Inside Mirazule, an unconventional Prince Edward County inn from a pair of veteran hoteliers
Ian Nelmes and Miguel De Lemos ran a boutique inn in the north of France for 14 years. In 2018, they moved to Prince Edward County and started building Mirazule—a stunning modern showpiece inn that opened its doors in August 2021—from the ground up. Their approach to hospitality is a little unconventional: guests are meant to feel like they’re at a glamorous house party. Alcoholic beverages are included in the rate, and socializing with the hosts and fellow guests is par for the course. Here’s how the two did it.
Ian: In 1993, Miguel and I were living in a central London apartment, which we bought for £82,000. I was working a marketing job for a big telecommunications firm and hating every minute of it, but it paid our bills. Miguel was doing sales administration for a car dealership. A few years later, we purchased a weekend home in the north of France. At the time, properties in France were ridiculously cheap, so we were able to take a small amount of equity out of our U.K. property for a substantial home in France.
Eventually, it became harder to stick to the nine-to-five grind, and we started talking about opening a hospitality business together. We were looking for a better work-life balance away from the centre of a major city. We already entertained at home a lot and felt that hospitality was a natural next step. When we got our French weekend place, it planted the idea that we could buy a property large enough in France to convert and run as a boutique hotel, so we started looking for a château.
Miguel: It was an ambitious idea since neither of us knew how to manage a big property with lots of rooms and staff. Sometime later, on a long U.S. road trip, we discovered the concept of bed and breakfasts and realized we could run a smaller property.
Ian: We ended up looking at an odd L-shaped building in a rural French town called Corbie, about an hour south of Vimy. We cashed out of our London apartment for £305,000, bought the French home for £270,000 and moved in in 2001.
We were moving from a two-bedroom central London apartment into an 11-bedroom mansion in northern France, and we still had change from the proceeds of our London sale. Our six-room boutique inn took about five years to renovate. We did much of the work ourselves and opened as Le Macassar in 2005.
Miguel: We built Le Macassar into an award-winning destination with a global clientele. It had exotic wood panelling, amazing cabinetry, and a bar decorated with gorgeous Turkish Iznik tiles. But we never felt well integrated in the local community. Our business became our social life, so during the off season, we found that there wasn’t enough going on there to keep us happy. Ian grew up in Kingston and has family in Collingwood, so we decided that Ontario could be a good choice for both of us.
Ian: While we were property-hunting, friends of ours had just retired to a house in Prince Edward County. Miguel and I don’t tend to overthink things, and we trusted our friends to have done their research. So, when a piece of land popped up on the same bay where our friends lived—15 minutes south of Picton—I took a quick trip to Canada to see it. It was 45 acres of forest with 130 metres of waterfront and great views of the lake. I had always wanted to design and build a house from scratch. And, if we were going to invest a large amount of money, we wanted it to be in a place that we knew would provide both a good market for our business and a better quality of life. We wanted a house where we could also potentially retire. I liked what I saw, and we bought the lot for $384,000.
Then we started the process of selling our property in France, which ultimately took nearly three years. We stayed on to facilitate because we needed the funds from France to pay for the build here anyway. In the meantime, we connected with BlackLab Architects in Toronto and started working on the design. We knew Mirazule would go over well because the popularity of the county has been growing but the number of places to stay has lagged behind. There was only a handful of higher-end places to stay, and most of them either were catering to a younger crowd or hadn’t updated in decades. We saw an opportunity to create a high-end, design-driven destination inn in a spectacular location that could also function as our home. We built for people looking for a quality contemporary experience in the county. Designing remotely wasn’t easy. But, since we didn’t know when we would sell our French property, we weren’t in a rush. In 2018, we moved to a four-bedroom rental in Wellington, and we started building Mirazule the following year.
Miguel: For the design, we wanted a lot of windows and natural light—to have a view from as many vantage points in the building as possible. We specified wide hallways and staircases, so you could carry two bags without hitting the walls. And we wanted the house to feel nestled in its surroundings. We weren’t too affected by the supply chain issues. Fortunately, we ordered the vast majority of what we needed—from building materials to appliances—long before the pandemic hit and prices started going up.
Ian: We wanted the four guest rooms to be comfortable and spacious, but we didn’t want our guests to use us as an Airbnb. We’re a full-service destination. We wanted our rooms to be beautiful havens, but a big part of the experience takes place when guests make use of the entire property. This is why we opted not to build any balconies or walk-outs adjacent to the rooms. We’re very social people, and we enjoy interacting with the guests.
Miguel: The property’s steel skeleton, framing, drywall, and plumbing were completed in 2020, and we were finally wrapping up the construction work in mid-2021. Our initial budget was an ambitious $1.8 million, and we went slightly over because of the impact of Covid. While we pride ourselves on bargain hunting, we didn’t want to compromise on quality. The artwork—much of it contemporary Canadian paintings—and the grand piano in the living area were the few indulgences.
We moved in May 2021 and were ready to open our doors in August. Our first guests were a couple on their honeymoon. We had four bookings in the first two weeks, and we’ve had a steady stream of bookings per week ever since. It has been absolutely extraordinary living in the county. We’ve met so many interesting like-minded people going to wineries, breweries and events, and we have made good friends.
Ian: It’s just the two of us who run the place, and we don’t want to get to the point where we’re both knackered. We’re not a corporation. This is a lifestyle for us. We want our guests to feel like they’re at a glamorous house party. When they arrive, we greet them with a glass of wine and have a chat.
Once in a while, we’ll throw a dinner party that everyone in the house is invited to. Miguel is a fantastic self-taught cook, drawing on recipes from his extensive cookbook collection. The dinners are always a set menu based on what’s popular and fresh in the markets at the time. Of course, when you create a homey environment like that, suddenly everyone gravitates toward the kitchen. So we built what we call a “fake kitchen”: a few bar stools, a counter around an island, a fridge, a coffee machine and a chilled water bottle station. The real kitchen—much larger and complete with all the other necessary appliances—is just behind it. That’s where Miguel works his magic.