Since 1984, Hessenland has managed to bring history, countryside and elegance together with a multitude of ceremony and reception spaces. They offer overnight accommodations, inside and outside reception spaces, two pavilions, two gazebos and a lookout tower, just to start.
Situated along the shores of Lake Huron, just outside the hamlet of St. Joseph, Hessenland offers unique and picturesque wedding backdrops that brides and grooms fall in love with over and over again, which they have been doing for over twenty-five years.
Staff at The Ring met with Liz Ihrig, Hessenland's wedding coordinator, to get a closer look at what is one of our new favourite destination-wedding-style locations - right here in Southwestern Ontario.
A family affair
Hessenland was originally purchased by Ernst and Christa Ihrig in 1982 when they immigrated to Canada. Together they raised their family on the property, spending their time on the gardens, landscape, buildings, and of course, on their children. In the '80s, they opened a restaurant, a hotel and began hosting weddings and events on the property - and it is still going strong today, with 2012 marking its twenty-eighth year in business.
It's easy to imagine that their family-run approach to service and weddings has helped win over the hearts of brides through the years. In the interview and review process, we met almost all of the Ihrigs. Each time we left, we did so with the feeling that we were the newest member of their family.
Natasha Fisher felt like family when she first visited Hessenland, too. One of the main reasons she chose to host her wedding ceremony and reception at Hessenland was because of the location and how well they create a wedding setting. "Their gardens are beautiful and everything is so convenient for the wedding party as well as the guests," she told The Ring.
Ernst enjoys working in the background, letting the next generation of Ihrigs take the helm in other areas. Christa indulges in the design of the property gardens. The passion and skill she has put into the gardens has given Hessenland the classic look so many people know it for.
Ernst and Christa’s son, Frank, is the Head Chef. He has returned to the family business in the last eight years after developing his culinary skills in various countries in Europe and Australia.
Frank's wife, Liz, is the on-site coordinator for all of the Hessenland weddings and events. She came to the location with six years experience in convention services and event planning at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto.
The options are endless
Recently, Hessenland expanded on the original buildings, which included turning the original barn into The Coach House, now a reception hall that seats an average of 170 guests at any one event. Throughout the process, the Ihrig family paid special attention to preserving the romance and history of the property. The original roof and top half of the walls were carefully laid down by the Mennonites to preserve the integrity of the walls and structure. The remaining walls were then sandblasted to show off the beauty of their original stone. The top of the walls and the roof were rebuilt to complement both the stonework and the surrounding property. When you book The Coach House for your wedding, you automatically get the first choice on everything else at Hessenland, including photo and ceremony locations.
Jenni De Block Kreller held her wedding ceremony and reception at Hessenland and told us that the Coach House and restaurant area are both beautiful. "There is a natural warmth to the rooms," she adds. "It's like a destination wedding in your backyard. You get the luxuries of having everything done and taking the stress out of the wedding planning… [and] they do such a beautiful job keeping the grounds maintained."
Jessica Langan held her wedding reception in the Coach House and says she loved the rustic charm of it. "When you add the white chair covers, table cloths and black napkins, it is very elegant."
The Sunset Tower is a silo that's been converted into a lookout tower. Liz says it's one of the favourite spots on the property for photos. "From the top of the silo, there are opportunities for great sunset photos with the lake in the background," explains Liz. "You can also pose for the Rapunzel-type picture with the groom below and the bride up above."
Jason and Nicole McFalls held their wedding reception and post-wedding brunch at Hessenland and highly recommend it to anyone who asks – and even those who don't. They loved the unique and rustic charm of the Coach House and felt that the room had a great flow with the bar set outside the main room with a great view of the beautiful grounds. But what the couple particularly loved about their experience at Hessenland was their amazing photos that were taken up the Sunset Tower. "The sunset was amazing! Overall, we are left with memories of great service by Liz and Frank Ihrig and their staff."
But the spaces don't end there. The newly renovated Garden Room has also become a popular spot for weddings at Hessenland. Smaller than the Coach House, it's ideal for brides who are looking for a more intimate location for their wedding. The Hessenland property also offers the Wedding Pavilion, the Grand Gazebo, the Cherry Tree Pavilion, the Anniversary Gazebo, and of course the gorgeous gardens that Christa has designed and maintained herself.
Sarah and Dean Batal held their wedding ceremony in a gazebo at Hessenland, and their reception in the Garden Room. They told us that the wrought iron gazebo was surrounded by a beautiful landscape of evergreens and gardens, and eighty guests fit comfortably in the Garden Room. "The room was incredibly cozy and intimate, with its touch of cottage feel," adds Sarah.
At Hessenland, it seems as if no matter what space(s) you utilize for your wedding, there will always be beautiful backdrops close by. Liz says, "You can select the ceremony location and photo locations that best suit your taste and wedding style. We'll accommodate you any way that we can." And, Hessenland is open for weddings year round and is gorgeous in both the summer and the winter. Plus, winter and off day weddings are 10% off.
Natasha felt that her ceremony and reception spaces at Hessenland were absolutely breathtaking and better than she could have imagined. "I think the staff decorates and sets up as if it's their own wedding," she says. "They have a very elegant and sophisticated look but with accessories and flowers that can easily be switched to suit the mood."
Maryke and David Hoffman also held their wedding ceremony and reception at Hessenland. They describe the atmosphere as "warm and intimate with natural woods and stone, soft white candles on the tables and around the perimeter of the room." They also love the beautiful grounds at Hessenland with its beds of flowers, gazebos and horses, all of which they feel make the setting peaceful, beautiful and unique.
When you book your wedding at Hessenland, you will receive 'The Coach House suite', complimentary from noon on. "Some brides like to come in early and get ready right on-site," Liz told us. "From The Coach House suite, you can see most of the property, and they can see their guests or their groom arriving." Tying in with the history of the land and their building, The Coach House suite offers a four poster bed, fireplace and antique-style furniture throughout, not to mention an in-room Jacuzzi tub.
There are twenty-one guest rooms available at Hessenland Country Inn, over half of which were recently given a facelift for a more contemporary look with new paint and furniture, and there are more renovations planned for 2012. These rooms can be used by your wedding guests for the rehearsal night and/or the wedding night. Liz can arrange for a block of rooms to be reserved for your guests, and out of town couples will get a discount on guest rooms.
Adding to your options - and to our favourite things about Hessenland - is an incredible suite named 'The Tower Suite'. You can book this suite for your wedding, if it's available. 'The Tower Suite' is two levels of space that comes with a four poster canopy bed, a large bathroom and a living room.
Planning a Hessenland wedding day
From bookings, menu planning and scheduling, to recommending a DJ or decorator, Liz is the primary contact for brides who plan their weddings at Hessenland. "I love working with brides. If I can help, I will," says Liz, who has also been known to source flowers, linens and many other details for her brides and grooms. Liz's background in corporate events and weddings of all sizes and budgets makes her able to offer both personal attention and professional expertise to couples who come to the property.
"Liz is amazing to work with," Jenni told us. "She listens to what you want and she supports your ideas." In fact, Jenni loved the entire staff at Hessenland, saying that they make your dream come true. "We could also trust that what we wanted would be done, and done with high attention to detail," she adds. "They are very experienced. They know what they are doing."
Natasha agrees and says that the personalities of the staff at Hessenland are unmatched. "Liz is a beautiful person and she is so responsive and respectful of what you want and what you need. She is more than willing to take the time to work with you so that your wedding is exactly what you want and expect." Natasha adds that Liz even worked with her minister, musicians, DJ, and emcee. "She was right there taking care of everything so we didn't have to." And with their quick response time to all of Natasha's emails and phone calls, it's no wonder that she highly recommends Hessenland to other engaged couples looking for that small town charm.
Working with Liz is a lot like working with a wedding planner because she considers it her job to be as focused on your day as you are. Six to eight months before your wedding, she sends you a package with important dates and information about your block of rooms, their annual open house, invitations (including address and maps), floor plans and a working itinerary. Like most brides, she thrives on email and will respond to your phone and email questions promptly.
Sarah and Dean were panning their wedding in Windsor (about two hours from Hessenland), but say that Liz walked them through everything and made them feel comfortable about planning from out of town. "She was always on top of the smaller details that brides tend to stress about." They add that Liz even made great suggestions that saved them some money. "Liz and her team were a breath of fresh air. They made our day a walk in the park and a dream come true."
Eight weeks before your wedding you will finalize your menu (Liz can arrange a complimentary tasting for the bride and groom), plan your décor and hall set-up, and discuss cocktails and bar details. There is a lot of flexibility in your planning at Hessenland - changes, with adequate notice, can be made easily by Liz and the staff. Once everything is set, Liz will provide a full itinerary, update the floor plan, and send you an estimate invoice.
New to the Wedding Fare at Hessenland is their Friday Night Tasting Banquet for booked couples. It's buffet style so that you can sample more of the food on your menu.
Hessenland books numerous weddings, year round. While they do take bookings for corporate functions and other business related meetings, they specialize in weddings. "Weddings are our primary focus and it shows in our attention to detail," says Liz.
Maryke and David felt like they were treated with priority because of Liz's diligence with every request they had and her personal and warm touch. Hessenland held sentimental value for Maryke and David because they spent several weekends there in the five years leading up to their wedding, and that's even where David proposed. Liz even worked with David to create a beautiful surprise engagement weekend for Maryke.
There's an App for that
Hessenland now has their very own Planning App specific to their location. By downloading this app, brides have access to a list of suppliers in the area- from florists to music. They can also use the wedding "cheat sheet" including a list of common wedding FAQ's, pictures, and what to expect from your planner. Grooms will love the section designed especially for the guys, with information on local golf courses, beer and liquor stores and formalwear.
Guests can even get in on the action with a section all about accommodations, maps, parking and contact information. The app also includes a section on up-coming wedding related events at Hessenland. The app is available for Iphone users (at the Apple store under “Ontario Weddings”) and Android (app store under “Hessenland”). The team at Hessenland says the app is, "taking wedding planning to a whole new level for you and your guests. How cool is that!?!
A destination-style weekend wedding getaway
Liz says she's seeing many more couples booking both Thursday weddings and weekend weddings. With the weekend wedding getaway, she says the couple often hosts the rehearsal party Friday night, the wedding ceremony and reception on Saturday, and the brunch and gift opening on Sunday.
On the menu
Hessenland's menus set a few guidelines for couples to go by; however, they are designed with room for personalization. The cost per person starts at $32.95 for plated meals, and the buffet selections start at $43.95 for The Hessenland Buffet (see buffet details below), $53.95 for The Beef & Seafood Buffet and $68.95 for The Signature Buffet.
Another thing we love about Hessenland Country Inn is their menus and pricing specially structured for Cocktail Receptions and BBQ-style receptions, both priced at $60.95 per person. Jessica told us that the menu choices at Hessenland were awesome, and the fact that a lot of the food was from Huron County was something that she couldn't find anywhere else. "That impressed us," she adds.
Hors D'oeuvres & Presentations
Hessenland offers a large selection of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres - including tartar of smoked salmon & citrus splash, gazpacho shooters, chicken satays and pan seared scallops with onion confit. Their presentations are priced per person, from $4.75 for Crudités to $7.50 per person for a Poutine Station or the Nacho bar or Pizza presentation for $7 per person.
Prices are per person and do not include taxes or gratuity, and all entrées come with fresh bread & butter, garden greens, potato or rice selection, assorted seasonal vegetables, a dessert and coffee & tea. Soup can be added for $6.95 per person. Here are some entrée sample prices:
• Huron County pork roast prepared and crusted with fresh herbs & finished with a sherry reduction $35.95
• Cordon Bleu of chicken stuffed with havarti & black forest ham, served with herb jus $37.95
• Atlantic salmon braised & finished with a citrus garlic coulis $38.95
• Prime rib of beef slow roasted, finished with Cabernet jus $42.95
Sarah and Dean told us that their guests are still talking about the food from their wedding reception, saying that it was the best wedding meal they had ever had.
The Hessenland buffet
For $43.95 per person you get:
Appetizer (choose 1): garden greens with house vinaigrette, soup or a selection of breads and butter
Vegetables (choose 1): Mixed Vegetables (carrots, zucchini, bell peppers and leeks), Glazed Green Beans with pecans, Lentils and Legumes (lentils, white beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas, chick peas tossed with onions, garlic and herbs)
Meat (choose 3): slow roasted beef, Huron County pork roast, schnitzel Mennonite sausage or oven roasted chicken, Vegetarian Lasagne
Starch (choose 2): Lyonnais Potatoes (roasted potatoes tossed with sautéed onions and parsley), Smashed Potatoes (Yukon gold and sweet potatoes tossed with scallions), Vegetable Curry with Rice Pilaf, Vegetarian Pasta (noodles tossed in a vegetable marinara sauce)
Dessert (choose 1): black forest cake, vanilla scented German cheesecake, hazelnut torte, bayleys bisquit roulade, apple pie, blueberry pie, forest berry cheesecake, mousse au chocolat, demitasse of citrus, mango crème frappe
Coffee & Tea
You can choose one of the following three distinct wedding packages at Hessenland - they are priced per person, and based on which food service you choose.
"They put the packages together very well; everything is laid out for you so there are less questions to ask," Natasha says. "They have packages that would suit every different person and they are very accommodating."
'Deluxe' Package | from $56.95 to $86.95 per person includes: banquet hall rental • the grounds (for your ceremony and pictures) • ceremony set-up • chairs and umbrellas • dinner (3 course or buffet) • 2 bottles of wine per table of 10 • linens, tableware • bartender and wait staff
'Premier' Package | from $71.95 to $101.95 per person includes: everything from the 'Deluxe' Package (above), as well as champagne cocktail & hors d'oeuvres served by staff after the ceremony • cheese & crackers • punch for cocktail reception • breads & spreads • fresh fruit selection
For an additional cost per person you may add a 2 hour host bar to the Premier package.
'Signature' Package | from $114.95 to $145.95 per person includes: everything from the 'Premier' Package (above), as well as 5 hours of open bar • décor - head table décor, cake table décor, coloured floor length linen, votive candles for tables and chair covers
Décor & Flowers packages are available from Hessenland.
Jenni loved the variety and options that Hessenland offered. "We really liked how they had set packages that were reasonably priced, and the fact that you could also build your own to suit your needs as well," she says of Hessenland's flexibility.
Good to know
Hessenland will only book one large wedding per day, and will occasionally take on a smaller wedding in the same weekend because of the large size of the property. "We limit our numbers so that we can focus on the couple and make sure that they have the wedding of their dreams," says Liz.
With Hessenland as a popular destination, we recommend booking them as soon as you can, aiming for at least a year in advance if possible. If they are already booked for your date, however, they can recommend alternate locations.
A deposit of $1500 is required to reserve your day. Package balance is due 7 days before the event and Bar and other expenses due the day after your wedding.
With options for an on-site ceremony, rehearsal dinner, reception, brunch and overnight accommodations, it’s no wonder that brides love Hessenland Country Inn; as Jenni says: "the food is amazing, the location is beautiful, and the price is great for what you get." What more could a bride want?
Exciting new changes set for 2013
Liz and Frank are thrilled to announce that they have some exciting new changes coming in 2013 for brides, including a package that allows you to book the Inn for the entire weekend for you and your guests!
Details, details, details
• Try to book, if possible, an entire year ahead since Hessenland is a very popular wedding location.
• A deposit of $1500 is required to reserve your day. Package balance is due 7 days before the event and Bar and other expenses due the day after your wedding.
• Taxes and gratuities are extra and not included in quoted prices.
• The balance of your wedding amount is due 7 days before your wedding.
• Any extra costs incurred during the function must be paid within 24 hours of the wedding.