails, which included an on-site farm. The ducks ran away from us in sync, the turkeys thought we had food and assembled nicely in front of us and the three little pigs were just happy to be there.
Further along the trail included a path through a forested area, which doubled as a “Disc Golf” course, which is one of the best courses in the county!
We met a mother and daughter tandem who were visiting on a whim and were looking for a relaxing getaway before school started. We met an older couple who also wanted the same thing and easily found it at Viamede.
I tried my hand at stand-up paddle boarding and made it out about 100 feet and back without falling. Not bad for a guy in his late 30s without the greatest sense of balance!
Before dinner, Ben took Laura, myself and another couple from Muskoka out for a boat tour of Stoney Lake, pointing out all sorts of historical facts and educating us on the rich history that envelops Viamede Resort. Definitely a nice touch to have an owner with such a hands on approach with guests. Heck, he even gets up at 6:00 am some days to go fishing with guests!
We were joined by Ben for dinner at the historic, gorgeous and rustic Mount Julian restaurant for a nine-course tasting menu complete with wine paring. Through the evening, Ben explained how he wants to make things simple for his guests. He’s made Viamede pet-friendly because he understands that pets are part of his guests' family. He’s done away with the contemporary “sign in/sign out” sheet for canoe/kayak/paddle board rentals so that all a guest has to do is head to the beach, jump in one and enjoy themselves. I asked him “what if someone steals one?” To which he replied “So what if they do? I’ll just replace it.” He sees the good in everyone and realizes there’s a cost of doing business and if he has to replace a canoe once every couple of years due to loss or damage, then so be it.
He also allows other boaters to dock at Viamede for free, no strings attached. Instead of being petty about a few dollars here and there, along with the administrative headache that accompanies it, Ben’s mentality is to lead with good will towards others. Humble Ben has given himself the title of General Manager, and it even says so on his monogrammed Viamede golf shirt, which he wears with pride.
Ben and his team are thorough when they’re speaking with guests about what to expect when they visit Viamede. For guests who are looking for a cookie-cutter experience that can be found at a chain hotel/resort, Viamede is not the perfect solution. What Viamede offers is a unique experience where there are numerous activities to do outdoors and indoors, a choice of casual or fine dining, outstanding customer service and a chance to truly enjoy themselves whether it be in the lake, the swimming pool or indoors.
Speaking of swimming pools, Viamede is in the process of building a beautiful indoor pool complete with a sauna and steam room as further offerings to guests. I’ll play it safe and say the pool should be open sometime in 2016, but don’t quote me on that as construction completion dates are as reliable as the Leafs making the playoffs.
He’s also made it family friendly with an array of board games, outdoor movie nights and yoga in the summer, along with a welcoming atmosphere. There’s a floating trampoline anchored about 100 feet from shore that Ben says was “one of the best purchases for the resort!”
Their slogan of “Boldly Different” rings true with Ben’s vision of creating a high end resort that can be enjoyed by nearly anyone. He’s not trying foolishly to be everything to everyone. Instead, the mentality is closer to “build it well, treat them well, offer them a memorable and unique experience and they will come often.”
Over dinner, we spoke about Ben’s love of dogs and how he’s on the Board of Directors for Golden Rescue, a dog rescue company that places Golden Retrievers in great homes. During our conversation, the food that came out of the kitchen was absolutely divine. Chef Kevin McKenna is not only a talented, experienced chef but he’s also a huge proponent of “Forest to Table” ingredients that are sourced locally from nearby farmers markets and the on-site farm. He sees the importance of supporting local businesses and serving guests top-quality food, all while illustrating his vast culinary experience.
The tasting menu changes weekly, so each time you visit will result in a different yet memorable dining experience. Our server, Ryan, was educated, friendly, and hospitable and could give a clinic on how to be a perfect waiter.
For a guy who’s running one of the best resorts in the province, Ben is a very down-to-earth and modest leader. I’ve mentioned it earlier but have to again: empowering his excellent team is what makes the difference. Yes, one could have a resort with the best of everything but it’s the support he receives from his team that makes the difference between good and outstanding.
Besides, it gives him time to think of his next step in improving upon an already outstanding resort.
After a restful sleep on Saturday night, Sunday morning saw some time at the pool and one last canoe trip, and of course a delicious breakfast via the buffet.
As we packed the car for our two hour westbound drive home, we were given a warm “see you next time!” by the staff and I can say with certainty that we’ll be returning.
Viamede has seen a 20% growth from July 2014 to July 2015 and they’re fully booked on weekends until the end of October. But worry not, there are still plenty of weekday openings, and here’s the best part: they’ll be open this winter for the first time in two years as they want to become a year-round destination, so expect lots of fun activities and attractions to be available.
With over 50 rooms and cottages available and three restaurants, Viamede is the dark horse that’s quickly and strategically taking the lead in the crowded race to the top for resorts in Ontario, and they’re doing it one guest experience at a time.
They accommodate families, couples, corporate events, weddings, guys/girls weekends away and really anyone who’s looking for a boldly different resort experience that’s close to the Greater Toronto Area.
Viamede has the amenities, the scenery, the comfort, the food, a stellar team, plenty of activities, excitement, adventure and a warm, welcoming environment.
All they’re missing is you.
595 Mount Julian Viamede Road