Spotlight on Toronto (continued)
After my visit to Ste. Anne s, my companion and I drove to the quaint nearby town of Port Hope, Ontario, where we would spend the night at the Hillcrest Victorian Inn A Valenova Spa.
My first glimpse of The Hillcrest was impressive. The inn, which sits on 15 beautifully landscaped acres with panoramic views of Lake Ontario, looks like a duke’s country home, with soaring pillars and a gracious entryway. The interior lived up to the first impression: antique furnishings and tapestries grace the common areas; a grand staircase leads up to the guest rooms.
My room, the Laura Margaret, was named in honor of the owner’s mother; her wedding picture hangs outside the door. I was delighted by the marble fireplace, the antique four-poster king bed and the big, thoroughly modern whirlpool tub. My balcony gave me views of Lake Ontario and the inn’s saltwater pool, the only one in Canada. Again, there was no television in sight, though one could be provided on request. A sensible arrangement, I thought, as the Hillcrest aims to be a peaceful setting for rest and relaxation.
The Hillcrest, formerly a sister property to Ste. Anne s, was acquired in 2004 by Robin Dines, who began an extensive program of renovations and restorations and added the Valenova concept. Valenova derives from the Latin greeting valeo, which means wishing you health, strength and prosperity, Ms. Dines explains, and nova means new. We strive to ensure that guests experience a sense of well-being. Ms. Dines innovations included not only the saline pool, but outdoor spa gazebos, a new hot tub, new landscaping, new signature treatments, a new innkeeper, Rochelle Larmour and a star chef Elaina Asselin, one of Toronto’s top-rated toques.
At dinner, I quickly discovered what an artist Chef Elaina is. Not only are her dishes sublime, they are simply beautiful to behold. (I should mention that the restaurant, with its sweep of windows, is the perfect setting for all this artistry.) An amuse-bouche of daikon, ginger and wasabi woke up my taste buds just in time for the Corn Pepper Soup. The Heirloom Tomato Salad was the best I’ve ever tasted (and I’m from the state that produces the fabulous Jersey tomatoes!). Organic Grilled Polenta with a medley of fresh vegetables was exquisite. Dessert choices included a selection of Canada’s raw milk cheeses and a peach pie with berries and fresh cream. I tasted everything. Chef Elaina’s healthy, organic recipes made me wish I could find a table like hers at home.
The quality of the staff at Hillcrest matches the cuisine. When I asked for feather pillows instead of the non-allergenic ones on my bed, they were delivered in a trice and with a smile. Turndown came with homemade chocolate.
The spa, located below the main floor, offers a full menu of massage, bodywork, hydrotherapy and esthetic services. Among the newer signature Valenova treatments is the Valenova Wave (1 hour, $120), during which the therapist uses warmed holly oil infused with the spa’s signature scent during a massage consisting of a gentle gliding motion to create a rhythmical, wave-like effect. The massage is aimed at loosening tension and easing tired muscles. For golfers, the spa has the Valenova Athletic Golfer’s Massage (90 minutes $165). A 45-minute pre-golf Thai massage helps loosen major joints and stretch the primary muscles involved in the activity. A 45-minute post-golf Swedish massage flushes the muscles, helps ease any after-activity pain and relaxes the body.
I chose the Firming Moor Mud Facial (75 minutes, $130) because the spa uses (and sells) Dr. Hauschka skin care products. I am a fan of these holistic products developed by the late Dr. Hauschka; they use medical grade herbs, harvested by hand and handled without the addition of preservatives.
My facial began with a thorough cleansing and toning. The Golden Moor Mud, which had been mixed with fresh goat milk, was applied to my face. My therapist covered the mud with a film of gauze and hot towels. As the mud did its job to detoxify and nourish my skin my therapist massaged my scalp, my arms and legs and feet, again using the Hauschka products. These head-to-toe ministrations left me with a lovely feeling of well-being. And when the mud was cleansed, my face was satiny smooth and had no need of makeup.
Regretfully, it was time to leave Hillcrest.
A standard room is $165, based on double occupancy; a superior room is $215; the Valenova suite is $265; price includes accommodations, breakfast and use of all facilities. Various packages and promotions are offered throughout the year; the Hillcrest’s Pink Ribbon Club offers a 10% lifetime discount on accommodations, meals and services to breast cancer survivors.
The Hillcrest Victorian Inn A Valenova Spa, 175 Dorset Street West, Port Hope, Ontario; 888-253-0065;
My final night on this spa whirlwind was spent at the Claramount Inn & Spa in Picton, Ontario. Here again was a grand old home with a history. In 1904, lawyer Edward M. Young purchased a six-acre parcel of land overlooking Picton Harbour and engaged architect William Newlands to design the colonial revival mansion that would be called Claramount, after his wife, Clara. Over the years, and before it was purchased by the present owners, Claramount became a tourist home, an apartment house and home of the Prince Edward Cruising Club.
The architect’s original drawings, which had been preserved in the Archives at Queen’s University, revealed that about one-third of the plan the part which would have afforded views of the bay and grounds stretching down to the water–had never been executed. That wing of the mansion was then added; it houses two suites, the dining room, kitchen and spa treatment rooms. Nearing completion when I visited: Prince Edward County’s first swimming pool complex.
The property has ten suites (three in the adjacent coach house); prices begin at $149 a night for the coach and $175 a night in the mansion. From May 15-October 15, there is a two-night minimum on weekends (three nights on holiday weekends).
My spacious (mansion) suite was furnished with French antiques and had a full sitting room as well as a private verandah and large bathroom with a separate shower and big soaking tub. There was also an LCD television with ca
which I was glad to see after a couple of news-free days.
The inn’s restaurant, Clara, is a period room with a lovely verandah and a view of Picton Bay. It’s well known in the area, thanks to Executive Chef Luis de Sousa, who uses fresh local ingredients whenever possible in his innovative dishes. The menu includes lighter fare for example, a combination of fresh vegetables, garbanzo beans and water chestnuts tossed in a Thai curry sauce as well as richer dishes, like a pan-seared filet mignon served with walnuts and roasted fennel drizzled with Armagnac Danish Bleu cheese Port wine reduction. I sampled the latter and somehow still managed a superb dessert: a phyllo basket filled with lemon custard and topped with fresh berries and mango served in a phyllo basket with raspberry coulis.
The following morning, when I visited the spa, I was interested to learn that the treatment philosophy draws from the therapeutic model developed by Sebastian Kneipp in mid-nineteenth century Bavaria. His wellness program had five pillars: movement therapies, nutrition for health, the use of botanicals and regenerative therapies and the use of water.
The spa menu is quite extensive, featuring everything from body care to face care to hand and foot care and various water therapies. As the spa draws clients from the surrounding areas, there are a number of day spa packages. For example, the five-hour Decadent Day package at $395 includes: a 60-minute Kneipp Therapy (choice of two); a 90-minute Body Therapy (choice of two); 120 minute Aesthetics (multiple choices of facial and nail care) and 30 minutes of Wellness Strategies (choice of two).
As my time here was limited, I chose the Kneipp Wet Socks treatment (30 minutes, $35), which can be experienced separately or as a prelude to massage and bodywork. After my therapist settled me comfortably on a warmed bed with a pillow, she put a pair of ice cold wet socks on my feet; a warm and wooly pair went on top of those. This simple treatment, which can be done easily at home, stimulates the body’s natural responses and stimulates metabolism a very good thing early in the morning. While the socks were doing their work, my therapist worked on pressure points on my head and scalp and administered a delightful foot massage. All the water therapies are followed by a drink of spring water or herbal tea (mine was a blend of lavender, calendula and rose hips) and a fifteen-minute wrap n rest. All of this prepared me nicely for the trip to the Toronto airport and the flight home.
Claramount Inn & Spa, 97 Bridge Street, Picton, Ontario; 800-679-7756;
Spotlight on Toronto