My cell phone carrier ceased providing service as soon as we crossed the border from the U.S. into Canada. Our guest suite didn't have a television or telephone. The property isn't open to day spa guests - only overnight guests are welcome to use the spa. There are only nine guest rooms and when property isn't at full occupancy, you may feel like you almost have the place to yourself. If it sounds like I'm complaining, let me back up a bit.
It’s a crisp but bright sunny day and I've just arrived at Dorset Manor in Port Hope, Ontario (Canada) with three of my favorite spa girlfriends. We have exactly 24 hours before we have to head back to our everyday lives: husbands, jobs, kids and caring for our homes. Our drive up from Syracuse, NY was far shorter than we expected - only 3 3/4 hours - and we arrive almost an hour early. At most properties, this would not be met with a warm welcome. But when Christine, the Innkeeper at Dorset Manor (how cool is that?), welcomed us with open arms despite our early arrival, we knew this was no ordinary property.
Before we knew it we were sitting fireside in the sunny yellow living room completing brief paperwork, reviewing our dining and spa schedules and feeling as if we had just arrived at the home of a gracious personal friend. Would we like a tour? Yes! Would we like to have lunch at noon instead of 12:30? Yes. Would we like some tea while we wait? Yes. And so it went for our entire stay - there was always someone nearby to offer assistance, have a friendly chat with, or if we desired, to be left completely alone to recharge our batteries. From our pre-arrival confirmation to our departure, no detail was left to chance.
I'd been to Dorset Manor's sister property, Ste. Anne's Spa in Grafton Ontario, in the fall of 2010 and so I knew, somewhat, what to expect. What I couldn't predict was how utterly relaxed and cared for I'd feel during my stay at Dorset Manor. Days here are simple: wake, dine, spa, dine, spa, afternoon tea, relax, dine. Repeat. If you need some exercise in between, the town of Port Hope beckons you to hop on one of Dorset Manor’s complimentary bicycles for a spin around town or to grab a walking map and go for a stroll.
Purchased by Ste. Anne’s owner Jim Corcoran in May 2011 and opened after an extensive two-week renovation period, Dorset Manor offers the same staff, the same unparalleled service, the same stellar menu and the same brand as the original Ste. Anne’s Spa. The Dorset is conducive to conversation in an intimate setting surrounded by a safe environment, while Ste. Anne’s is larger, more social and with a few extra amenities.
Katriona Dean, Marketing Coordinator, had this to say about a guest staying at Ste. Anne’s Spa or Dorset Manor: “We cocoon them, take them away from the world and send them back recharged.” One Dorset Manor guest who had never been to a spa before had this to say within a few hours of arrival: “Life is good. No one is asking me what’s for dinner. I could get used to this!”
Dorset Manor is comprised of four levels. The small but well-appointed co-ed spa with a sunny lounge and lake views is on the lowest level. It’s an airy natural light-filled space adjacent to a brick patio with a hot tub. Just below the terrace area is a seasonal tiled swimming pool. The spa is decorated in soft shades of green, botanical and floral prints and accented with butterfly and bird artwork. The potent aroma from the eucalyptus steam room floats up to the main level – an instant relaxation signal the minute you walk in. The main floor (1st floor) is where the dining room, living rooms, reception area and library are housed. The 2nd and 3rd floors are devoted to guest rooms.
Guests move easily between floors, from the comfort of their individually appointed guest room to the friendly open living rooms to the sun-filled dining room and bright and airy spa relaxation room. Attire is a hooded velour robe and slippers during the day and evenings can be casual or more formal, depending on your preference.
The climb to our 3rd floor Victoria Suite was worth every step to spend the night in the ultra-spacious brightly lit two-room suite. Freshly painted in contemporary colors of mustards and chocolates, it mixes the old Victorian sense of the mansion with modern-day. Our suite is more like a spacious apartment minus the kitchen (not needed, see dining section of this review). When we arrive in our room soft music is playing and it sets the tone for relaxation to begin. As we have our first moment to enjoy the space, the sun is setting over Lake Ontario. We have an excellent view of the lake from the windows of the Victoria suite.
With over 1000 square feet of comfort, the Victoria suite is Dorset Manor's largest and most luxurious accommodation. Its adjoining living and bedroom areas are decorated in a warm and classic renaissance style. The Victoria features an antique king bed, 2 queen beds and private rooftop widow's walk with 360-degree views of Lake Ontario and Port Hope. Just taking in that view alone facilitated the unwinding process.
It was convenient that the Victoria room could sleep three girlfriends and we could each luxuriate in our own cozy bed (the suite can accommodate up to 6) without having to stay in separate rooms. This made it really fun to hang out after dinner in the privacy of our own suite and chat until late at night. Our fourth girlfriend was just a flight of stairs away in her own palatial second floor deluxe room.
I needed a stepstool (yes, one is provided) to climb into my giant king bed. We have two bathrooms – one features a shower and separate oversize jetted tub for two plus a sink. The other features a double sink vanity and toilet. It’s a great layout for a girlfriend getaway, giving everyone plenty of space to spread out. There are closets and shelves galore. But the most fun feature of our little getaway space is the stairway that leads to our own private terrace, overlooking the lake and the town of Port Hope.
I had told my spa girlfriends one thing before we arrived – eat lightly in preparation for continuous grazing. While the food is incredibly natural and healthy and the portions are right size, the courses are many and the meals are frequent: you nourish your body and soul with four meals a day. Dorset Manor is not a detox spa but instead offers organic, wholesome eating in a style of comforting country cuisine. The chef and kitchen staff can cater to every dietary preference; I have seen firsthand the attention and care that goes into serving a dining guest with a food sensitivity. Be warned: transitioning back to your everyday way of eating will not be simple!
At lunch on our arrival day, the 10-table dining room is filled with couples enjoying their final meal before departure. The setting is white linen tablecloths, fresh flowers and black napkins and the service is well executed. We marvel over the vibrant and unexpected flavors of sweet butternut squash soup with a sour cream drizzle and rice noodles with sautéed vegetables, tomatoes and cream sauce topped with cornmeal crusted salmon.
Our lunch is fabulous, but we are equally wowed by dessert offerings of milk chocolate mousse cake – a dense layer of rich chocolate cake topped by airy chocolate mousse – and a lighter lemon tart. Our bellies full after the bountiful meal, we float out of the dining room and are pleasantly surprised that our room is ready two hours before guaranteed check-in time. That’s the thing about Ste. Anne’s properties – they do everything with a similar pattern of excellence. The staff does their best to get you in your room as quickly as possible. “Guests in their rooms are happy guests”, said Kara, one of the innkeepers at the Dorset.
Classic afternoon tea is a big deal at Dorset Manor. The first thing you notice about the tea menu is an entire page devoted to tea, fourteen varieties in all. Tea and house-made granola is served all day at refreshment centers throughout the inn and the Inn Repose variety is the perfect bedtime tea with gentle rooibos, mint and chamomile. Our other favorite was the new spirited Festive Flair. If you’re looking to bridge the gap between visits, you can order tea from their online boutique or pick some up before you depart.
At dinner, the dining room transforms from its sunny daytime self into a more upscale dining experience. Buttery free-range organically raised beef tenderloin was the star, but fennel and sweet potato with braised red cabbage in a red wine reduction played an intensely flavored supporting role. Once again, dessert wins top honors for the chocolate sampler platter: white chocolate bark with cranberry, almond and coconut, chocolate mousse cake, chocolate macaroon and white chocolate brûlée. While the Dorset Manor isn’t licensed to serve alcohol, your server will graciously open and chill your wine or favorite beverage for you. In a gesture of “they’ve thought of everything”, a guest fridge is provided to store your wine before dinner.
The next morning arrives with bright sunshine and crisp temperatures yet again. It’s hard to imagine a season you wouldn’t want to be at this beautiful place. It’s late winter and the bare trees reveal yet another beautiful glimpse of the lake.
I enjoyed two spa treatments during my stay at Dorset Manor, the seasonal Maple Shower Treatment (my therapist was Shannon) and the popular Earth Stone Facial with Jennifer. For the maple shower treatment, fresh maple syrup was mixed with cane sugar. I was scrubbed, wrapped in plastic and covered in a blanket. While simmering in the hydration of the scrub, Shannon thoroughly massaged my face and feet right down to every individual toe. The treatment concluded with an invigorating Vichy shower and a fragrant application of maple cream.
Here’s the thing I’ve discovered about these special Canadian spas: they excel at offering self-care and in taking care of their guests. You will undoubtedly feel very well taken care of. And you'll never miss the telephone, television or day spa guests.
DORSET MANOR SPA
175 Dorset Street
Port Hope, ON, L1A 1G4
Reservations and Inquiries: 1-888-346-6772
Local Telephone and Guest Services: 905-885-7367
Reservations Email: firstname.lastname@example.org