It's anything but a dog's life at Langdon Hall Country House and Spa near Cambridge in Southwestern Ontario. Just ask Walter, the hotel's loveable Bernese mountain dog greeter, garden helper and occasional thief of irresistibly rich croissants.
Originally built as a Federal Revival mansion by the famous New York Astor family at the turn of the 20th century, Langdon Hall hotel is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season. Owned and operated by architect William Bennett and his wife, Mary Beaton, the Relais & Châteaux inn (one of 11 in Canada) has won a number of awards, including AAA Five Diamond status and best hotel honours from Condé Nast Traveler.
But perhaps the most unique accolade, says Beaton, is "a legacy of little Langdons running around" – boys so named for their rather romantic place of conception.
And yet, as executive chef Jason Bangerter notes, it somehow manages to remain below the radar – although not among a dedicated band of return guests. Bangerter joined the inn in October, 2013, after Jonathan Gushue left the position. "I didn't really know a lot about Langdon Hall until I came here to see about the new job," he says. "Once I was here, I fell in love. It's like escaping to Brittany, but just outside Toronto."
I've been going to Langdon Hall since the early 1990s, when my husband and I booked the smallest room in the house. We didn't want to leave and stayed a second night – only to be bumped up to an extravagant loft suite. Over the years, we've returned to discover that in winter, there's a network of Carolinian forest trails perfect to explore by snowshoe. In spring, it's best to pack wellies and to plan on hoofing it to neighbouring farmers fields or simply pick a good book to read by the fire. Poolside is de rigueur in summer and harvest riches in autumn make it a great culinary getaway. In other words, a place for all seasons. What sets Langdon Hall apart from so many luxury hotels, however, is a friendly, intimate atmosphere established by the owners. Bennett and Beaton are regularly on site and attentive, whether researching the property's cross-border history or chatting with guests.
Known around the hotel as "Mr. and Mrs. B," the couple took a chance when they bought the run-down mansion and 14 hectares of forest and British-style gardens in 1987. (The property has now grown to 30 hectares.) Mortgage rates then were a scorching 13 per cent and the area was not known as a travel destination. But two years later, with the main house restored to its proper elegance and with the additions of a charming pool and new cloister rooms built into the old garden wall, Langdon Hall was ready to open.
A quarter century later, Bennett looks back: "It's a bit like a novel, every year a page or a chapter. It has become a continuation of stories." Some of those tales include what Beaton calls "Fawlty Towers moments." There was the time when one of the irrigation lines broke, sending streams of water into the air. Or when Walter the dog snatched scones on the pretty terrace – a misdemeanour corrected with notes of apology from Walter and complimentary glasses of champagne. (Basil Fawlty never would have done that.)
Langdon Hall's more distant history is prominently on display, from portraits of the Astors and the original owners, Eugene Langdon Wilks and his family, to the Whisper Room – once the place where women convened after dinner. (A concave ceiling effectively contains the voices within the room, which allowed ladies to discreetly speak among themselves.)
Bennett continues to plumb the depths of the property's storied past. Lately, he discovered that the great lawn, a signature of the hotel that provides a spectacular reveal of the house and grounds, was designed by the Olmsted family of New York – the same designers who did the landscape architecture for Central and Prospect Parks in New York and Montreal's Mount Royal, among others. The future is always present, too, such as a recent expansion to the bright and airy dining room, room renovations and plans for an addition that will take the over all room count from 52 to 60. And then there's organic evolution in the resort's kitchen garden – think asparagus sprouts, hemp for salads and a variety of mushrooms – where head gardener Mario Muniz experiments with rows of salsify and several types of fennel.
"Langdon Hall is a work in progress," Beaton says. Twenty-five years on, she adds "now we're just waiting for one of those little Langdons to check in."
Celebrate at Langdon
Join the picnic on July 27 with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony on the front lawn under the big top tent. $100.
On Oct. 25 there is a gala dinner prepared by chef Olivier Roellinger, Les Maisons de Bricourt and Langdon Hall's chef Jason Bangerter.
If you're staying overnight too, rooms start at $295.
For tickets, call 1-800-268-1898 or visit langdonhall.ca.