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Just a 90-minute drive north of Toronto, the Muskoka region has been a magnet for visitors since the 19th century. Though the area proved futile for farming (it's located on the Canadian Shield, where you need dig only a foot or two in some places to come up against sheets of granite), the 1,600 lakes, pretty terrain, and laid-back attitude combine to make it an excellent place for a retreat. In the past decade, Muskoka's charms have expanded to include excellent golf courses, soothing spas, great burger joints, and some fine dining. The region is most popular in summer, when families congregate lakeside and Hollywood celebrities such as Goldie Hawn and Tom Hanks lounge at their "cottages." But autumn can be stunning for color peepers and winter good for cold-climate sports.

Once accessible only by water, Muskoka remains a boater's dream. The region also has several towns of note: Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Port Carling, Huntsville, and Bala. It's well worth devoting a day or two to explore the area, the quaint towns, and most of all, the dazzling waterways. This is not the Great White North, but a fashionable cottage country that, particularly in summer and on holidays, is busy with crowds. If you're looking for wide open wilderness, you have to travel further north to Algonquin Park or to some of the more remote stretches of Georgian Bay.