10 relaxing health retreats across Canada
Looking for a relaxing escape that’s close to home? Check out these health retreats in Canada
Keltic Lodge, N.S.
Condé Nast Traveller has named Cape Breton the most scenic island in the world with the friendliest people on the globe. Travel + Leisure magazine called it the number one island to visit in continental U.S. and Canada. Rent a car to enjoy the Cabot Trail, a 298-kilometre loop around the northern tip of the island, which you can cover in less than a day. But take more time if you can, to meander rolling hills overlooking breathtaking seascapes-you're never more than 30 minutes from the glittering water of the Atlantic Ocean. An overnight at Keltic Lodge, situated on the edge of the cliffs of Middle Head Peninsula, will give you more time to admire the breathtaking scenery. The spa, which you can visit as a day guest, is in its own pavilion with a lounge overlooking the Atlantic. My Aveda facial started with a foot bath and included a lymph drainage face massage. The therapist massaged my scalp and feet while we waited for the toning mask to do its magic. Unforgettable was a delicious lobster roll lunch on the spa's deck with a commanding view of Cape Smokey Mountain.
Northern Lights Resort & Spa, Yukon
Northern Lights Resort & Spa opened in January 2012 and is owned and run by Renate and Wolfgang Bublitz, who came to the Yukon from Germany three years ago. They rent out two cozy log chalets that they built on their property in a secluded area south of Whitehorse, as well as one room with ensuite bathroom in their log lodge. That's where I stayed, and I found it very comfortable and welcoming.
A fluffy bathrobe, slippers and chocolates were laid out on my bed ready for my arrival. I needed some rest after a long day of travel, so I quickly donned the robe and went to the spa (on the lower level of the lodge house) for a massage.
Renate, who studied massage in Germany and worked for three years in hotel spas there, gave me a 45-minute aromatherapy massage using lavender, calendula and arnica; it had me relaxed enough to almost fall asleep on the massage table. Afterwards, I enjoyed a traditional Finnish sauna and infrared sauna.
I found the resort a wonderful place to enjoy nature, and I loved the fact that there was lots to explore in the area. I checked out Whitehorse (the Aroma Borealis Herb Shop is a must-visit), did a tour of Yukon Brewing and took a scenic rail excursion from Carcross to Bennett Lake for lunch and then on to Fraser, B.C., and back to town by motorcoach on the picturesque Klondike Highway.
I had never been to the Yukon before, and the people and the place both wowed me. And that's without getting to witness the aurora borealis; the northern lights have amazing displays from September ?to the end of March, and I was there in August. I will definitely be going back.
The Hills Health Ranch, B.C.
Near 100 Mile House in the interior of B.C., The Hills Health Ranch sits on expansive Cariboo rangeland and offers hikes, exercise classes, horseback riding and even horse whispering. It specializes in a weight-loss program through the adaptation of a lifelong healthy lifestyle. Open year-round, its winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and hiking; you could also go on a sleigh ride or a guided snowmobile tour. Fitness director Clare Fast prescribed a daily strength-training program to complement the hikes. I chose the low-fat spa cuisine offered in the main dining room for my stay-it included such dishes as Moroccan Turkey, Lemon Thyme Sole, Barley Fennel Risotto and Chicken Lasagna. (The spa sells a book, Nutritional Spa Recipes, full of their creations.) On the last night, I splurged on a fancy meal in their Angus McVee restaurant and devoured the plank-cooked salmon presented under a glass dome of smoke. In my spa treatments, I particularly loved the essential oils from hand-picked wild indigenous plants, such as camomile, that grow on the property.
The Spa at Casino New Brunswick
New Brunswick's first-and only-full-service casino, located in Moncton next to Magnetic Hill, is an impressive Vegas-inspired facility spanning some 2,200 square metres. (Magnetic Hill is one of the most fascinating natural attractions in Canada. Drive down a mountain road, put your car in neutral and watch as it seemingly climbs uphill on its own. Then pop into nearby Magnetic Hill Winery for a sample of locally grown heritage rhubarb wine.) I'm not a gambler but I do like a good spa deal, so I ignored the casino (except for its bargain-priced buffet dinner, $13.99 for all you can eat) and spent my time in spa treatments.
The spa is situated in a modern hotel connected to the casino by a walkway, but far enough away to be quiet and serene. With 325 square metres of space, it's one of the largest spas in Atlantic Canada. If you want to enhance your experience, you can use the hotel's whirlpool, deep pool with lap lane and fully equipped fitness centre. I went for the five-hour "Spa Day Get Away" package (at the bargain price of $269.99). My package started with a 45-minute sugar scrub (using an exfoliating ginger and sugar mixture by Canadian-made Barefoot Venus) that a registered massage therapist (RMT) applied to my body, scrubbing the skin gently. After she washed this off, she applied a nutmeg-scented body cream, leaving my skin feeling smooth and silky.
I then had a 60-minute "Head and Sole" massage with another RMT, who expertly massaged my neck, shoulders and scalp using warm essential oil for the first 30 minutes; she noted where most of my tension was held and gave me some home care advice. Next she massaged my feet for half an hour, releasing the tightness in my arches and lower legs. After that, I had a "Classic Facial" with an aesthetician who determined I have combo skin. She selected the appropriate Yon-Ka products for this 75-minute treatment, which included a face and décolleté massage. By this time I was hungry, and as part of my spa day package I could select from the lunch menu. I chose a chicken wrap, which was delivered along with a glass of Pinot Grigio for me to enjoy while I had an 80-minute "Wine and Roses" pedicure. While I sipped and munched, the aesthetician soaked my feet in rosewater, gave them a rose-based exfoliation, covered them with a wine therapy mask of finely crushed grapes, rich in antioxidants, and then massaged and moisturized to complete the treatment. While it may seem like a lot of foot treatment in one day, they were different, and I was happy to have both.
After a day like that, I felt so pampered and utterly relaxed that I just headed to my hotel room and tried to watch a movie. But I quickly drifted off, thinking, All that pampering today for $270? What a steal of a deal. (casinoNB.ca)
Temple Gardens Mineral Spa Resort, Saskatchewan
This Moose Jaw spa continues to win high acclaim, such as being on the 2010 Spas of America list of top 50 spas. People come from around the world to enjoy the therapeutic mineral-rich waters, drawn from ancient seabeds deep below the city's surface. I loved taking a soak and swim in the large indoor/outdoor pool with its deck overlooking beautiful Crescent Park, and floating under a starry prairie night sky. The water is heated just like a swimming pool, and the 500,000 litres in the pool are replaced every four hours. The resort hotel has mineral-water jacuzzi suites, too.
At the resort's spa, I capped off my stay with a luxurious treatment called Wild Rosehip Prairie Wrap, which uses healing Canadian rosehips blended with organic cold-pressed oils.
Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort, Vancouver Island
Tigh-Na-Mara in Parksville, B.C., is nestled in a forest, and my room overlooking the Strait of Georgia put me in a tranquil mood. Relaxation deepened with a float in the 2,500-square-foot Grotto Mineral Pool, recommended for its anti-inflammatory and detoxifying benefits. By the time I started my treatment, I was ready to snooze. The hydrating sea facial I chose used organic ingredients from the shores of Vancouver Island. Wrapped up toasty warm, I drifted into dream mode. Later, still in my chenille robe and slippers, I indulged in the Endless Tapas menu in the spa's "robe attire only" Treetops Tapas & Grill. Little dishes of mussels, local cod with smoked sea salt, sautéed chanterelles, local cheeses and more clinched this for me as one of the best spa restaurants anywhere-and it's right here in Canada.
Verity Ivy Hotel and Sweetgrass Spa, Toronto
Located downtown in an 1850s chocolate factory, Verity is a women's health and networking club with an overnight package open to non-members that's called One Night to a New You. Accommodation is in an ultra-intimate (four-room) hotel above the club with such luxuries as a $19,000 Hästens bed, considered the world's finest sleep (and, yes, it was super-comfortable). I took a private yoga lesson and then relaxed in my room with fresh fruit, detox smoothies and Ayurvedic teas. The next day I joined the aqua-fit class in the ozone-treated, chlorine-free pool. What struck me was that we were women of all ages, and I loved the feeling of camaraderie among the female staff and members. Some ongoing lectures/workshops-such as mindful meditation and a belly-laugh class geared to help women feel good about themselves-are open to the public.
The Dorset Manor Spa, Ontario
Nestled on a hilltop overlooking acres of woods with Lake Ontario in the distance, The Dorset Manor Spa offers a quiet escape. This spa is located in the town of Port Hope, about an hour's drive east from Toronto, and is part of the Ste. Anne's family of spas (the larger Ste. Anne's property is 15 minutes away in Grafton). This Victorian-style manor has only seven guest rooms-a typical stay would be a couple of days; it's not a day spa. The meals, which are cooked on the premises, are healthy and delicious, and since Dorset is unlicensed, there is no corkage charge if you bring your own wine.
Like Ste. Anne's Grafton location, this spa offers 35 treatments. I picked two that are chocolate-themed: one for the day I arrived and the other for the next morning.
My hot chocolate wrap began with a peppermint-and-hot-chocolate foot soak. After an exfoliating body scrub, my aesthetician applied a heavenly-smelling mask of Moor Mud and cocoa, and wrapped me in warm linens. While the mask soaked into my skin, she gave me a vanilla-mint-oil massage on my face, scalp and feet. I ended the treatment with a mug of hot chocolate.
For my hour-long full-body Warm Chocolate Swedish massage, the registered massage therapist used an aromatic coconut oil scented with dark chocolate and tangerine. My treat at the end of this body-nourishing bliss was a piece of dark chocolate. (Dark chocolate contains soothing serotonin, and pure dark chocolate is said to stimulate the release of endorphins.)
Afterwards, my skin was well-hydrated and I felt totally relieved of stress. What a beautiful way to enjoy chocolate, with hardly any of the calories.
Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie Paris, Toronto
No need to go to an overseas destination for a transporting spa experience-just step into this 9,000-square-foot sanctuary in the new Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Toronto. Architecturally inspired by the buildings and décor of Marrakesh and Istanbul, and an addition to Vancouver's beloved Miraj Hammam Spa, it offers the detoxifying hammam ritual and much more. The hammam or steam room, otherwise known as a Turkish bath, is a place for purification and relaxation, and is a tradition of the Middle East. Relax on the Jerusalem gold marble while you experience an invigorating full-body gommage (exfoliation) by an esthetician using eucalyptus-infused black Moroccan soap. You can expand upon this experience with a clay body mask or a deep tissue massage.
I didn't try the hammam on my visit but certainly plan to in the future. For that first appointment at Miraj Hammam, I was keen to get the vinotherapy skincare treatments, which use the French brand Caudalie Paris. Caudalie was the first skincare company to isolate, stabilize and patent grapevine resveratrol, an anti-aging molecule with beneficial skin properties. This led to the Vinexpert range, now one of the leading anti-aging facial treatments in France.
I went for the Premier Cru facial, as I've heard it is especially good for plumping up dry skin. All the products used here are from Caudalie's grape-based line. My esthetician, Olga, started the 90-minute treatment with a gentle cleansing and misting of grape water, followed by a steam machine.
While the light steam opened up my pores, she massaged my face, neck and décolleté with exfoliating buffing cream, misted me again with grape water and next applied a serum with grape extract, rosemary, melissa, mint and more. Then she gently massaged my face and neck using a variety of techniques. After the massage, my face soaked up a thick mask of moisturizing cream while Olga rubbed body lotion onto my arms and hands, and worked it in with a warm herb poultice wrapped in gauze. Even my feet and lower legs were massaged. After the mask was removed, the treatment ended with an application of various serums, including for eyes and lips, and Premier Cru cream.
I went to the relaxation room for hot chai mint tea and baklava. Glancing in the mirror, I saw that my skin was glowing, and I'm certain I looked younger.
Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant, Quebec
Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant is modelled on the Finnish tradition of bathing outdoors in different temperatures, and alternates between warm and cold treatments. The ritual is best done in three to four cycles. Each starts with warming the body followed by cold-water dips to snap the pores shut (an effect reputed to strengthen the immune system), and ends with relaxation sessions. It took two hours to do three cycles, including one where I lounged in an outdoor hot bath, then plunged into the freezing cold Diable River. Afterwards, I relaxed indoors on a chair in the Zero Gravity Pavilion (the chair tilts back so your feet are above your head). Circulation pumped up and endorphins released, I felt my stress melt away.
NOTE: Le Scandinave Spa also has spas in Old Montreal and Blue Mountain, Ont. Its newest location opened in Whistler.