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On her trip to Canada, Lucy Daltroff discovers unusual spas, chocolate treatments, vineyards and delicious ice wine.  I was lucky enough to visit two spas in Ontario, Canada, that were both wonderful in different ways. The first was in the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is just a 20-minute...

Tw(ice) as Nice

On her trip to Canada, Lucy Daltroff discovers unusual spas, chocolate treatments, vineyards and delicious ice wine. 

I was lucky enough to visit two spas in Ontario, Canada, that were both wonderful in different ways. The first was in the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is just a 20-minute drive from the over-commercialised area surrounding the Falls but a world away in appearance. Dignified grey clapboard houses and tasteful shops create a natural backdrop to the horse and carriage stands that are the most popular form of transport. It is so olde worlde that I found it hard to place it so close to the US, which is on the opposite side of the Niagara River –while Toronto is just further round the lake. Well all right, it is Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes, but not that far away nevertheless. 

The town was the original capital of Ontario and is famous for its historical military associations including Fort George, which has recently been restored. I was really surprised to see a large statue of George Bernard Shaw dominating the town centre until I found out that a former mayor was a fan and started what is now the famous Shaw Festival. This takes place annually from April to November and draws an enormous crowd, filling three theatres. This year (2011) is the festival’s 50th season. 

Canada’s low winter temperatures meant that I did not associate vineyards in my mental picture of the area before my trip. How wrong I was! This is a thriving winemaking area, owing to a niche microclimate, ideal for grape growing. I visited one of these, the famous Inniskillin winery and was particularly taken by their ice wine. The grapes are left on the vine in the cold, to concentrate and intensify the flavours as the water content freezes, and thaws. The grape is eventually picked when the weather has stabilised at – 8ºC! The end product is mature with a deep fruity flavour and I was instantly hooked – despite the price being higher than other wines. 

During my time at Niagara-on-the-Lake, I stayed at the comfortable Pillar and Post Hotel, originally built in the late 1890s as a canning factory. Now with roaring fires and traditional charm, it really comes into its own, especially during the Shaw Festival.

The hotel’s excellent 100 Fountain Spa has 12 treatment rooms, a spacious beauty salon, indoor saltwater pool, whirlpool, sauna and steam room and exotic outdoor hot springs. The spa brochure promises ‘A wide variety of treatments encompassing head to toe, from mind to soul.’ Hotel guests are also welcome down the road at sister spa the Secret Garden in the Prince of Wales Hotel, which is also owned by the Vintage Hotels group. Speciality tea-based treatments include a Green Tea and Sugar Cane Pedicure. Botox and pre-Botox treatments are also available. 

Back at the 100 Fountain Spa, I could have had a make-up lesson, described as ‘how to apply your makeup in a natural and easy to follow method, for everyday wear.’ It was tempting, but I plumped instead for one of the spa’s signature treatments, using the healing and anti-oxidant properties of the grape products grown in the region. Other options included a pedicure, wine scrub, facial or a top-to-toe ‘wine’ taster combination. I decided on the Vinotherapy Wellness Wrap, a 50-minute body wrap and can honestly say I have never enjoyed that much wine with such beneficial effects! 

Linda, my therapist told me she had worked in her job for over 10 years – and that most of the staff has been there even longer. This seemed to be a fitting tribute, not only to the hotel, but also to the area as a whole. 

I was reluctant to take my leave and drive to Toronto. From there it was a one-hour train journey to Cobourg to visit my second spa, the popular Ste Anne’s destination spa. 

The drive from the station is a good way to see some of the 500-acre grounds. Ste Anne’s is a destination spa/country health retreat rather than a hotel with a spa attached; a place to enjoy and relax, complete with attentive service. Use of mobiles and computers is discouraged and as it was cold outside, the wood-burning fire in my spacious bedroom gave an even greater feeling of homeliness. Everything is informal with comfort and health being the driving forces. 

At lunchtime, after exercise classes or treatments, most guests sit in the dining room to eat their organic meal, wearing the towelling robes and slippers that are provided in each room. I spoke to some guests, who said that it was exactly because it was so unpretentious and informal that they came back each year. Trying to organise attendance at one of the classes, (for me it was yoga) proved difficult. I later found out that classes should be booking in advance to avoid disappointment. I could understand their popularity; a good class, in the scenic setting of a room with large windows on three sides overlooking landscaped gardens. 

Spa signature treatments are seasonal, and I had no arguments when I found out that during the period of my stay, they were all based on chocolate. My warm hot chocolate Swedish massage lived up to all expectations. I was even given an edible going home present in case I was disappointed that I couldn’t eat the chocolate used during the session! 

Other amenities on site at Ste Anne’s include an outside hot tub, a steam room, and spring water pools. Snowshoes are available for the more energetic and there are organised walks, some taking in spectacular views of Lake Ontario. 

My short visit was an outstanding spa experience and will stay with me for a long time. 

Lucy flew with British Airways to Toronto
Return fares including all taxes and surcharges from £680
www.britishairways.comInniskillin Winery 1499 Line #3 at the Niagara Parkway
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
L0S 1J0
www.inniskillin.comThe Pillar and Post Hotel
48 John Street W
PO Box 1011
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
L0S 1J0
Average daily room rate for a traditional room starts from £125 a night.

Ste Anne’s Country Inn and Spa.
1009 Massey Road,
Grafton, ON, K0K 2G0
A standard overnight stay starts from £276 includes breakfast, lunch, dinners, afternoon tea a $100 spa allowance and two wellness classes.

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