Monday, March 23, 2020

a getaway - the elora mill, hotel and spa

   Days before we moved last November, in the midst of the boxes and chaos, with the weight of all that the move entailed - being so far from our friends and family, starting a new job, whether or not our house would be ready - Ryan and I took a break. As a thank you gift for many years of personal service, a couple, who were long-time customers of Ryan's, gifted us an evening at the Elora Mill. Over the years that he knew them, he got to hear all about this project their family had undertaken - restoring the old, dilapidated mill in Elora and transforming it into this destination hotel and spa.

   Agreeing to go, as much as I wanted to, was hard. It felt so unnecessary. There was so much work that still needed to be done and so little time - leaving, even just for an evening, felt unproductive.

   Thankfully, my husband is wise, and he recognized that an evening removed from everything, just the two of us, was exactly what I needed.

   The drive out to Elora is a pretty one, despite it being somewhat in the middle of nowhere. There are a few small, but pretty towns and a lot of large, rural farms. And while the drive isn't unreasonably far, it was long enough that we decided to stretch our legs for a bit and find a coffee shop. We stopped in Ancaster at a little French bakery called Caniche. It's tucked in the lower level of an old house on the main street. You walk into the front door and instead of finding a large, open shop, you duck into the parlour first, where there's a small counter to place your order. An old glass cabinet is filled with pastries, an assortment of old cake molds line the wall behind you, and an espresso machine sputters away beyond the counter. Then you wander down the hall to the dining room at the back of the house, past the kitchen. You can sit at one of the large harvest tables or browse their small lending library in an old cupboard, while you wait. 

I highly recommend trying the almond croissant, and whatever you do, don't attempt to share. You'll fail miserably and end up ordering two more for the road.


As you enter the town of Elora, you cross the bridge and see the 19th century riverside mill, an industrious looking building, perched prominently at the edge of the gorge.

The transformation of the mill was only a part of the work they undertook. Slowly the entire area is being brought back to life. Small neighboring houses and outbuildings are being converted into guest quarters for larger parties and more private accommodations. Ruins on the other side of the river have been converted into an outdoor chapel for weddings. The foundry and granary are perfectly suited for reception and indoor ceremony areas. And then there's the Stable Spa, just steps from the Mill, with it's heated rooftop pool and glass walls with uninhibited views of the river winding through the woods. 

(Photo from the Elora Mill website)

The mill was hand-built in 1859 but later burned down. Eventually it became a gristmill, sawmill, wool factory and shops before opening in 1975 as an inn.  Over the next 35 years, it changed hands and was eventually left to deteriorate. Thankfully, in 2010, the current owners saw it's beauty and it's potential, and rescued the property, thus embarking on a six year journey to plan and design what would later become the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa. The historic site underwent extensive restoration and renovations, and finally in 2018 it opened it's doors to guests.

This is a view of the Stable Spa from inside the dining area of the hotel.

And the gorge below, part of the Grand River.

Here is the dining area from outside. This whole part of the mill is this glass structure, which seems like such a contrast to what should be a very plain stone factory. But really, that's the feeling the entire place evokes. It's a small town, most of which was boarded up and left  after industry left, and now, in the place of the deteriorating mill stands this luxury hotel and spa. 

When you step inside, the same feelings have been carried into the design. The stone and massive wooden beams don't let you forget that you're standing in what was once a working mill, but the addition of pale velvet drapes and the glossy black piano assure you that you're stepping foot into a luxury hotel.

The over-stated luxury continues into the guest rooms where the ceilings are high making the room feel grand. The bathrooms, which one could live in, are closed off from the main room with large barn doors, though the doors themselves are intricate and feminine. It's this unusual mix of industrial architecture with ornate furnishings that lends a sort of modern baroque feel - elaborate glass candelabras coming out of the vanity mirrors and blue velvet drapes and damask throws on white leather couches. Bright, modern artwork hangs on the papered walls with white glossy Louis XIV armoirs for storing your luggage. A focal point is a grand marble fireplace that feels like it should be in a French chateaux, and yet there's a very contemporary, geometric stone table in front of it.

I would have envisioned everything done in Suzanne Kasler's style - but that's just me. In the end, it's a bold mix, but because of it's cohesiveness throughout the entire hotel, it just works and actually kind of grows on you. 

I found the en suite and the spa spaces to have been done particularly well.

It was just the most inviting bath.


   We loved that while we were out for dinner, part of their turn down service is setting a fire  for you to start - a true, wood burning fire. It's amazing that something so rustic and simple can feel so luxurious.

And while all of the different dining areas were beautiful - the intimate round booths in front of the grand fireplace, the lively bar area and even the glass dining room overlooking the gorge - had I have been given the choice to enjoy dinner anywhere, pulling up a chair and enjoying it in the kitchen would have been perfect to me. The entire kitchen is behind glass off the hall, and while it may be a hard working space, no effort was spared in carrying the design into it.

While staying at the hotel, guests have use of the spa directly beside. We, of course, took full advantage and spent most of our stay here.

It was the weekend before the town's Christmas celebrations, so it was unusually quiet, and the spa nearly empty. Having no one around made our stay feel all the more special as it felt like we had the entire space to ourselves.

The same rustic glamour of our hotel's en suite was continued into the change rooms of the spa.



   The locker rooms have showers and a steam room to enjoy, as well as private changing areas where guests are encouraged to change into robes and slippers. There are a few spacious vanity areas to use while getting ready, and no thoughtful detail was spared - extra toiletries in the event you forgot something, hidden hampers to keep used towels and robes out of sight, and even Dyson hair driers.

When you're changed, a spa attendant quietly greets you and escorts you to your appointment, or gives you a tour of the other amenities. The roof top pool, hot tub and sauna are included in your stay,  but because it was quiet, she also allowed us to use the Quiet Room. This room, draped in pale blue fabric with it's velvet lounge chairs and lanterns, was so dreamy. The other walls are floor to ceiling windows which offer the best views of the gorge and river below. The chairs face down river, into the woods and it's the most relaxing spot to sit.

There's a table with an assortment of herbal teas and infused water, as well as a few little snacks to enjoy.

The rooftop pool is heated and just large enough, and the hot tub sits right at the glass edge. It was mid-November and at one point there were light flurries, so swimming felt strange at first, but after a hot soak was a welcomed way to cool off.

The service was what made our stay extra special. Everyone is so attentive and went out of their way to make sure we were relaxed and completely at home during our stay.

Instead of dinner in, we decided to walk to dinner in town. It's a small town so it's a very short walk. We settled on the Elora Brewing Company, as Ryan had wanted to try it anyway. We shared that night's feature - Fried Chicken and BBQ with all the fixings, as well as a flight of some of their beers. The Elora Borealis was a favourite.

The next morning, we made a coffee to go in the lobby and went for a walk around town.

The hotel has brought a lot of support to the town and as a result, there are a number of great little shops and restaurants to enjoy.

We had planned to grab lunch at the Elora Bread Trading Co., as a girlfriend highly recommended it, but hours after opening, they were already sold out for the day! I did discover a great little (tiny!) general store called The Elora Mercantile, where they pack picnic baskets with fine foods and are stocked to the brim with wooden brushes and the best cleaning supplies, kitchen gadgets and other pretty household things.

We walked to the other side of the gorge and wandered around the outdoor chapel.

I think this little out building, right at the entrance, was my favourite. It's a private guest cottage that you can rent.

After working up a sufficient appetite, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy breakfast. We were served one of the best cappuccinos I've enjoyed, and we definitely didn't regret adding the basket of warm pastries at the last minute!

While dropping everything to indulge in this time away was the last thing I wanted, I'm very thankful we did it. It gave us a moment to breathe, and be together. For me to clear my head and a quiet room to write all the lists and mentally prepare myself as much as I could for what was ahead. And for us to laugh at how ridiculously wonderful it felt to enjoy such a luxurious place together!

If you want to read more about the property, or virtually tour it, follow their website here.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

dinner in - a lobster boil

When I imagined having guests stay with us on the East Coast, I imagined a beautiful guest room to put them up in, serving a large breakfast on the island, buffet style as people awoke, and at some point in their holiday, a trip out to the harbour just on the other side of the mountain. We'd show them the Bay, and how low the tides sink, and then we'd pop into the fish market before heading home with our prized lobsters. Later, as the sun was sinking, we'd open a bottle of wine and enjoy the adventure that is a lobster boil.

A lobster boil, for us at least, is such a fun experience to share. They're such interesting creatures and it's such an anticipation! Watching them turn bright red when boiling, then the mess of learning how to crack into them and all the laughs, it's really a lot of fun. And also delicious... So delicious! Having my sister and brother-in-law, and our four nephews, here for spring break was the perfect opportunity for all these things. A highlight was on one of our last evenings when we had a lobster boil. It was all I hoped it would be!

We might as well have taken the boys to the aquarium! It's so much fun watching them admire the lobsters and be able see them up close.

Of course, something as special as a lobster boil deserves it's own special table! And really, it just adds to the whole experience.

For the place settings this time I used some oval ironstone plates as they fit the lobster perfectly. Then a napkin, which is very much needed when one enjoys lobster! A nautical bread plate just felt like an obvious addition and a couple other interesting pieces, like little saucers my sister gave me and tiny bamboo cocktail forks which worked well for dipping pieces of lobster in the clarified butter.

The runner was from Target, on clearance last fall, and I snagged it for under $5.

I also used some copper pieces as they work well with the aged clay pots. This little saucepan was for warming the clarified butter and the medium pot worked perfectly for an wine bucket.

We also opened a bottle of a new favourite wine - Nova 7 from a local winery, Benjamin Bridge.

And obviously, with things as they are, I wasn't able to grab any cut flowers anywhere, but the grocery shop did have one potted pink Hyacinth (that wasn't completely blown open), and a mini white Begonia. They've been sitting on my island, but they livened up the table enough.

These aren't our usual chairs - they're actually our patio chairs - but we've been using them inside this week as there were twelve of us for meals!

My sister found a stack of these sweet little scalloped saucers with a tiny blue print at a thrift store. They work perfectly with Jenny's blue block print napkins. She also found these shallow blue and white bowls at the same time as the others and there are also matching saucers. These worked perfectly for the chowder she made to enjoy while the lobsters steamed. It was beyond! (It may have had something to do with it essentially being seafood poached in whipping cream and butter.)

And this sweet shell was from my nephew. He found it at the harbour and gave it to me especially because it was all white. He was thrilled when I showed him my collection of special shells from all of our favourite beach trips, and then tucked it amongst the others. Here it worked perfectly as a little salt dish.

All the dishes set out ahead of time - a lovely mix of blue and white.

Two large, two pound lobsters were perfect for the four of us.

The novelty of this is so not lost on us! We're always just as excited as anyone else we're sharing it with. The fact that we can drive 15 minutes to the Bay of Fundy to pick out freshly caught lobsters is still so surreal.