In the past two years, we’ve visited Elora Ontario three times. Twice with the kids and most recently just the hubs and me. Every time we go, we are blown away by the scenery, how much there is to see and do and the excellent food.
If you’d just like to do a casual family day trip to Elora for some wandering, hiking or cycling, I’m going to send you to my day trips from Toronto post and ask you to scroll to entry No. 14: Elora & Fergus. There, you’ll find information about the extensive Elora Cataract Trailway, Belwood Lake Conservation Area, Templin Gardens and the spectacular Elora Quarry.
But if you’re looking for a luxe, romantic escape with your partner or a splurge-y overnighter with your besties, stay right here, because I’m about to convince you to save your pennies for a stay at the Elora Mill Hotel & Spa. And I’ll also be sharing some other ways to pass the time beyond the hotel’s gates befitting of this relaxing getaway: shopping, eating and spa’ing. (That’s totally a word.)
*A quick note about the absence of a comma that should absolutely appear between “Elora” and “Ontario” as “Elora, Ontario.” It makes me crazy that for search engine optimization purposes I may need to exclude punctuation for the algorithm to read the phrase properly. Please know that I know better but it’s more important to get as many eyeballs on my content as possible.
A bit about Elora Ontario
Nestled in the township of Centre Wellington, Elora is about an hour-and-a-half west of Toronto, 25 minutes northwest of Guelph, and just a little more than 1.5 hours northeast of London.
Known for limestone architecture and the Gorge, Elora Ontario is considered Canada’s most road-trippable town with good reason. It’s so, so pretty and despite its small footprint, offers quite a lot to do. I grew up hearing people talk about being tossed around in tubes along the Elora Gorge but I’ve come to know it as a quaint, charming destination with well-curated shops and outstanding food.
One of the most beautiful sections of the Grand River runs directly through Elora Ontario, as it winds its way from its source near Wareham before emptying into Lake Erie. The “Elora Falls” — also called the Tooth of Time — and the rapids where people brave high-octane tubing adventures all summer long call Elora home. The best view of this section of the Elora Gorge where the waterfall is, without question, from the patio at the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa.
Elora Mill Hotel and Spa review
In operation since the 1830s, the mill itself — built to take advantage of the power of the waterfall — has been through a few iterations as a mill and hotel. Rebuilt after a fire in 1859, the mill has, at various times, housed a gristmill, sawmill, flour mill, wool factory and distillery. In the ’70s, it became a hotel called the Elora Mill Inn, which later closed in 2010. With a $27 million renovation under its belt, the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa reopened in 2018 as a 30-room luxury boutique hotel, with an onsite spa, gym and restaurant.
Elora Mill rooms
One of the things I love the most about the Elora Mill is that each of its rooms is uniquely designed. Whether it’s different bedding and accent pieces, a special mosaic tile design on the bathroom floor here or perhaps a soaker tub there, a distinctive fireplace or room layout, or aesthetics that shift from light and airy to rich, rugged and distinguished, there’s a captivating magic that comes with the idea of returning to explore what else lays beyond each door.
We were delighted to find our luggage in the massive closet when we arrived in our room, after first attempting to check in before 4 p.m.
We stayed in a Mill Bedroom, which is the least expensive among the eight suite or residence categories. It was spectacularly appointed with more than enough space for the two of us and featured an enchanting vaulted ceiling with rustic wooden beams that, if not original to the building, were convincingly cut and crafted to look original.
I appreciated our view of the Elora Gorge from both the bedroom and grand ensuite. While I’m not normally a “must have hotel view” kind of gal, since we spent so much time in our room during this stay, it was really lovely to wake up to or read beside a window looking down on the rushing water below. You won’t just be coming here to merely rest your head at night, after all.
From the bar fridge stocked with a few cans of pop, bottles of still and sparkling water, to the coffee and tea station with a Nespresso machine, Bodum electric kettle and SLOANE tea bags, the in-room amenities were — overall — well thought out. Body wash, shampoo and conditioner await in an ultra-spacious shower, and the separate water closet is always a swoon-worthy feature.
It would have been nice to have an extra bar of soap for the bathroom since there was only one near the tub, and there’s a curious trend I’ve noticed in the past few years, which continued at the Elora Mill, where we need to request slippers to accompany robes hanging in the closet. It would have also been nice to have the option to use our wood-burning fireplace, but there was no kindling, wood or matches in sight (though I have since learned it can be requested). Those will be the extent of my criticisms. Seriously. That’s how impressive our entire experience was at the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa.
The hotel also passed my razor test. At any luxury hotel, I tell them I’ve forgotten my razor to see if they will offer a shaving kit. This time, I really did forget my razor so it was a relief when the front desk clerk handed me one. This one gets bonus points for being nicely packaged and coming with enough foaming shave cream to do underarms, legs and bikini line with leftovers still in the tube.
Most important for us? Each room at the Elora Mill has a king-sized bed! And, oh, it was a comfy one where I enjoyed one of the most peaceful night’s sleep in recent memory. Due in large part to exceptional soundproofing between the walls and floors; it was extremely quiet around the clock.
But let’s talk pillows. Because if you’ve been a reader here for a while, you know I have strong opinions — especially when it comes to pillows. I am a proud, unapologetic pillow diva. And the pillows at the Elora Mill delivered. Not only were they a comfortable size and loft, the cotton pillowcases were crisp looking but soft against my cheeks and there were extra pillows in the closet, meaning I didn’t have do do my pillow test. (Much like the razor test, if our hotel room doesn’t have enough pillows to comfortably create my own personal Pillow Kingdom, I call reception to request more pillows. I purposely leave out how many or what kind to see if they’ll proactively bring more than one and to test if the spares are as good as the ones on the bed. I really don’t mess around when it comes to hotel reviews, especially in the luxury market.)
I’ve had the pleasure in staying in some very, very nice hotels and this one stood up to just about all of them — including Relais & Chateau properties.
But, I know what you’re thinking: just tell me how much it’s gonna cost me to stay here. It’s a splurge but it’s not the priciest place we’ve ever stayed. If you book far enough ahead of time and can get yourself to Elora Ontario midweek, I’ve seen the Mill Bedrooms priced at $500 per night. If you’re comfortable sharing a king bed with a friend, that means it’s only $250 a night. (Yes, I can rationalize ANYTHING.) The key here is that it’s worth it! We have sadly stayed elsewhere for twice that and been disappointed.
I loved the Elora Mill so much that I’ve already been checking out dates to return later this summer on my own dime. That’s always a good litmus test for me when I’m writing a review: would I pay to stay there again? Yes. At the Elora Mill, yes I would. In a heartbeat.
Elora Mill spa
One of the things I like the most about a stay at the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa is that you don’t need to add on any spa services to take advantage of the spa amenities and water therapies. And if you happen to score a last-minute or cancelled booking, this will be good news since services themselves are often booked out 10 to 12 weeks ahead of time.
Although I didn’t make use of them — because I was busy getting the massage of a lifetime — my husband tells me the sauna and steam room are exactly what you’d expect from a top-tier spa. There’s even a little cafe-like lounge overlooking the Elora Gorge with complimentary cookies, coffee, tea and spa water available. It’s quite pretty and a nice touch to have for guests who aren’t even getting a single service.
That said, it’s got nothing on the third-floor relaxation lounge (teeming with ultra-bougie Moroccan vibes) in which you’ll find yourself after any service. Plush loungers that allow your legs to stretch out before you with rapids on the horizon, a selection of magazines (gawd, I love thumbing a good magazine!) and a quiet stillness befitting of that post-service glow you’ll be rocking.
I had the great fortune of being scheduled for my 60-minute massage with Emily, an RMT who’s a relative newcomer to the Elora Mill spa. She was everything the perfect massage therapist should be, asking my massage history and how much pressure I like before ensuring the temperature was comfortable. Emily made a tiny bit of small talk and then swiftly tapered off, only checking in with me periodically to make sure the pressure was appropriate. Emily has magic hands.
I like a lot of pressure with a really deep-tissue massage. I’m not there to get oiled up and patted on the back with a light Swedish touch. Emily came through and I had a truly therapeutic session that relieved an astonishing amount of pent-up pandemic stress that I’d been carrying in both shoulders.
A luxury spa environment comes with luxury prices. You can expect to pay premium fees for services at the Elora Mill spa and do note that gratuities are not included. I have been to other spas with similar pricing and they didn’t live up to the splurge. This did. And if you’re fortunate enough to have health benefits, you’ll be able to offset at least some of the cost of a massage (which, by Mommy Gearest Math simply means you should really book a second service).
I really wanted to book a facial because the aestheticians at the Elora Mill spa do extractions, which isn’t always easy to find. However, they were fully booked. I guess that just means I need to go back.
Elora Mill water therapies
As a guest at the Elora Mill hotel, you have full use of an outdoor swimming pool that’s heated year-round to an ever-comfortable 31C/88F degrees, plus an outdoor hot tub beside it that was supposedly heated to 39/102, but it felt more like 95ish to me. (Personally, I don’t prefer hot hot tubs but if you’re expecting super hot, you may need to ask someone onsite to crank it up.) The pool is exactly how I keep my own, which meant that despite the 10/50-degree weather we had during our stay, it was beautiful in the water. Getting out and racing to the hot tub was another story…
Forgot your swimmers? No problem. There are trunks and one-piece suits for sale near the front desk in the building that houses the spa.
Lockers are available and the built-in combo-lock mechanism worked like a charm on the first try. If you didn’t wear your robe from your room, there are robes and towels available in the locker rooms.
A final note for families: yes, children are welcome at both the hotel and in the swimming pool. But beyond the swimming pool, there won’t be much for them to do. And, if I were paying $500-1,000 a night to stay somewhere, I wouldn’t be bringing my kids and, frankly, I don’t really want to hear yours either. This is an upscale spa atmosphere and I know I was grateful not to see or hear any kids during our stay. There are literally hundreds of more child-friendly hotels across Ontario you can consider — save this one for your own getaway while someone else watches your kids for 24 hours.
Elora Mill restaurant
We really enjoyed the Elora Mill restaurant, which is onsite and offers both in-room and regular dining. The menu changes frequently based on what’s available from the farm into which this and two other properties get their produce and herbs.
If you’re still not comfortable being unmasked around others, you’ll probably want to have food delivered to your room — about 20 per cent of guests were masked throughout our stay and we saw only saw one staff member in a mask from beginning to end. Restaurant staff graciously agreed to seat us in a separate section of the restaurant and our server remained masked whenever he was at our table, but this was a slower night in the restaurant so don’t bank on having exceptions made.
The wine list is extensive and we spent a lot of time chatting with the wine rep. We both enjoyed lovely glasses of red, but with the creative cocktail list in front of us, we knew we had to venture into the house mixology. Big B had a warm cocktail that was après-ski in a glass, and I enjoyed a daily special that was too good — and too dangerous — to repeat.
Next came the sourdough, made in-house by the head pastry chef, which was everything proper sourdough should be. And as someone who took up sourdough with the rest of the world during the past two years, I appreciate how much work it is to maintain a starter and make one loaf a day, much less enough to feed a two-floor restaurant seven days a week.
We ordered the warm olives (mainly for the promise of an orange essence thanks to the description that I just couldn’t find even though they were very nice); the outstanding whipped ricotta with homemade crackers that put the “crack” in cracker (OMG! So good!); snow crab rillettes, which was exceptionally light and fresh but too mild on the crab front for me; and — the star of the appetizer show — the East Coast lobster and leek terrine with foie gras and poached rhubarb. Close your eyes and try to imagine perfectly cooked lobster meat paired with tender leeks and exceptional foie gras pâté firm enough to hold its shape when sliced that later melts into total perfection in your mouth, and then bits of rhubarb unexpectedly tying it all together.
Dinner was gorgeous. I enjoyed the pan-seared scallops with cauliflower and brown butter hazelnut vin au jus and not only were the scallops quite big, but there were a LOT of them — at least two or three more than I expected based on ordering similar dishes in other high-end restaurants where portions tend to be smaller. I would have preferred some more colour purely for presentation purposes, but that’s a tiny criticism.
The gnocchi (with mussels and poached leaks) called to Big B with its ham hock broth. It didn’t disappoint in taste but it was a small enough portion that he requested an additional bread basket and ate the whole thing.
Dessert was a Maritime-inspired spread: a panna cotta and another pastry whose name I can’t recall. Both were everything I hoped they’d be and we were left feeling comfortable — not so full someone would have to roll me out after undoing my pants.
We opted for breakfast in our room, not least because we could enjoy it near our window using the sill to house our tray and many plates.
If there’s a croissant on the menu, I will order it. And judge a pastry chef harshly if it’s not up to snuff. I’m a tad snooty about a lot of things, but perhaps snootiest about croissants — second, maybe, only to pillows. So when I tell you that this was the best croissant I’ve eaten in Canada — ever — it comes with a ridiculously critical palate. In fact, the Elora Mill’s croissant was so good that I didn’t even touch the fleur de sel-topped butter or homemade preserve that accompanied it.
I also ordered the Morning Thyme cocktail just for fun, and it was better than any mimosa I’ve had.
The brioche toast with handmade hazelnut spread was good but altogether too sweet for me, though the hubs devoured his share.
For mains, we went with the Miller Breakfast and Croque Madame with smoked trout. My dish, the latter, won for presentation and although I was jealous of Big B’s potato fritters, every bite of my breakfast was beautifully balanced in both flavour and texture.
When you book your room, you can add on a breakfast package for another $50 per night. Do it.
Elora downtown & Elora Ontario shops
What would a luxury escape in Elora Ontario be without a little shopping?
Downtown Elora is easily walkable, but be sure to bring a healthy debit card along. Just like Thornbury or Stratford, Elora’s shops tend to cater to a more discerning customer with the price tags to match. Yet it stands out because of careful, thoughtful curation — shop after shop.
- Lemon Tree & Co. Interiors — a friend told me to check this place out and I’m so glad she did. I scored a beautiful tea towel; farmhouse-chic scissors that are more for decor purposes but they happen to cut really smoothly, too; and a buck skull that was just what my front entryway vignette needed. There are also beautiful linen napkins and placemats and a stunning selection of vintage goods
- Karger Gallery — not so much a gallery in the traditional art sense (though there are some interesting art pieces) but very much a gallery of goods where you’ll find modern furniture and housewares like heirloom-worthy handmade pottery on one side and a broad selection of clothing and jewelry on the other
- reFIND Salvage — tucked into the Elora Mews, this compact shop is busting at the seams with restored home decor but also boasts the biggest selection of chalk paint and brushes I’ve seen in one place
- Steve’s Sheepskin & Leather Shop — the most buttery, fluffy collection of New Zealand sheepskin rugs
- neōb Lavender Boutique — it started to rain so we ducked into the closest shop and found ourselves in lavender heaven! But I actually walked out with lemongrass products because I am obsessed with the smell of lemongrass and the store had a lemongrass-scented hand sanitizer AND an air spray that leaves my bedroom and ensuite smelling like a spa
- Noinkees — definitely my favourite clothing store we visited, the vibe here is clean and coastal with neutral pieces that all work together plus a nicely tailored selection of jewelry
Other Elora Ontario restaurants & eateries
Or, make that treat-eries! Eating in Elora Ontario is always a foodie’s dream. When you’re visiting the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa, be sure you get out into town to check out the local food scene, too. Here are my recos:
- The Porch Light — I wrote about this restaurant in my road trips from Toronto post (just scroll to No. 14: Elora & Fergus Road Trip), where you’ll also find saliva-inducing food porn
- The Tartlet — one of my followers suggested high tea at The Wild Tart, but we didn’t have time so instead I popped into The Tartlet, which is a front-of-house bakery attached to it. The high-end dessert creations change every few weeks but based on everything we tried, I suspect it’s winner after winner
- Sweet Distractions — when we came to Elora with our kids, be assured this was their favourite stop!
And then we have La Fontana — I’ve saved the best for last! Oh. My. Word. La Fontana doesn’t look like much from outside, but you’ll be stepping into a little slice of Italy…founded and led by an actual Italian. Don’t let the moderate prices fool you either; every dish is made in-house from scratch — including the fresh pasta — and each one will wow you.
You need to start with the hero dish, the tomato and burrata salad. By some sorcery, the chef makes balsamic pearls that are sprinkled all over the plate and add the same kind of pop of texture and flavour to the dish that roe does, but with a distinctly balsamic burst.
The charcuterie board is exquisite, with homemade focaccia running down the middle and more accoutremements that we were able to eat (though I finished every single pickled yellow beet because OMG).
We loved the bucatini bison Bolognese, not only because the pasta was cooked the way pasta is supposed to be (perfectly al dente) but because there was just the right ratio of pasta to meaty sauce. And we also devoured the “Perfect Day” pizza with hints of garlic, pear, prosciutto and and brie. The crust is what I expect from a proper Italian restaurant.
Finishing with the carrot cake was definitely the right choice, with presentation that was elevated but not obnoxious and taste to match.
Well, that’s it for now. I’ll update this post after future visits to Elora Ontario (even without the comma). In the meantime, I hope you book a stay and enjoy it as much as we did.
DISCLAIMER: The Elora & Fergus tourism board in partnership with Elora Mill Hotel & Spa hosted our stay to facilitate content. All opinions are my own.