Summer’s over and the festive holiday season hasn’t quite commenced yet, and you find yourself trying to keep your spirits up while juggling endless to dos in the midst of bracing colder, shorter and darker days. You’d love nothing more than to get away from it all and recharge somewhere far and away: indulging at an all-inclusive tropical destination, reviving body and spirit at an exotic yoga retreat, or getting pampered at a world class spa. Unfortunately, since such fantasy trips aren’t so feasible, most of us enjoy these escapes in our minds more frequently than in our lives. Fortunately, as my friend Marinela and I recently discovered, mini-vacations in or around your hometown can provide the dream worthy benefits of a longer vacation without the time and financial investment.
The idea of a shorter, semi-local getaway was a welcome notion for Marinela, who has a high pressure corporate job where she logs in countless hours at the office and stays plugged in after hours with her Blackberry. Months of trying tirelessly to balance work and life demands had been taking a toll on her for a while, and even led to her getting sick from burn out in the summer. Add to this that the week of our trip, she faced a series of calamities that left her feeling completely drained and depleted. Thankfully, she mustered the will to stick with the getaway plan, and was grateful for doing so.
Things on my end weren’t as eventful, but I embraced the idea of a mini-holiday just the same. As a healing and wellness practitioner, I’m always telling my clients about the importance of balancing giving with receiving, and reminding them that by replenishing ourselves, we actually have more to offer the world. So I simply decided to practice what I preach and treat myself while bonding with a good friend, knowing that a little time out to rejuvenate would help me be of even greater service when I returned.
Since we both live and work in Toronto, we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and take a road trip somewhere within Ontario that offered a good mix of R&R options. After considering several possibilities (including Prince Edward County, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Stratford and Muskoka), we settled on the quaint resort town of Blue Mountain in Collingwood.
Known as Ontario’s largest winter playground, we learned that this charming haven offers year-round recreation and leisure activities and is perfectly suited for an ideal wellness trip for solo or girlfriend retreats. We booked a two night weekday escape (better deals and less crowds) at the Westin Trillium, and on the last Thursday this past October, we set off on our trip on a bright – rare for this time of year – sunshiny morning.
After a scenic two hour drive north of Toronto, we found the Westin “nestled between the shores of Georgian Bay and the heights of the Niagara Escarpment,” as stated on its website. The château style exterior of the 5-star hotel was elegantly balanced with a modern but warm Zen inspired interior. We noticed (and admired) that this theme was carried through to the smallest details, like the decorative glass bowls strategically placed on lobby desks and counters that were filled with a harmonious blend of stones, still water and pink and red floating gerbera flowers – making even the short wait for signing in a soothing experience. After a fast and friendly check-in, we were delighted to enter our two bedroom loft, which provided a scenic view of the hotel’s heated outdoor pools set against the backdrop of the resort village and Georgian Bay.
In accordance with the Condé Nast award winning hotel’s official “Heavenly” theme, the room offered enough spa like amenities to enjoy a wellness retreat without needing to go anywhere else: the muted, earth toned colours of the walls and furniture, the cozy sitting area anchored around a gas fireplace, the dual showerhead designed for double the power and pleasure, the plush Brazilian combed cotton towels, the sumptuous Kimono bath robes, the White Tea Aloe toiletries exclusive to the Westin, and the “Heavenly” bed, that, with its layers of ultra-soft Egyptian cotton linens and down pillows and duvet, actually lived up to its name.
We certainly relished in our experience here. In fact, I don’t think we ever took off our robes during our entire time in the room, which we spent sipping herbal teas, munching on delectable treats that we brought from home (dark chocolate, dried and fresh fruit, cheese and crackers), meditating, doing oracle card readings, painting our nails, reading magazines, and of course, talking! If you really want to splurge, you can also book in-room spa treatments like facials and massages and order room service from their enticing and varied all day/late night menus.
We also took advantage of features beyond the wonderful confines of our room – like the Westin WORKOUT room (okay, I slept in while Marinela soldiered in an early morning workout), the dry indoor sauna and the outdoor heated pools, which are open all year long and turned out to be a thrilling treat on our cold and grey Friday there.
Though we were perfectly content enjoying the Westin’s watery wonders, a highlight of the trip was visiting the renowned Scandenave Spa on Thursday. Named a “Top 50 Spa” by SpasofAmerica.com for three years in a row, as well as winning the SpaFinder’s Readers Choice “Best for Affordability in 2011” award, this aquatic sanctuary is a seven minute drive from the resort village and is wrapped by 25 acres of forested land, making you feel like you’ve left the world behind and entered a magical, secret refuge. Even crossing the wooden bridge suspended between whimsical forest trees seemed to serve as a gateway where you leave all your cares in the parking lot behind you and step into a retreat for the soul.
Mylisa Henderson, director of marketing and sales, shared with us that indeed everything about the spa – starting from the bridge – is meant to transport you to a place of complete tranquility. That can be a challenge for a facility that gets over 400 guests and books over 160 registered massages per day on weekends. But it’s easy to understand its popularity: for $48 (plus tax), you get two towels, a locker and unlimited access to all the facilities, and it’s only a two hour drive from Toronto – making it a great day trip if you don’t want to spend the night at Blue Mountain. That’s cheaper than a mani-pedi in Toronto for a day long retreat! Even their bistro serves up perfect light fare at very reasonable prices (we enjoyed scrumptious seasonal soup/salad /sandwich combos for about $10 each).
After putting on our swimsuits and showering in the luxurious change rooms, we took our slow, sweet time savouring the bath experience, which includes a Finnish sauna, eucalyptus steam room, thermal and Nordic waterfalls, hot baths, cold plunges and indoor and outdoor relaxation areas. To get the best out of our experience, we followed the spa’s hydrotherapy circuit as explained by Mylisa, “start with a 10 minute body warming treatment in the hot pool, sauna or steam room, which calms the mind and detoxifies the body.” Sounds divine. Then she advised, “take a brisk dive into the cold plunge.” She lost us there. But, she clarified that “it’s really the cold part that integrates the full wellness benefits of the therapy, as this part closes the skin’s pores, releases endorphins and boosts circulation and energy.” We were comforted to learn that you only need to do this from 10 seconds to two minutes. The last step is to relax, and then you can repeat the circuit one to three more times. One key thing to remember is to stay hydrated.
As Marinela and I followed the therapeutic circuit, we delved into deeper and deeper levels of serenity at every part of the experience. Polite but firm signs like “We Honour Silence”, “Quiet Please” and “Please Respect the Tranquility” posted on wooden planks at every curve of the spa helped maintain a peaceful atmosphere so you could bond with others through your experience instead of chit chat.
The waters seemed to heal, cleanse and purify all tension from our bodies and minds. Lying on the hammocks tucked into the forest’s edge, we noticed that even the golden hued clouds above floated by at a leisurely pace, as if whispering softly to us, “slow down, breathe, be light, flow.” We listened. We silently saw the sun set on one end of the forest and the near full moon rise on the other.
As we soaked up our last resting phase while lounging on Muskoka chairs alongside other guests around a crackling fire pit, with a canopy of the moon and stars above and the gentle breeze of fall winds whirling burnt sienna and ochre coloured leaves around us, the communal setting and Mother Nature’s magic seemed to stir up primal memories in the soul. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was connected. Not just to each other, but it seemed, at least in that moment, to everything.
It was hard to leave this paradise, but we were reassured by Mylisa’s tip that “the spa is a destination unto itself, and it’s open all year round, providing a different offering every season.” We decided we’d just have to take her up on this and come back in winter to make snow angels for the cold plunge part!
Now, no trip would be complete without indulging the taste buds. Thankfully, Blue Mountain offers up culinary delights to suit every taste and budget. From high end restaurants to casual pubs, martini bars and local cafes, the village serves up an eclectic mix of options. We opted to lunch at the Pottery Restaurant, which according to Blue Mountain Resort’s public relations specialist Collin Matanowitch, is not to be missed. The rustic and cozy atmosphere combined with a seasonal menu made this an excellent choice for a pampering meal. We also shared a fire roasted pizza and fresh salad dinner, paired perfectly with a delightful rosé wine and finished on a sweet note with a vanilla bean crème brule at the Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill, conveniently located in the Westin.
After two days of resting and indulging at our northern escape, we felt so grateful to have chosen Blue Mountain as our mini-vacation destination. As Collin said, “what’s unique about Blue Mountain is that guests have access to a wide range of accommodations and amenities, starting at $99/night during weekdays at hotels like the Blue Mountain Inn, going all the way up to 5-star hotels like the Westin, plus a plethora of attractions and packages that vary with each season.” Since our main goal was R&R, we didn’t venture into other options like hiking and biking, golf, exploring the Apple Pie Trail, dining at local restaurants of nearby towns, or the many eco and recreational tours, but it’s good to know that these options are available in case your idea of a retreat involves a lot of activity and adventure.
Hopefully our trip has inspired you to take one of your own, and here are some tips to make it a wonderful one:
Check out your city or province’s tourism site or research “top” and “best” reviews for spa resorts nearby to narrow down a destination that offers you what you want (for Blue Mountain, visit www.BlueMountain.ca and for the Scandenave Spa visit http://www.scandinave.com/en/bluemountain/)
Timing is everything! Go in shoulder or off season, and get even better deals during weekdays
Take advantage of online group coupon deals as they are often marked at significant discounts
If traveling with a friend, clarify your needs and expectations in advance so you can respect each other’s preferences during the trip
Make yourself a wellness getaway goody bag to save time and money during your trip: fill it up with yummy munchies, wine, spa goodies, magazines and books, teas, meditation CDs etc.
See if your health insurance covers registered massages or other spa services and book them!
While it’s fine to check in with your family to let them know you’re safe and well, leave your laptop, iPad, BB and other gadgets home so you can truly unplug
Perhaps the most valuable lesson we took away from this experience is that while dreaming about foreign escapes doesn’t keep us warm in the winter, treating yourself to a smaller scale local retreat actually can. Marinela went from months of being exhausted to energized and elated in two short days, while I came back completely rejuvenated and ready to give even more and better. So, let your boss, family and friends know that you will be booking a day or two in the near future for a mini-retreat of your own, and since they’ll get a happier and healthier you upon return, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Originally posted on November 8, 2012 to Lioness Woman’s Club
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