When Ste. Anne’s Inn opened a splendid spa at its popular inn in the mid-1990s, many people had no idea what a spa was. And even if they did, they often didn’t put much stock in the long-term viability of the personal care industry. Since then, many of Ontario’s premier inns and hotels have added spa services and spa facilities to their menu of offered travellers. While many have followed Ste. Anne’s example, only a very few have come close to matching the luxury and quality of experience offered here. And it is an experience.
Rather than being asked to show up 20 minutes before the start of your treatment – as is typical at other spas – Ste. Anne’s requests your entire day. When you have time for reflection between a three-course spa lunch, a peaceful soak in an outdoor hot tub, having your pores exfoliated, or strolling through the wildflowers in the quiet Northumberland hills, you’ll be glad you took the whole day to get away from your everyday life. And, did we mention Ste. Anne’s Inn is found in the closest thing Southern Ontario has to a castle?
Buoyed by its reputation (founded on endless awards, designations, and magazine accolades) as one of Ontario’s must-visit spas, Ste. Anne’s is extremely popular. Typically, reservations are made at least a few weeks in advance. This is particularly true of summer weekends when visitors from Toronto and beyond stay in the luxurious inn and enjoy several days of spa treatments. Day guests are certainly welcome, and it’s a great way to get a more affordable taste of the high life.
Before you even arrive, you’ll receive an emailed itinerary of your day. Don’t worry: this is nothing like your work to-do list. You start with a friendly orientation of the facility, including the locker room complete with steam room, and relaxation room where you sip cucumber water in a cosy robe while waiting for your treatment.
Next up is the main event, your treatment. For me, this meant the Contouring Mud Stone Wrap, while my friend opted for the Botanical Resurfacing Facial.
The true purpose of all Ste. Anne’s treatments, and its entire spa, really, is bringing healing through human touch. I really felt this soothing spirit in the spa and with my esthetician. She knowledgeably explained the skin-tightening and circulation-enhancing properties of each ingredient used in the masque (winter green, camphor, and red pepper) as she massaged it into my skin with hot basalt rocks. My body was then wrapped in warm cloths which, along with the soothing music, pleasant smells, and soft lighting, had a soporiphic effect. As I drifted in and out of a light sleep, my face, head, and feet were firmly, but carefully massaged. Ninety minutes may sound like a nice, long treatment on paper, but I definitely didn’t want it to end. I washed the mud off in a warm shower in the treatment room before heading to the relaxation room to debrief with my friend on her treatment and let her feel my newly silky smooth arms!
As a relative newbie to spas, my friend opted to stick with the treatment that allowed her a little more modesty than the tiny bits of material protecting the modesty of body treatment folks. Facials at Ste. Anne’s are about relaxation and rejuvenation, rather than intensive extraction sessions with lots of pinching and prodding. My friend raved about the quality (and “delicious” scent) of the products and how much cleaner her face felt afterwards.
We serenely glided – the only way to move after being pampered for over an hour – to lunch. Unlike some spas which dole out a tiny kale salad or a juice blend, Ste. Anne’s culinary excellence extends to its spa meals. Served at tables overlooking the rolling green Northumberland hills, lunch is in a cozy room with details that would not have been out of place in the Massey’s original home, such as a large fireplace, black and white marble floors, and period paintings. After perusing several choices from each of three courses, I chose an heirloom twist on the caprese salad with layers of slice tomatoes covered in fresh basil, crumbled goats cheese, pickled onion, lettuce, and balsamic reduction; a thick quinoa pate and pear and fennel slaw served on a ciabatta; and a very attractive multi-layered chocolate torte.
After enjoying our meal, we realized we had about three hours to spare before tea time (where you indulge in tasty mini treats from a savory or sweet tray). While we were tempted by the outdoor hot tubs, we decided – reluctantly, perhaps – to slip out of our spa robes and back into our clothes to take a walk on the groomed hiking trails that surround the spa. First stop on our nature tour was the inn’s own gardens which guests are welcome to explore. Meticulously maintained, amazingly lush, and arranged for aesthetics as well as functionality, the gardens supply the inn’s famous kitchen with herbs and veggies, as well as showcase thriving lavender, sunflower, and other flowering beauties.
We then headed through the fields of native wildflowers, such as golden rod and purple aster, and ascended the gentle hills. Making our way through friendly woods, we reached the peak of the highest hill. A charming, human-sized stone angel created us at the top as well as a lovely view over the property and the castle.
If all this relaxing activity isn’t enough, Ste Anne’s has a full schedule of wellness classes offered throughout the day, including yoga, meditation, circuit training, and snowshoeing in the winter.
You won’t want to leave the sanctuary of this serene property, but there’s an enticement. Just a couple minutes down the road is the inn’s own bakery, stocking gluten-free goodies, such as butter tarts, healthy breads, and packs of cookies to-go.
There are often seasonal deals for spa getaways in Ste. Anne’s email newsletter, so sign-up and prepare to be tempted to escape to your own castle retreat.