Amazing getaway that's only an hour away
As a global traveller, I'm always looking far and wide for places to visit and new places to conquer but I think I'm the first one to admit that i'm guilty of not exploring the beautiful places around my hometown of Toronto. Being based here a lot more this past year, I've had the opportunity to explore Tobermory but then I thought, it's nice and everything up there but that 4 hour drive is gruelling and eats up into that hard earned long weekend. 8 hours round trip is practically a full day. So take a 3 day long weekend and you're basically left with a 2 day long weekend after that long drive up north.
So I pondered deeper and thought, why can't you have an awesome getaway on a regular weekend?
Spending 3 days at The Briars, I'm now thinking “gosh darn it, how did I not know about this place before?” You'll be wondering the same thing after you see what it's like. Promise!
The Briars in Jackson's Point
Entering The Briars is like visiting your favorite uncle's estate. Not that I have any rich uncles but you immediate get that pleasant nostalgic feeling as you enter this luxury resort. What you find inside will surprise you.
The Briars is set in Jackson's Point, literally just 1 hour north of Toronto. Our trip up was so incredibly easy. It was the same time it would've taken to get downtown in traffic or say out to Mississauga. I was blown away.
The Briars is located in Jackson's Point which once hailed as the premiere cottage spot in Ontario before the development of Barrie and Muskoka. Once you get up there, you understand why it's in the perfect spot. On the southern part of Lake Simcoe, the property is nestled between the lake, lush greenery, the old town and the ever popular Sibbald Point Provincial Park.
Sure it isn't quite bustling as it was early 1900s but it has retained its unpretentious, homey and tranquil feel. The fact that it isn't as crazy as Muskoka is precisely what makes The Briars attractive.
Not your average inn
Also known as an inn, resort is aptly a better way to describe The Briars. The property relates to the charm and coziness of a guest house but it's really so much more. What they've been able to do is take those lovely inn qualities but added a whole new dimension to it – added a high quality spa, experiential activities and all-inclusive food packages.
3 days to recharge
I had the opportunity to stay at The Briars with my girlfriend for 3 days and 2 nights. The timing was perfect as I have been super busy for most of the summer, working on various projects and really ramping up Going Awesome Places. This stay allowed us to wind down, enjoy each other's company, explore the resort, soak in the last of summer, get involved in a bunch of organized activities and have some great food.
A Sibbald legacy
One of the things that really stuck out of our stay was the rich history that is steeped through the entire property. It was truly a step back into time.
Originally owned by the Bourchier family up until 1878, it was purchased by Dr. Frank Sibbald, a surgeon with the British Navy. From that point forward, it's been passed along from generation to generation. Together with his niece, Bessie, extra wings were added and space was cleared out for a working farm. After his death, niece Bessie began building summer cottages along the shore. In the 1920s, Jack and Marjorie Sibbald took over and that's when the dairy farm started, the golf course was built and in 1942 parts of the property was turned into a summer resort. Fast forward to 1960 with John and Barbara (affectionally called Mr. and Mrs. Sibbald) who turned the property into a year-round operation which then lead to the opening of further additions and most of what you can see today.
Bob Law, manager at The Briars was gracious enough to walk us through the property and talk about The Briars story. I found the history and stories quite fascinating.
It all came alive when we got to tour the “History Room” which I would highly recommend. Here, we got to see all these artifacts collected from the various eras of The Briars. It's not every day that you get to see a family's private museum collection. Vases from China, wrappers from the Briars Dairy, the journal of Dr. Frank Sibbald were just a few items that we got to see. As we continued to wander and winding through the maze of halls, staircases and the original manor house, I began to understand that there was history in almost every thing I could see and touch.
It wasn't until our second day that things in my head finally clicked. Yep it took that long.
It went like this: “Sibbald's Point…Sibbald…The Briars…wait a second…???”
Today, the two sons of Mr. and Mrs. Sibbald, Andrew and Hugh run the resort and without much luck, you'll see them roaming around greeting guests or running their lake tour.
There's so much to do
This could almost be a blog on its own with the amount of activities we were able to do in the short span of 3 days. We absolutely loved that we didn't have to do any planning at all after checking in. Like an all-inclusive resort, we were given a sheet of all the activities for the week and off we went. Yes that's right, all the activites are free! Here's a glimpse of all the summer activities we participated in.
Alex took a group of us out into the Black River, just off of Lake Simcoe, the Monday morning with this guided kayak tour. This was a fantastic way to flex our muscles, paddling around the winding river, see an abundance of wildlife, and simply enjoy being on the water.
Lady Simcoe cruise
On that same day, we were lucky to catch Andrew Sibbald do one of his Lake Simcoe tours on the Lady Simcoe that him and Hugh run twice weekly. This was a nice leisurely cruise that took us around to Jackson's point and around. Throughout the tour, Andrew was able to tell us a bit more history of the area, pointed out a few of the more famous properties along the shore and some personal stories about their childhood. It was quite the enjoyable ride.
Sous-chef, Matt Fremantle, did a fantastic cooking demonstration for the group outdoors. We (mainly Chantelle that is while I was taking photos) madly scribbled recipe notes as Matt walked through some inspiring ideas around how to marinate and bbq chicken with a home made teriyaki sauce, pickled zucchini and grilled asparagus, peppers and portabello mushrooms. To top it all off, we got to eat all of this after it was done. That practically was our lunch for the day.
Now this was a real treat for the kids and adults alike. Dan and his son Austin from Chaotic Exotics came in on Tuesday night with quite the array of critters and things.
From the snakes, geckos, bearded dragon and tortoises, everyone had a ball getting up close and personal.
Sean from AFYA HortTherapy came in on Wednesday to take a group of us out to the organic herb garden just out front. He was able to walk us through all the herbs and the various uses for them. Afterwards, we went back inside to the lounge and got to enjoy lemon balm and orange mint tea using leaves straight from the garden and lavender cookies. It was quite delicious.
Bike rentals are available at the desk for everyone and we fully took advantage on our first day. With our one-gear lounger bikes, we moseyed our way over to Sibbald Point Provincial Park and their beaches with stopovers at the beautiful St. George's church and the Sibbald family museum at Eildon Hall.
If we had gone straight, it would've taken just 20 minutes to get down to the beach. How convenient is that?
- There are two pools on the property, one by the main residence and the other in the summer cottages area. The larger one is by the cottages which gave us an opportunity to take a nice walk through the golf course. The pool is quite large and complete with lounger chairs, umbrellas and even a basketball net with volleyball.
- The basement has a gym and a games room with a ping pong table, snooker table, foosball table and a shuffleboard.
- On our last day, we had a chance to take the paddle boards out. I wouldn't quite recommend heading out on such choppy waters with some storm clouds coming our way but nevertheless it was quite fun doing our best to stay up.
- Jacuzzi and sauna before we left for Toronto. We were a bit disappointed that the jacuzzi wasn't hot but they may have been fixing it.
Yeah, that's how many things were available while we were there. There was basically no reason to leave the property. I think what made it so enjoyable was that each activity was experiential in that you got to excite multiple senses – sight, smell, taste. For example, what could've been a dull tour of the herb garden was enhanced with real tasting.
Inside view of our room in the Leacock Wing
I have been to a few inns in my day and my bar was pretty low but I was pleasantly surprised when got into our room. It had a very distinct classic decor and patterned furniture but I immediately picked up on how tasteful and clean the designs were selected.
Nothing was over the top and corny. What surprised me as well was just how clean the room was. I've stayed at a lot of hotels over the years and I could tell that this was a very well maintained room and also must've been recently renovated. Throw in the huge king sized bed and two sinks and balcony views of the grounds and I was fully content.
Things are done in an interesting way at The Briars. I almost liken it to how dinners are done on cruise ships. Everyone that has dinner in their package has assigned tables and for all meals, you'll eat there. The concept may seem strange at first but it's actually not that weird. All it means is that you'll be at the same table every time. I was worried it'd be like one of my previous Carnival cruises where you had to sit with other people if your group was too small. Now that was awkward. The advantage of this method was that we always knew where we'd be for each meal and could seat ourselves.
Breakfast is served between the hours of 8:30 and 9:30am (up to 10am on weekends) and from what I understand, included even in the basic package.
As a breakfast buffet, there was quite a bit of selection and was quite delicious. My favorite was definitely the french toast, grilled mushrooms and the fresh pastries that they were pumping out in the morning. One thing I did notice about the breakfast was that they seemed to have a bit of trouble keeping clean plates and bowls out. There were a few times I was waiting for them.
Dinner was a-la-carte style, with our package covering a full 3 courses. What really stood out for us was how huge the appetizer portions were. Highly recommended are both the Shrimp and Avocado + Maple Pear and Arugula salads. Most restaurants will make these portions small with a sprinkle of greens but this was almost a full on meal. The ingredients used were also fabulously fresh which is a testament to the fresh ingredients that they use. They do have their own vegetable garden after all right?
Oh and I must tell you about the bread – it's to die for. The whole grain bread comes straight out of the oven and is perfectly toasted on the outside and moist and fresh on the inside. The focaccia bread is also amazing. On the first night we had one with olives in them and the other had some other deliciousness packed in. It was really that good.
What was a bit of a disappointment were our mains throughout the stay. On two occasions we asked for medium-rare and the food came out on the medium-well side of things. I can't say there was anything particularly memorable about the mains but perhaps we just had high expectations after having such amazing bread.
To top it off, I quite enjoyed the desserts. The toffee pudding was well executed and so was the home-made raspberry pie. What my girlfriend and I really liked was the tartufo though. Not sure if it is made in-house but wow was it ever good. Chocolate coated chocolate ice cream with a nice raspberry sorbet in the middle. Loved it!
When you see The Briars, one of the first things you'll notice is the big tower that looms over it. For the longest time, I wondered what that was. Well that is until our spa day happened. Opening the door pictured above, we discovered the only elevator of the property which took us midway up the tower and to the spa.
Overall I will say that the spa at The Briars is on par with many of the luxury spas I've been in the past. After signing in with the reception, we were warmly received by the manager and then were directed to nice private rooms to change into our robes. From there, we were guided to a very zen and calming waiting room. While we filled out a simple form about medical conditions, the manager helped pour us our choice of lemon or orange water. There were also cookies and fruits there but decided to come back for those after our session.
We had hoped to do a couples body wrap but unfortunately, their wrap room was only big enough for one. Instead, I ended up doing the Swedish massage and my RMT did an excellent job. She was extremely professional and did a good job at working out those kinks in my back.
My girlfriend got the Remineralization Body Wrap and raved about how awesome the experience was. I can't tell you too much about what happened but I could see her bright eyes and smile after coming out of her session. It was so relaxing that she even passed out at the end.
A photo tour
Words can only describe so much so here's a quick gallery of all the other snaps I took along the way.
- This may be the only property in Ontario that has secured a liquor license for an entire lawn – that giant lawn outside of the main building is fully licensed.
- Did you know the Peacock House was actually built to house peacocks. In fact, there were real peacocks on the premise at some point but nobody knows what happened to them. This idea most likely came from all the time Dr. Frank Sibbald spent overseas stationed in Shanghai.
- The big art pieces that you find all around the property are real commissioned replicas purchased from the Naples Museum in 1883-4 in Italy and shipped to Canada.
- The current dining hall actually used to be the driveway to the Manor House and where the horse carriages would drive up to.
- Both The Briars Manor House and The Peacock House are recognized by the Ontario Heritage Trust.
Tips & tricks
- Must get the Tartufo dessert in the dinner menu! They are to die for! Slight citrus raspberry ice cream on the inside paired with rich dark chocolate on the outside.
- Salads in the dinner menu are huge, one order can definitely be shared amongst two people.
- Bring some bottled waters with you. There's a Sobeys 2 min drive away to stock up or just bring a bunch from home.
- 3 course dinner takes around 1.5hrs, so plan your activities around that.
- If you need to make changes to your dinner reservation times, just let your server know.
- There's free Keurig coffee in the Manor House drawing room.
- Don't miss the tour of the History Room. Learn a little bit about how the Briars became who they are today.
- You can go up the The Viewing Tower anytime to look at Lake Simcoe and Briars grounds, it's not just reserved for the Spa guests. Ask reception how to get to the elevator and just take it to the very top.
- Visit their herbs and vegetable garden, have a sniff and enjoy the aromas these plants offer.
- Check the weather beforehand, do the outdoor sport activities on the sunny days.
- Book activities in advance. The boat cruise in the Lady Simcoe does fill up so sign up just in case.
- Free bike rentals at The Briars. Just remember to bring the lock that's looped around the bike rack with you so you can lock it up if you decide to walk around the beach. Most of the bikes don't have a basket to put your water bottle / map/ bag so bring a backpack for easy biking.
- I highly recommend the Remineralizing Body Wrap. Started with a body scrub, hopped into the shower with 6 shower heads giving me a good and quick rinse, wrapped in algae extracts Oligomer, then lotion to silky smooth skin and heavenly spa! Unfortunately, there's only one room for the body wrap treatment at a time, so make an appointment!
When you come to a property like The Briars, you're coming to a place that will treat you like family. With numerous activities to surely keep you busy and even more ways to just sit back and relax, this property has something for everyone. The beauty of it all is that you don't have to travel 3-4 hours to get to your place of zen. With a one hour drive up from Toronto, who needs a long weekend to make a getaway happen?
The Brairs Resort and Spa
55 Hedge Road R.R. 1, Jackson’s Point, ON,
N.A Toll Free: 1-800-465-2376 | Tel: 905-722-3271
Book The Briars for your next getaway.
I was a guest of The Briars Resort and Spa. All opinions expressed are entirely my own and does not reflect the compensation received.