6 Canadian spas to visit this summer

You don’t need to travel too far this summer to get pampered. Here are six of the best spas Canada has to offer

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The Spa My Blend by Clarins at the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto

Located in the heart of the city’s bustling financial and performing arts districts, across from Roy Thompson Hall and steps from the Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox, this “five diamond” hotel has elegant guest rooms that feature stunning city or lake views from floor-to-ceiling windows. Facilities include the spacious outdoor patio at DEQ Terrace and Lounge, TOCA restaurant-and North America’s only Spa My Blend by Clarins.

Ranked number one on Travel & Leisure’s 2013 “world’s best hotel spa” list, the spa has 16 treatment rooms, three relaxation rooms, a champagne nail bar (a separate liquor-licensed room where clients can sip champagne while having a mani and pedi), a sauna, vitality pools and a city-view lap pool. The signature treatment at this day spa is an amazing personally tailored 90-minute facial called “My Blend.”

My session began with a thorough, 20-minute computer analysis of my skin by an aesthetician using state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging technology that looks at a number of factors including dryness, hydration and sun damage. My results showed pigmentation (unseen to the naked eye, it indicates sun damage that can be helped with the right skincare regimen), combi­nation skin that was dehydrated in places, moderate firmness, redness in spots and some apparent wrinkles. The aesthetician then picked out the optimum concentrations of peptide complexes, vitamins and plant extracts from the spa-exclusive My Blend products, plus some booster serums for the facial treatment, which included a lot of wonderful massage. My skin felt and looked totally regenerated. Afterwards, I cuddled under soft blankets on a lounger in the women’s relaxation area and sipped tea. My plan is to return with girlfriends on a special occasion and book the champagne nail bar so we can gossip, sip bubbly and be pampered.

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The Spa at Casino New Brunswick

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 $270). 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.

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Le Baluchon, Quebec

Auberge Le Baluchon, in Saint-Paulin, sits about 40 minutes north of Trois Rivières on about 2,600 hectares of private land-and it has something for everyone to enjoy. Its property includes an archipelago of eight islands, plus waterfalls, forests and a river. The 88 rooms are divided into four different lodges; the Island Lodge is one specifically for spa guests. There are multiple activities year-round and 22 kilometres of trails.

I stayed in one of the renovated spa lodge rooms (not all are) and loved the charming combo of rustic-styled chic with a log and bark motif, and modern amenities such as gas fireplace, rain shower, glass sink and flat-screen TV. I also had a view of the forest.

The spa lodge has a pool, relaxation area and multiple treatment rooms. I chose to have a signature treatment called the Archipelago Isles Massage. The massage therapist used wide movements with her forearms to create the sensation of waves. The gentle yet deep-pressure massage was geared to relax my muscles and mind, and used stretching movements to further release physical and emotional tension. I didn’t want her to stop, which to me is the sign of a perfect massage.

The spa offers a hot/cold Nordic circuit on the banks of the magnificent Rivière du Loup. After my massage, I enjoyed the Nordic circuit starting with the dry sauna. Then I immersed myself quickly in the cold plunge pool outside, which I found bracing but invigor­ating. After that I stayed outdoors for 10 minutes, wrapped in a robe and blanket in an armchair close to the fireplace, before heading for the outdoor heated whirlpool.

By then I was ready for a good meal. Luckily I’d brought my appetite, as the food in the Baluchon’s main restaurant is delicious. Chef Yan Gabriel Gauthier sources locally for his “ecologically aware” gastronomy; four courses cost $50. The menu changes seasonally; I enjoyed marinated Saint-Alexis-des-Monts trout and rack of pork from Ferme de Nordest in Mont-Laurier, as well as local cheeses from Fromagerie Bédouin and Charlevoix. Only in Quebec does a health regimen include such gastronomy.

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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.

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Spa 225 at Chez Shea, P.E.I.

Spa 225 at Chez Shea, P.E.I.

Chez Shea Inn sits on about one hectare in Kinkora, a quiet village a 10-minute drive from the Confederation Bridge. It’s close to major Island attractions such as Green Gables in Cavendish, and Victoria by the Sea, and is central to major golf courses.

Built in 1921 by M.J. McIvor, an Island potato farmer, Chez Shea was a community hall for weddings and celebrations before McIvor lost it during the Depression. It was sold to the Sisters of St. Martha’s, who converted it into St. Stanislaus Convent in 1935. When the convent was dissolved in 1993, the facility became a boarding house for the workers who built the Confederation Bridge. Today, the inn is still fondly referred to as “The Convent” by locals.

A spa plus bed and breakfast, Chez Shea has eight cozily decorated guest rooms with ensuite bathrooms. A typical breakfast begins with a fresh fruit salad, juices, coffee, and regular and herbal teas, and might include cinnamon-raisin French toast or whole-wheat banana pancakes with local maple syrup. “Bonnie’s egg dish” is full of fresh herbs from the kitchen garden, organic vege­tables and Island cheeses.

Guests on one of the spa’s “detox” programs get a different start to the day. They participate in creating just about everything offered on a detox, including breakfast protein smoothies and NutriBullet drinks (liquefied fruit and vegetables).

The spa offers a full range of services from oxygen botanical facials, body wraps and massages, to foot treatments. I had the Seaweed Body Slimming Wrap. Spa owner and licensed esthetician Anne Marie Shea, who has training in detox programs and aromatherapy, wrapped me from ankle to upper neck in cloth soaked in a mineral-rich seaweed con­coction, which had a water-like viscosity. Then I lay down with a warm infrared sauna dome over me to help my skin better absorb the minerals.

The treatment is designed to slim down the waistline, stomach, hips, thighs and even chin, while toning the skin and reducing inflammation. My measurements afterwards were less than at the start (but my guess
is that this was probably a result of losing excess water retention). I could see how it would be great before a big event. In fact, Anne Marie told me seaweed wraps and sauna are a secret of Hollywood celebrities before hitting the red carpet.

The 90-minute session included essential oils therapy and a mud bath, and managed to soothe my aching muscles (the result of playing golf). The seaweed wrap can be part of a detox program or booked on a day-spa basis. I just came for the day, although I’d love to return and stay longer while exploring the island. I’ve already decided on my favourite room-Jemseg, with its pretty veranda.

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Taboo Muskoka Resort, Ontario

Located on 405 hectares of parkland, Taboo is an upscale resort on Lake Muskoka. For history buffs, it opened as Muskoka Beach Inn in 1926, then reopened after a complete rebuild as Muskoka Sands in 1953; in 2002 it became Taboo. A multi-million-dollar renovation in 2012 converted it from a summer resort to a year-round retreat, with many of its 100 rooms redesigned by renowned Canadian firm Cecconi Simone. The oversize rooms with gas fireplaces and deep-soaking tubs are ultra-stylish, and my husband and I loved ours with its balcony and great view of the lake.

The Elements restaurant has an 18-seat “culinary theatre,” where chefs interact with guests who sit at a horseshoe-shaped dining counter surrounding the cooking action. Four to six courses are prepared right before your eyes. The night we were there, the meal was a delicious parade of cured trout with roe, shiitake consommé, seared striped bass, beet risotto, gnocchi with smoked bacon, rack of lamb, espresso crème brulée and dark chocolate bonbon. Wine pairings by Markus Carl, Taboo’s wine director, were brilliant. For more casual fare, there’s also informal dining in the Fireside Pub.

The gorgeous 5,000-square-foot spa has a couple’s suite where my husband and I enjoyed a romantic treatment called “Suite Serenity.” In our private enclave with the fireplace blazing, we started with a soak in the tub for two. Then, side by side on massage tables, each with our own therapist, we had mimosa and champagne body scrubs followed by hydrating chocolate-coconut body wraps. We rinsed this off in our private double-head rain shower and then enjoyed 60-minute holistic massages using natural oils and essences. It was 2½ hours of complete bliss that set us up for the romantic meal to follow.

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