by guest author Samantha Vessios with photography by Aneta Sofronova
Close your eyes.
You’re travelling down an old country road.
Cool, fresh air breezes across you, and you can smell the change in the season.
Take a deep breath.
Open your eyes.
You’re rolling through colourful valleys, surrounded by ancient trees.
In awe of the mighty giants before you.
Red maples, green cedars, yellow birches, and solid oaks sweep the landscape.
180 years ago, the Clark family arrived from Scotland and carved out a slice of wilderness here in Oro-Medonte. They settled Glen Oro Farm, and in 1967 the Saila’s purchased the land, spending a lifetime transitioning the property into what you see today. No doubt there’s something special about this place, especially with its historic ties to Sir Samuel Steele and Canada’s Western frontier.
As we turn onto the dirt drive, I imagine not much has changed since the 19th century as a feeling of nostalgia rushes over me. To my right, a charming brick farmhouse, and behind it an established equestrian centre. To my left, open fields and a scenic tree-lined forest full of surprise.
The early October air felt warm against our skin as we stepped out of the car. A golden afternoon sun blanketed the farm while we took it all in, and soon in the distance we could hear our ride. Luke Sedgwick, Chief Experience Officer – and Saila family descendant, rolled up in style on a green Gator to whisk us through the woods to our “dome sweet dome” for the next two days.
As we unloaded the UTV, we quickly realized we appropriately overpacked for our luxury camping retreat, all in thanks to Orillia & Lake Country Tourism. First up, the tour. Luke showed us around and shared some smart features like the eco-friendly composting toilet, personal access to the Oro Moraine Aquifer, and an impressive wood-pellet stove meant to quickly and cleanly heat our tiny space.
FUN FACT: Wood pellets are made from renewable resources, which helps to keep waste out of landfills, making them a great choice for the environment!
For the next 48 hours we had precious time to exist with nature, and there was a lot to catch up on! We quickly did the math 1, 2, 3, 4.. 14 years we’ve been friends! Apart for the last 4, we had so much to share with each other, and even more to laugh about. Our love for the natural world, and the way we experience our surroundings is what binds us. We live very similar lives.
There’s also a shared love for food, and we couldn’t wait to crack open our little fridge to see what Eclectic Cafe had waiting for us! Glen Oro has an amazing partnership with the downtown Orillia restaurant, locally owned and operated by Chef Melanie Robinson, who also happens to be a Chopped Canada winner. We threw on our comfies, mindfully turned on some music, and cooked up her tasty culinary creations as we danced the night away in the dome’s quaint kitchenette. Bellies full, we climbed into the loft and rested our heads against the cushy king-size pillows. As our eyes adjusted, we noticed a break in the canopy, exposing us to an endless view of the universe shining back as we talked life for hours.
The next morning we woke up to a rainbow of maple leaves resting quietly on the 3D skylight. Waking slowly with some tea and a warm fire, we took advantage of the soft light bouncing off of the crisp white linens, photographing cozy pieces from Aneta’s mindfully crafted, healthy clothing brand, immortelle. These sustainable sweats are lovingly handmade with hemp and organic cotton, the perfect fit for our eco-friendly retreat.
Next, we hunt! For teeny, tiny, adorable, colourful mushrooms. It’s absolutely amazing what lives on the forest floor when you stop to pay attention. A winding maze of fallen leaves and horsemade trails led us to the top of Oro Mountain, leaving us speechless. The trek can be conquered swiftly without exploration or, pack up all sense of time and spend hours wandering the 200 acres of protected habitat.
When we returned, we spotted an orange glow coming from our dome. Staff, who if ever needed are available 24/7 via text, took the liberty of preparing for our evening’s private fireside dinner. Arriving shortly after us with a fully mobile kitchen, Chef Paul of La Foret Catering, set up a romantic table dressed in royal blue, adorned with natural & repurposed items handed down by family members or found at local thrift stores. A perfectly imperfect silver candelabra capped the mood as we watched Chef perform his magic right before our eyes.
An experience like no other, Chef Paul cooked us three locally-sourced courses, showing off his skills in both vegan & nonvegetarian cuisine. To start, a maple infused squash paired with wild rice, coconut yogurt, pumpkin seed brittle, and black garlic. The mains, a vibrant Rainbow Trout with juicy scallops, and a striking deep purple cauliflower steak. Both paired with a navy bean puree, charred kale, gremolata, pickled mushrooms, and black garlic crisps. Finally, to top it off, the lightest, most delicate dessert I’ve ever tasted. A Lavender Hills Honey poached pear with toasted almonds, coconut yogurt, and fresh mint.
FUN FACT: Chef Paul recently moved to the area with his wife and has been perfecting his career for more than 18 years. He’s passionate about sourcing local ingredients and enjoys hosting intimate dinners for 2-12 people, as well as larger groups upwards of 50. That night, he fondly shared with us how grateful he is for his partnership with Glen Oro, “I never thought I’d be outside in the woods every day doing what I love most.”
We relaxed into our Muskoka chairs with a sigh of content as we watched Chef disappear into the trees, off to create his next masterpiece. Still drooling over the delicious feast we just experienced, we lost ourselves in the mesmerizing fire as day turned to night. Time to gather our things and prepare for check out so we can begin our final day with a morning horse ride.
Both new to riding a horse, we were very excited to saddle up! Horses are tremendous animals and really feel what you’re feeling. It’s important for Glen Oro to pre-screen their guests so they can be paired with their best cuddy. Snookums and Roanie, who also happen to be best buds, were our companions for the day, along with our guide Alex, who recently joined the Glen Oro family and has a deep passion for working with horses.
Like a dream, our foggy descent into the ancient forest began with a fall breeze washing yellow leaves over us – seriously? The moody air made me feel like I was back in Scotland, which brought on a sense of calm and wonder. I thought to myself, “This landscape really feels like home.” A different route led us to the top of Oro Mountain, offering the same jaw-dropping view but in an entirely new way. A thick fog sat low in the air that day, fading the layered treetops and autumn hues into nothing. What peace..
An hour later, we thank our new hairy friends with a gentle groom and a big hug, and as we head out, we cross paths with a chicken and say hello to the resident donkey, who we annoyingly nicknamed “Smoll Boi”. Word on the farm was, she was on a strict diet at the time – more like Big Boi! Back at the car we see a small grouping of horses by an old wood fence and quietly approach them. When we get close we realize their eyes are closed, huddled together catching a late morning nap, the white one was so beautiful.
It was hard driving away knowing there’s so much more to explore. When you visit Glen Oro Farm you’re reconnected with the land, its history, and the stories that were born here. Years of growth, unmatched by no other, have breathed life into this magical glen in Oro, and the best part, it’s right in your backyard.
Visit @orillialakecountry to see it the way we saw it!