Boutique Canadian hotel Merrill House is for gourmands, art aficionados and the open-minded: after all, this turreted Gothic Revival redbrick has exotic curios, a few spirits and its own ‘invisible man’ in one of the 14 uniquely decorated suites (you’ll see what we mean). It’s packed to the rafters with artefacts from afar, vintage treasures and storied knick-knacks, and even has a replica of the owner’s impeccably furnished London flat. And, while it has a wild imagination, its cosseting approach is well-anchored: turns in the alfresco barrel sauna, wine-tasting salons and Gallic tasting menus make for indulgent stays.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of Prince Edward County sparkling wine; GoldSmiths also get a wine-tasting passport
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £195.43 (CA$333), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of 4% per room per night on check-out and an additional government tax of 13% per room per night on check-out.
Rates include a one-hour session in the sauna.
During the hotel’s turndown service your pillow will be perfumed and – a charming old-school touch – you’ll find a chocolate on it. Ask staff if you’re longing to know the origin of some objects – the replica elephant tusks in the lounge were purchased from 19th-century British prime minister Sir Robert Peel’s family, for instance.
Every year from 17 December to 8 February, inclusive, except for three nights around the New Year (29 December - 1 January).
At the hotel
Garden with a fire pit, wine cellar, sauna, VR lounge, drawing room, sculpture and photography gallery and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: iPad, Alexa, Smart TV with Netflix, small library and minibar, decanter and glasses, satin dressing gowns, Deserving Thyme bath products scented with lavender, lemon and rosemary.
Our favourite rooms
It’s hard to choose as each of the 14 suites are so unique. The Owner’s Suite – essentially a faithful recreation of the hotel owner’s wonderfully quirky London flat – is great for groups of friends, sleeping up to six. For couples, the romantic Viennese Suite with its Klimt-inspired hot tub and turret setting, will suit; or the dramatic Velvet Room, if you lean a bit goth. Those who want to embrace the hotel’s freakier side should stay in the Gothic Room in the old servant’s quarters, which offers eerie thrills; or in the Future Room, where the hotel’s ‘invisible man’ can be identified by his chair and clogs stuck to the ceiling.
All guests get a one-hour session in the garden’s barrel-shaped sauna.
Bring your dandiest threads and your tallest tales for gatherings around the fire pit – we’d wager your fellow guests will buy into the hotel’s fantasy too.
Due to the historic nature of the building, the hotel is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible. There is no lift at the property and some stairs to reach rooms are quite steep.
Children can stay, but the house’s winding stairways, delicate decor and insatiable wine habit make it more of an adult hideout.
This is a hotel with a big planet-loving heart. They’ve ridden themselves of plastic toiletry bottles; installed double-glazed, thermal windows; reduced food waste; and installed a state-of-the-art energy management, heating, air-conditioning and ventilation system. They dutifully recycle too. Plus, they support community projects such as the Regent Theatre’s performing arts programme, independent charities and museums, community-improvement bodies, environmental-protection groups, and LGBTQ+ rights and human-rights organisations such as the Rainbow Railroad.
Cosy up to the wine cabinets if you want to have a nose at the hotel’s impressive collection.
Head Chef Michael Sullivan’s menu is a ravishing run through traditional French dishes (with a little Brit influence), with escargots en cocotte, foie gras au torchon, pithivier pie and Cornish hen stuffed with prosciutto, fig and apricot. With the sommelier’s world-class knowledge and extensive cellar to select from, we’d recommend going with the suggested wine pairings. And, if you’re paralysed by choice, let the chef choose for you, with his special six-course tasting menu. For snacking in genteel fashion, afternoon tea includes dainty sandwiches and cakes and scones with clotted cream and home-made jams.
Hit the light-flooded Conservatory Bar, with its leafy corners and art-clad brick walls, for signature cocktails. The Royal Sapphire (Bombay Sapphire gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and lemon juice) and Sunset on the Bay (Hornitos tequila, house-made hibiscus syrup, orange and lemon) are equally refreshing. But, the hotel’s a dedicated oenophile too, and its wine director Astrid Young (along with lifestyle magazine Life au Lait) hosts a weekly themed tasting salon on Tuesdays (from 3pm); and should you wish to refine your nose, Astrid holds courses in just that, too.
Breakfast is from 8am to 11am. There are two dinner seatings (from Thursday to Saturday): 5.30pm to 6.45pm and 8pm to 9.30pm. Order drinks in the bar from 5.30pm till close (Tuesdays to Saturdays). On Sundays, afternoon tea can be taken from 1pm to 4pm.
The wine in your minibar will go very nicely with a cheese or charcuterie board; staff will happily deliver to your door round the clock.
Merrill House sits on Picton’s Main Street overlooking the harbour, due north of Lake Ontario in Prince Edward County.
Toronto Pearson Airport is the closest, around a two-hour drive from the hotel. There are direct flights from major hubs throughout the US, Canada and Europe. Flights from further afield usually stopover in the US or Vancouver.
Trains Belleville Station is a 40-minute drive from the hotel; trains arrive here from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Petite Picton is charming for a stroll, but you’ll want to go out yonder to see the wilds surrounding Lake Ontario and sample the county’s culinary delights. You can easily acquire wheels at Toronto airport and there’s free parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Kick off your stay with an olde-timey photograph (in the hotel’s stash of period costumes, if you wish). The hotel is designed so that guests can simply spend their stay without venturing beyond its grounds, so no-one will judge you for whiling away the time admiring the artwork and artefacts, attending wine tastings or getting cosy by the fire pit in the garden. Each guest gets a free one-hour session in the alfresco barrel sauna, but do book in advance. Take minimum-effort explorations in the Virtual Reality lounge, which has headsets for feels-like-you’re-there trips to the pyramids, tours of the British Museum, rollercoaster rides and more. Pilates and yoga sessions can be arranged on request, too, or pick up a work-out kit from reception (with weights, strength bands and a yoga mat) to bend and stretch in-suite.
The hotel restaurant is one of the finest diners in Picton, but Prince Edward County is known for its farm-fresh food, so take your appetite on the road. Kick off with coffee and busting-at-the-seams paninis at the Bean Counter Cafe. And, stop by the Pink Lunch Pail Bakery for glazed cinnamon buns and whiskey, cherry and chocolate doughnuts; or Beacon Bike + Brew for ginger-molasses cookies and to pick up some cycling gear. You can get your poutine fix at the Barley Room if you’re craving Canada’s beloved national dish. In Bloomfield, the Agrarian Bistro is a good pit stop for lunch – their shrimp sandwiches come in a pretzel bun with chipotle, and ingredients are all sourced from nearby growers. Stop into their speakeasy for a drink after. Close by Bloomfield Public House’s charcuterie is butchered onsite and it does a fine line in waistband-tightening comfort food (chicken and waffles, pastrami-spiced brisket sandwiches). Stock up on dairy goods at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. For dinner when the hotel’s restaurant is closed, try East & Main, for their hearty comfort food, such as white bean and smoked gouda ravioli, and lamb shank shepherd’s pie with a cheddar crust. Or drive 10 minutes down the road to Flame + Smith for their oyster bar and fire-cooked dishes of albacore tuna with veal sweetbreads and piquillo peppers or smoky mushroom salad.
When you’re not vineyard-hopping or detecting floral notes in the hotel’s tasting sessions, head to the County Canteen for a welcoming ambience and 26 Ontarian craft beers on tap.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this charming character of a boutique hotel in Canada and showed off their newfound knowledge of art, wine and antiquity, a full account of their cultured break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, let’s listen to the riveting stories Merrill House in Prince Edward County has to tell us…
Merrill House, with its Gothic Revival spires and baker’s dozen of gables, feels like the abode of a retired sea captain from Victorian times, who spent his twilight years regaling swashbuckling tales of danger and intrigue to intimate audiences plied with excellent wines. After all, the hotel’s a veritable wunderkammer on a grand scale: there are elephant tusks bought from Sir Robert Peel’s family in the living room, Egyptian busts and intricate Japanese porcelains in suites, Zanzibari artefacts, centuries-spanning artworks, toile de Jouy and William Morris wallpapers, books with satisfyingly crackly spines and plenty of chandeliers to swing from (although, don’t). In reality, the house (built in 1848) belonged to Edwards Merrill, scion of a Canadian legal dynasty, who loved the house he’d crafted so much he built a smaller version to retire to when he sold it. And, it’s been restored in sensitive style by art collector and hospitality whizz Jordan Martin, whose impeccable taste can be noted in the Owner’s Suite, which is kitted out in furnishings from his London flat.
In true Victorian style, every nook and cranny is stuffed with intriguing objets, but Martin has kept the house with the times, salvaging original features such as the hardwood floors and adding statement pieces from the Fifties and Sixties, setting up a fire pit and barrel sauna in the garden and connecting with local gallery Maison Depoivre to keep the walls in eye candy. Add an impressive wine cellar, cocktail parlour and fine French cuisine, and you have an inviting rabbit hole to curl up in.