By Jane Muller
When you can have lunch in Paris and be home in time for dinner, either the Concord has been resurrected or you live within driving distance of Paris…Ontario.
While it’s fun to name drop, our Paris holds its own as a day trip or weekend destination. Located about an hour west of Mississauga and a half-hour from Hamilton, the town is the largest urban centre in Brant County and has rightly been named “Canada’s Prettiest Little Town” by “Harrowsmith Magazine”.
What has helped to earn the town this title is its quintessential Southern Ontario main street with the east side perched above the impressive Grand River. The river and the natural areas beyond provide amazing views for diners at the restaurants on the riverside (e.g. both Stillwaters and 2 Rivers have large patio areas with ‘grand’ views). An inviting parkette between two buildings also offers a picture perfect outlook.
With architecture dating from the mid 1800s, both commercial and residential buildings contribute to the pretty factor. The main street features many including the Arlington Hotel, circa 1850. The admirable structure is an attention grabber with its arched entry and its allure continues to ramp up inside.
Its vintage has been respected during recent updates that have created a boutique hotel with fascinating rooms that pay homage to a variety of notable authors and quirky characters. Each has been creatively curated to immerse guests into an environment that reflects the work and personality of the person being honoured. On the main floor is a fine dining restaurant with its name, “edit” (eat. drink. indulge. together.), displayed in lower case typewriter font style. There’s also a library themed bar and a piano lounge and housed in the basement, an authentic pub complete with exposed stone walls and wooden beams.
Setting the scene for a journey to the unique accommodations is an elevator designed to mimic the interior of the wardrobe that took the characters of the C. S. Lewis novel to Narnia. When the door slides closed it reveals the lamppost and snowy landscape of that magical land. The elevator cum wardrobe does take guests to otherworldly places with thoughtfully presented rooms dedicated to the likes of Jane Austen, Hunter S. Thompson, Lewis Caroll, Emily Dickinson, Stan Lee, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. Seuss and J. R. R. Tolkien.
Many of the accommodations feature a separate bedroom and living area that provide plenty of space to set the scene with found furnishings and decor sourced from thrift stores and online bargain sites. There are 23 rooms that have been transformed ranging from standard to suite to executive suite.
A popular wedding venue, the Arlington has event space on the second floor of a historical building that’s situated kitty-corner from the hotel. Across the back of the spacious room that features an extra tall ceiling and original wooden floors, is a wall of windows and deck beyond that take full advantage of the riverside location.
At street level, the independent home furniture, décor and gift shop Piper & Oak offers shoppers everything from cushions to dishes and table top accessories to sweet items for little ones. The airy space is a pleasure to browse and a relatively new addition to the downtown especially when compared with John M. Hall House of Quality Linens that was established 120 years ago. The old English lettering on the store’s vintage sign, quaint front door and well-worn hardwood floors are proof of its long-standing presence on the main street. The inventory is vast and includes all variety of linens ranging from tea towels for all occasions, seasons and decors, tablecloths, quilts, throws, towels, fabric and feminine cotton nightgowns.
Shopping in Paris has to include women’s fashions and Suzanne’s of Paris has it covered with brands like Joseph Ribkoff, Tribal Sportswear, French Dressing, Lois Jeans, Smash and Picadilly as well as a selection of jewelry and purses. And for shoes, there’s Rieker by L. J. Shoes.
A fixture in downtown Paris is Chocolate Sensations, an independent chocolate maker established in 2003. Deciding on what to sample is a challenge as is choosing a flavour of Kawartha Dairy ice cream of which there are 34 in the freezer at the back of the shop. Try a scoop of the pumpkin pie ice cream that makes an appearance in the fall.
Many more food choices are available at The Paris Wincey Mills Co. that features a year-round market with local vendors and dining options. It’s open from Thursday to Saturday. I was in town on a Wednesday so missed a visit but the three-storey historic building looks intriguing and is just steps off the main drag. The list of events includes live music and cooking classes in the test kitchen.
A recurring event in Paris from spring to fall is Grand Experience. The outdoor adventure company facilitates canoe, kayak, rafting and Voyageur canoe trips on the Grand River. While the list of enticements to visitors is tempting, Paris is also attracting new residents looking for their own piece of this pretty town.
Just a five-minute drive from downtown Paris, a former riverside golf course is set to become a housing development with an unusually high portion of natural land being preserved. At total of 68 acres of the 150-acre community, nearly 50 per cent, will remain protected land that includes waterfront and woodlot. This along with 5 km of public trails will be on the doorstep of the 140 units on offer from Fernbrook and Crystal Homes in the first phase of Paris Riverside. A total of 740 units are planned over five additional phases.
Comprising mostly single units starting at $619,000, the builder is offering a unique design upgrade that features two separate living areas, each with private entrance on the main floor. The smaller section is a one-bedroom unit complete with kitchen, bathroom and living area that could be home to older children or senior parents or serve as a guest suite. The home designs include a mix of clean-lined modern or traditional styles with appealing architectural details. The use of similar colours allows the variations on the two styles to live comfortably together on a streetscape.
What all the homes will have in common is close proximity to the river and a large dock that can serve as a launch for paddlers and the unique option of paddling into town for lunch or to do a bit of shopping. And living near that thriving downtown, schools and other amenities brings Paris even closer to home.