THE LAP OF LUXURY: OVERNIGHT AT THE ELORA MILL & SPA

WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN

‘I can’t believe you’re sitting with your back to the dining room,’ Liz remarks with incredulity once the hostess has left us to our devices at a four-seater in a manifestly desirable corner of this lavish space. Liz knows me well; that is, as someone who usually delights in the pastime of people-watching whenever we go out to eat – my back always to the wall. ‘And yet,’ she adds, ‘I can certainly understand why you’ve chosen that seat.’ She pulls her chair closer to mine until we’re both sitting with our backs to the other diners. And together we stare at the wall in front of us. Glass from floor to ceiling. And on the other side – the most magnificent view.

 ‘I don’t think I would ever tire of this,’ I remark, my eyes transfixed by the churning landscape on the other side of the glass. Underneath and ahead of us, the Grand River swirls and foams, rushing between towering gorge walls. Down to the left, at water’s edge, outcroppings of trees and bushes completely covered in ice form an orchestra of stalagmites. To our right, on top of the gorge wall, a picture-perfect stone building sits perched at cliff’s edge.

 A few hours before, we had been swimming on the rooftop of that building – in the heated pool, under gently falling snow. We will return there for massages in the morning before getting back to our ordinary lives. Indeed, we seem to have found a most magical refuge from the world: overnighting at the Elora Mill & Spa – a spectacular retreat that can surely claim its place among the most breathtaking hotels and spas the world over.

Before Liz and I lose ourselves completely in the scene before us, our server, Chris, arrives to interrupt our reverie with sparkling water, a plate of fresh-baked bread and butter, and a proposition. ‘I’d be happy to take your order from the menu,’ he begins, ‘or I can take care of you by having Chef send out a good assortment of the kitchen’s greatest hits.’ Without hesitation, we take Chris up on his offer and he asks if we’d like wine pairings with each course.

Liz nods affirmatively; I concur, though for a moment I’m tempted to go an alternate route and have another negroni – having almost reached the bottom of my first, which I’d ordered before dinner in the Mill’s cozy Penstock Lounge where exposed, rough-hewn stone walls, a dramatic penstock pipe re-purposed to stow spirits, and a massive stone hearth replete with roaring fire held us captive. (Indeed, the Lounge’s fireside couch just about challenges the restaurant’s fantastic gorge view for best seat in the place.)

By the time our dishes begin to arrive from the kitchen, Liz and I are in states of absolute calm  and ease – invoked not only by the mesmerizing view, but also by our server Chris’ exceptional ability to be unfailingly attentive, refreshingly charming, and completely unobtrusive all at once. And the food: it easily keeps pace with the awesomeness all around. Our culinary journey begins with ‘Cured Hamachi Ceviche’ (with pomegranate molasses, clementine curd, champagne remoulade) and ‘Country Pork Terrine’ (with triple crunch mustard, preserved farm vegetables, crostini). While I am quick to echo Liz’s superlatives about the ceviche, I am quietly delighted to have most of the terrine to myself. Delectable.

Our next course, a house-made ‘Cavatelli’ (with smoked sturgeon, fried brussel sprouts, dill and walnut pesto, caviar beurre blanc) is served family style. There’s something quite lovely about sharing plates at restaurants, where having a course presented with serving utensils for each of us somehow confirms the interconnectivity, friendship, and love that food affords. As for the pasta itself? Heaven on a plate. And an auspicious prelude for our mains. For Liz, the ‘Grilled Market Fish’ – steelhead trout, served with crab brandade, white turnip, and yuzu sabayon. Let’s just say Liz’s propensity for sharing quickly subsides after her first bite. Which, on this night, is okay with me because I am more than happy to enjoy my main alone. ‘Grilled Wild Boar’ served with fire-roasted pear, spiced sauerkraut, crispy pork belly, and blackberry jus. And a side of grilled lobster with lemon thyme butter. Just because. And dessert? ‘Tangerine Brulée Tartlette’ (with spiced citrus zest, candied mint) and ‘Apple Cardamom Cheesecake’ (with pomegranate coulis, apple chip). Shared.

Fast forward a couple hours. After another stint in the Penstock Lounge followed by a quiet tour on foot to a couple of Elora’s downtown watering holes, we’re back in the comfort of our room at The Mill. While Liz relaxes in the spacious suite’s free-standing tub (that overlooks the main room through custom barn doors) and I sprawl on a luxurious couch by the roaring wood fire that’s been prepared for us by Mill staff, I marvel at how we’ve been transported by this entire experience. Pulling my cozy Mill-supplied robe tighter around me, I am lost in a reverie fringed by the dancing flames. ‘Can you believe this place is in our own backyard?’, I mumble to Liz – lifting to my mouth another chunk of artisanal cheese from the charcuterie board left for us by the staff who enkindled the fire. ‘What did you say?’, she asks, shifting her body in the tub until her head is able peek through the barn doors dividing the washroom from the main suite. ‘I couldn’t hear you.’

I look down at the cheese board. Reach for a bit of honeycomb. Pop it into my mouth. Continue to watch the flames. Think back over the day’s events. That swims beneath the falling snow. And the exquisite dinner. Our view of the gorge. Those fantastic cocktails in the Lounge. The stroll downtown. And now, here, this comfortable, beguiling fire – right in our own suite. And I repeat to Liz, a little louder and clearer this time: ‘I can’t even believe we’re anywhere close to home.’

And that’s the point, I guess. That The Mill has succeeded in moving us outside of place and time. And has so warmly embraced us into its own exquisite little world – in the lap of luxury.