by Holly Crawford
When the leaves begin to turn to brilliant hues of red and gold, and the mood strikes to take a drive in the country, the Headwater Hills area just north of Toronto makes a perfect destination. But, be sure to pack an overnight bag, so you won't miss the real hidden gem of those rolling hills: Millcroft Inn & Spa.
Nestled next to Shaw's Creek, in the tiny village of Alton, the historic Millcroft Inn beckons with its combination of vintage charm and modern amenities. The inn was purchased recently by Vintage Hotels ““ the group that owns and operates the highly acclaimed Pillar & Post, Prince of Wales and Queen's Landing properties ““ and has since undergone a gentle facelift to bring it to their exacting standards.
As you round the bend to the front entrance of the inn, you feel as if you've stepped back in time as the main building's faí§ade appears on its narrow lane, flags flapping in the breeze.
The Main Mill, as it's known, was once The Alton Knitting Mill. The site was initially cleared by settlers, beginning with Thomas Russell in about 1834. In the 1840s, several mills operated on the site, harnessing the power of the creek to produce textiles. In 1881, Benjamin Ward built the substantial four-storey stone mill, which has become the Millcroft Inn.
Massive Georgia pine beams and stone from local quarries went into the mill's construction, and can still be seen today. Integral to the development of the village of Alton, the mill was operated until 1965, when production ceased and the contents were sold.
Today, the mill and surrounding buildings can be enjoyed for their original charm, in an idyllic rural setting with the luxury of fine dining and a world class spa just steps away.
Upon check in at the Main Mill, vehicle and bags are whisked away to my room in The Manor so I can enjoy a stroll around the grounds. The Mill turns out to have a lovely terrace adjacent to the creek, with incredible views of the water that once powered industry here.
The Inn enjoys 100 acres of riverside woodland and meadow, providing excellent hiking, and cross-country skiing come wintertime. The grounds also boast manicured lawns and classic country gardens that are often host to weddings and outdoor events.
Championship-calibre golf and exceptional shopping are also moments away, if you would like to explore the surrounding area. Another retired mill within walking distance of the inn is home to art galleries and studios, and you'll find a thriving arts scene in the surrounding communities with numerous galleries to explore.
Back at the Inn, it's time to head over to the spa.
The spa at Millcroft Inn is a proud member of Ontario's Finest Spas, and features state-of-the-art facilities and a broad range of services, available to both overnight and day guests (the spa is a popular spot to spend an afternoon of pampering).
The 9,000 sq. ft. spa incorporates 17 treatment areas, including 11 private treatment rooms and three hydrotherapy rooms. A fitness room, outdoor terrace and healing garden, indoor and outdoor pools, indoor whirlpool, infrared sauna, and a fully licensed café are also part of the facility.
I relax in the Woodlands Lounge while waiting for my appointment. Fireside seating and fruit-infused water make this a lovely spot to settle in and enjoy the view, pre- or post-treatment.
The spa menu covers everything from the standard fare of manis and pedis and facials to more exotic selections including authentic Japanese Ofuro treatments and Swiss Shower Kurs. The Organic Chocolate Body Wrap seemed simply too delicious too miss, and it did not disappoint.
The heavenly, yet delicately, scented chocolate treatment is a true indulgence leaving me completely relaxed and my skin as soft as silk. Used for centuries in Europe, the body wrap is one of the oldest natural healing methods in the world. It is one of the most effective and relaxing ways to promote the removal of toxins from the body. The treatment starts with a full body exfoliation, then you are covered in an organic chocolate body paste application and cocooned in a snug, warm body wrap. It finishes with a relaxing head and facial massage and a full body application of moisturizing cream.
As day fades to evening, the Millcroft Inn also meets the tastes of the most discerning foodies with “four diamond” cuisine at the Inn dining room.
Chef Roberto Fracchioni is passionate about food. Before heading into the Main Mill dining room, I meet Chef in the herb garden for a lesson about local food and growing your own herbs. The herb garden sits just outside the kitchen windows and is plucked each day to add fresh flavour to diner's plates.
Proud of fresh, local and homemade fare being served to his guests, we also dig our hands into pasta dough he's made that afternoon for a lesson in making handmade pasta. Truly an art form unto itself, I know the awkward shapes turned out in the classroom won't make it to the table that night.
The Inn offers weekends catering to gourmands, where you can sample local fare as well as learn the tricks of the trade from Chef Fracchioni himself.
After a sumptuous meal ““ expertly matched by the Inn's sommelier ““ it's time to take the day's final stroll across the gardens to my room in the The Manor.
The Manor ““ once the spacious home of the original mill owners ““ has 10 gracious, heritage-inspired guest rooms. Each is decorated in its own style, and has its own unique charm. My room this night is on the main floor of the old house and is brimming with character. Antique furnishings are complemented with modern comforts. A fireplace is the focal point on one side of the room, and a soft, lofty bed the other. The sweet surprise of the room is discovered just off the bathroom. An original entry door remains, and leads out to a charming veranda complete with wicker chairs and a lilac bush.
While much of the historic inn site remains the same as it did so many years ago, it has been respectfully transformed into a country retreat with the charm and grace one would expect from a fine, old country estate.
The Millcroft Inn & Spa offers an extensive selection of getaways whether you are looking for a ladies-only weekend, a golf excursion, culinary adventure, pampering, a quiet romantic escape or to reclaim your health.