Wakefield Mill: Rustic Oasis
There are few places in the Ottawa-Gatineau area as charming as Wakefield. A word so often used in describing similar places would be “nestled,” but in this case it’s more fitting than usual: built around an estuary on the Gatineau River, the town is surrounded by rolling protective hills that make it seem like you’re entering a hidden hamlet from another era. With its quaint covered bridge and proximity to Gatineau Park, the village and surrounding forest make you feel instantly distanced from whatever highways or cities you came from that day, even though you’re only 25 minutes outside of Ottawa. And, as in the 19th century, the focal point is the mill, built beside a natural waterfall that gushes over granite rocks.
The historic 19th-centry mill was converted in 2000 into a beacon of hospitality by Wakefield locals Lynn Berthiaume and Robert Milling, who have tastefully maintained the pre-existing structure and added natural wood and stone extensions over the years. A curved stone veranda extends from the foundation, where a year-round outdoor hot tub relaxes spa and hotel visitors year-round, with the addition of a solarium in the restaurant area being the only outward signs of 20th-century construction. While we were there, we got to take a look at a third building in the Mill’s cluster, a 13-room “green” guesthouse and spa structure that looks over the River above the falls and will open in May, 2011 (a green roof, geothermal heating and a group spa are part of the plan).
Although it is impossible to forget the setting and the quietude that reign in this special place, when you find yourself enjoying the table d’hôte at the Inn’s restaurant, your mind is only able to focus on one thing: the fabulous food. Chef Romain Riva was launching a new menu when we visited, and our sweet and snappy server Loan was eager to ask how we liked it. My dapper colleague and I were unable to keep a straight face during the appetizer course, which was frankly mind-blowing. While he enjoyed an assemblage of foie gras with crispy spiced bread and cider sorbet (you will die), I went for the somewhat gayer “Micha,” a superlative dish that I will never forget. A plate-sized ravioli stuffed with fresh herbs and Floralpe cheese, luxuriating in a gorgeous purple Grand Marnier sauce and served with cranberry “cream jam,” topped off by— wait for it— a piece of delectable dark chocolate. The warmed baguette and excellent olive oil with rock salt were helpful in wiping up the remaining sauce.
Rustic main dishes of rabbit with lobster mousse and a disassembled seafood casserole were the kind of tasty winter food that you would enjoy most after a day of cross-country skiing, which is another of the Inn’s main attractions—the driveway ends where the Gatineau Park ski trail begins. Looking out on a vertical rock face with clinging snow and low-hanging hardwoods, we sat back and were dazzled by an ingenious dessert dégustation of deep-fried spiced truffle (OMG, again) and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake pieces. It was clear that Chef Riva’s more experimental dishes truly stood out: it’s the kind of food that seems to alter your brain chemistry, but only with ultra-fresh ingredients.
After a dinner like that, you can enjoy live music in the bar, or at one of the other establishments in the village (i.e. the Blake Sheep Inn), but really, the feeling you get most of all is “I don’t want to leave.” You crawl into bed after a long bath in one of the giant tubs to be found in every room, where a plate of freshly plated macaroons with blackberries awaits you, and enjoy the silence of the Old Mill and its tastefully simple rooms. Natural wood, cream and yellow hues soothe the senses with many rooms bearing the original raw stone. Without veering into anything too modern, the décor keeps your mind at ease and lets you enjoy that sense of safety you get from being in an old stone building.
But it wouldn’t be an Inn without breakfast, and here we found more attention to detail and comfort. A buffet for the busier guests and a menu for the loungers (ok, so maybe my hair was still wet from the outdoor hot tub), the service was overseen by Montréal transplant Michel, the energetic and friendly maître d’. Hilary Clinton had been there for the North American Foreign Ministers’ Meeting i, and we got to hear about the Inn’s brush with The Fame. On our tour of the grounds the next day, our gregarious guide Tasha informs us that the adjacent cemetery is the final resting place of late Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, after whom so much is named. “Was he from here?” I ask, to which she replied, without missing a beat, “No, but he stayed here.” And with this scenery, service, and Micha, I would too.
Overnight stay with the superb table d’hôte and breakfast starting at $152
60 Mill Road
Canada, J0X 3G0