When I ask 93-year-old Annie Brinkman why she keeps coming back to E'Terra, our fellow guest leans on her walking stick and looks thoughtfully around the grounds of the Bruce Peninsula ecolodge before answering.
"There's an energy here," she says, tapping the stick on the ground. "I mean it. An energy. Do you feel it?"
I'm starting to.
My wife, Janine, and I showed up the day before at this secluded six-suite inn with the red eyes and dazed expression of sleep-deprived, new parents; eager to test E'Terra's promise of an "eco-picurean" experience.
Built of reclaimed stone and timber, powered by green energy and serving a gourmet locavore menu, the lodge has received numerous environmental awards since opening in 2006, including a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. Yet its designers have spared no expense to outfit it with all the trappings of a luxury boutique hotel, from high-end furnishings and spa-style bathrooms to fine European linens and hand-woven carpets in each suite.
Our wilderness excursions usually involve canoes, tents and donating a pint of blood to the local mosquito population. So we're pleasantly surprised at how quickly E'Terra has us feeling connected with our surroundings. The facility is set on 213 metres of private coastline in the middle of the peninsula's UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Its open, West Coast style of architecture and use of local building materials create a sense of organic unity between building and landscape. The transition from indoors to out feels seamless. Each guest room and common area looks over the bay or coastal forest, with colour schemes, original artwork and handicrafts tastefully co-ordinated to complement the view.
Maybe it's a coincidence, but our infant slept peacefully through the night - a rarity for her. On that basis alone, I can already feel the stress leaching out of my body.
But E'Terra is not just about unwinding in the woods. There's a holistic concern here for rejuvenating guests, as well as relaxing them. The process begins with cuisine. Breakfast this morning is fresh baked oat cakes, topped with berries and locally made preserves, served alongside poached eggs from a nearby farmers market and a tomato and cucumber salad sourced from the inn's organic garden.
Once you're fed, you're ready to let the environment go to work. After breakfast, we hike a private trail down to the Lake Huron shoreline. Wild orchids, morel mushrooms and delicate ferns sprout beneath mature stands of maple, birch and ash - three of four sacred trees in local Anishinabe tradition.
The fourth - white cedar - grows best on the sheer limestone and dolomite cliffs that make up the Niagara Escarpment. So when we reach the shore, we climb into one of the inn's canoes and paddle down the coast. The cedars are famous for their longevity; 500-year-old specimens are common. Scientists recently estimated one cliff cedar on the peninsula to be 1,050 years old.
Most of the cedars top out at a couple of feet, their growth limited by minuscule root space on the cliff faces, their trunks warped from centuries of storms. But there's something about encountering an organism that could predate the Vikings' discovery of North America that casts a net of quiet respect as we float by.
I don't know what Annie Brinkman would call it, but I'm definitely feeling a blend of physical tranquillity and contact high when I get back to the lodge. Pamyla Love smiles when I try to describe the sensation. She conducts holistic treatments for E'Terra's guests, including therapeutic touch and body-energy massage. Chi's and negative ions are her second language and even she gets tongue-tied. "The frequency here is so high you can't talk about it," she says. "You can only feel it."
I'm a traditionalist when it comes to massage - I need to be hurt by a Swede in order to feel I got my money's worth. So I give Janine my spot with Love and take the baby for another walk instead. When Janine returns, her dreamy smile makes me wonder if I made the right call.
"Ummmm," she says, melting into one of our room's plump armchairs. "It was like she put me in a really pleasant coma."
Dinner is prepared by E'Terra's owner, Laurie Adams. The five courses are flawless, from the yellow tomato and basil soup appetizer to the main course of Georgian Bay whitefish marinated in honey maple wine vinegar and hemp seed, to the black cherry, apricot and blueberry chocolate parfait.
Adams joins us for a nightcap after the meal. "This whole place is just a building project gone mad," she laughs, pouring us a glass of homemade rose petal wine. "But we have people who keep coming back here for the space, for the energy. I've had people show up not speaking a word and then hug me or cry before they leave."
On cue, our baby starts squawking. We say our good nights and take the outdoor path back to our room. The biosphere is a dark sky preserve and the stars are fierce. The baby nods off again as we walk. She's napped so much today, I wonder if she'll let us sleep much tonight. But I'm not worried.
We'll be leaving here tomorrow feeling recharged.
IF YOU GO
E'Terra is open year-round with experiences to match each season. Bed and breakfast begins at $380 a day (double occupancy, minimum two-night stay). Dinner is highly recommended. All diets are accommodated, from candida- to sulphite-free. Guests are welcome to bring their own wine selections. Given the locavore approach to the menu, Niagara wines are typically your best bet. eterra.ca
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