Spotlight on Toronto
Recently I had a difficult assignment: to see how many spas in the greater Toronto area I could visit in three days. My first stop was the Elizabeth Milan spa at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York hotel.
Like the other Fairmont properties in Canada, the Royal York is a former Canadian Pacific hotel, a grand historic building reflecting the splendor of a bygone age.
An elegant and stately lobby gives a hint of pleasures yet to come like the spacious rooms, many with fine city views and the warm yet sophisticated dining room. The menu was impressive and I sampled some of its delicious offerings during my brief stay: oatmeal brul at breakfast and an excellent dinner that included a well-made Caesar salad, a crab suite, a perfectly cooked New York strip steak and a dessert sampler that featured licorice-flavored flan, a berry tart and sticky rice pudding.
The Elizabeth Milan spa is on the hotel’s lower concourse, along with a number of shops and boutiques. The spa has eleven treatment rooms, two body treatment rooms (one is located in a converted bank vault, complete with heavy stainless steel doors), a double pedicure room, four manicure stations and a full service hair salon. There’s also a spa shop that is fairly small, but which stocks top skin care lines, including Guinot, Decleor and MD Formula.
I was scheduled to have the Chocolate Indulgence Body Treatment (90 minutes, $175 CAD) Note: all prices given in CAD, valued at $.86 at this writing. Though I firmly subscribe to the health benefits of dark chocolate when consumed in moderation, I confess I have been skeptical about the efficacy of chocolate-related body treatments. Ninety minutes later, I was ready to concede that this treatment, at least, was a winner.
As my therapist, Carolyn, led me into the treatment room, the aroma of hot chocolate (from scented candles) set the stage for my first indulgence: a dry brushing followed by a raspberry chocolate mousse foaming bath that would soften my skin and lull me into a state of relaxation. Enhancing the experience were the projections on the wall, which, in the darkened room, appeared to resemble morsels of chocolate.
When my bath was over, my body was polished with a chocolate exfoliant, followed by a hydrating fondue wrap enhanced by a chocolate cream. While I was cocooned in this chocolate-y bliss, Carolyn massaged my scalp with aromatic oils. My lips were indulged in a treatment of French chocolate. The finishing touch was an application of a creamy milk chocolate moisturizing body cream. I smelled so delectably chocolate; all I needed now was a shot of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. But there was more yet to come.
As I relaxed contentedly outside the treatment room, Carolyn brought me a hot chocolate with a touch of Jalapeno pepper. No wonder this place has attracted such celebrity clients as Jennifer Lopez, the Duchess of York and Placido Domingo.
Before I left the spa, I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Milan herself. Ms. Milan was preparing to leave for Thailand to attend a spa expo and to investigate new products and techniques. In a field that is crowded with instant experts, she is the real deal, a founding member of Premier Spas of Ontario and one of Canada’s leading authorities on skin care. We discussed her spa menu, which includes a rich variety of innovative treatments for men, women, couples and teens for example, the Amazing Grape Treatment, which includes AHA acids, Merlot exfoliation, Merlot bath, Sauvignon Bady Wrap and an application of Chardonnay cream (the finale here is a glass of bubbly); the Spirit of South Seas Body Ritual, which incorporates indigenous ingredients; the Native Aboriginal Body Ritual, a treatment homage to Canada’s Native Indians; and the Balinese Coffee Scrub, a body wake-up treatment for men. Ms. Milan made it clear that while she is interested in worthwhile innovations, she is not a follower of fads.
She offers various packages, such as the two-hour Spa Sampler ($175), which consists of a Spa Facial and a one-hour Body Massage and the comprehensive (6 1/1 hours) Royal Spa Day ($560), which includes a Guinot Facial, Honey and Milk Body Heaven, one-hour Therapeutic Massage, a Honey and Milk Pedicure, Hand Miracle, Hair Style, Eyebrow Arch and a Spa Bubbly Supreme.
Elizabeth Milan Spa, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, 100 Front Street West, Toronto, Ontario; 416-350-7500;
The Elmwood Spa, a spacious Toronto oasis since 1982, is located in a historic Edward James Lennox five-story building in the heart of downtown. The building is rich in detail, with ornamental faces carved into the pillars at the front entrance, all of which creates a sense of occasion as you arrive at the Elmwood.
The spa has completed much of its extensive renovation project: the re-opening of the main floor reception area, two new high-speed elevators, a new boutique for After Spa Care, an expanded men’s change room with its own whirlpool and steam room, twelve new treatment rooms, including rooms for couples treatments and the private Kashmir room with fireplace and in-room shower.
Marie Picton, Executive Manager of Spa Services, gave me a tour of the facilities, explaining as we walked that the Elmwood’s aim was to create a home away from home. It would seem that this major renovation, which will result in an impressive 38 treatment rooms, was in the process of creating the home we all wished to have. My personal favorite was the charming dining room, which had a small terrace (perfect for fair weather dining) and an appealing menu, which includes such appetizers as Parisienne Mushroom Soup with Smoked Chicken and Scallions and Thai Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Sweet Chili Sauce. The selection of entre’s included Moroccan Grilled Chicken with Ni oise Olive Couscous and Roast Tomato Coulis and Pan Roasted Salmon with Chickpeas, Fingerling Potatoes and Salsa Verde. A three-course lunch at $25 is also offered.
I had been looking forward to the Li Tya Binhumarri Treatment (70 minutes, $150), as I had not yet experienced LiTya, a collection of natural spa care rituals originating with Australia’s earth and first peoples, the Aboriginals. The Li Tya line of skin and body care products was launched in 1997 by Gayle Heron, using the name bestowed on her company by the Aboriginal elder who had worked with her throughout ten development years. The products all come from the earth and are free from artificial fragrances and colors, petroleum or mineral oils, alcohol, traditional cosmetic filers, preservatives and animal by-products (with the exception of natural beeswax and native stringybark honey). The treat
and products are exclusive in Canada to The Elmwood Spa.
My Binhummari treatment (the word means to greet ), the spa’s signature offering, began with Aboriginal music and a ritual foot cleansing. All the plants and herbs that would be used in the treatment including desert salt, lemon myrtle and wild rosella were part of the footbath. Next came a full body exfoliation using mineral salts sourced from ancient sea beds and native flowers and plants. After a warm shower, my therapist administered the MIJI KODO massage using the powerful essential oils I had selected by scent, advising me that as I had chosen the strongest of these oils, I should drink plenty of water throughout the day. The massage was a vigorous one and involved kneading, bending, stretching and pinching. When we were finished, I felt thoroughly invigorated and my skin was wonderfully soft.
Other Li Tya treatment combinations for example, the Li Tya Lowanna Facial, Hand & Food Ritual (2 hours, $185) are available, as are various spa packages for men, women and couples. The Essential Half Day Retreat (5 hours, $280) includes a 50-minute Swedish Massage, an Essential Facial, a Pedicure and Manicure, Water Therapies and a take-home give of ElmLine Cream & Foot Cream. The Deluxe Full Day Retreat (8 hours, $470) includes a 75-minute Swedish Massage, a Deluxe Facial, Manicure & Pedicure; soothing Water Therapies, a Wash & Style at the Hair Studio, a three-course lunch in the Terrace restaurant and a take-home gift of ElmLine Hand Cream, Foot Cream and Body Polish.
The Elmwood Spa, 18 Elm Street, Toronto, Ontario, 416-977-6751;
Arriving at Ste. Anne’s Spa in Grafton, Ontario (about 75 miles east of Toronto), my companion and I pulled up to a large multi-winged house made of entirely of fieldstones. Here’s another slice of history, I thought, and later, when I met owner Jim Corcoran, I learned a bit about that history. The original farmhouse, which dates back to the 1850s and was known locally as Grafton Castle, had belonged to the wealthy Massey family. Later, it was acquired by the oil-rich Blaffers, an American family from Texas. They expanded the building, which served as their summer home, and named it Ste. Anne s, after Canada’s patron saint, Ste. Anne de Beaupr .
When the present owner’s parents, Carl and Nan Corcoran, first came to view the property in 1981, it had been vacant for over a decade and was in a state of serious disrepair. The Corcorans bought it anyway and for the next few years, they and their seven children worked to renovate Ste. Anne s. In 1982, when a friend of Nan’s visited the property, that the concept of making it a place of healing was born. The friend, who had a reputation as a gifted seer, gave Nan the inscription that is located over the main entrance: I have chosen this beautiful garden where I will send many people to be healed.
Present owner Jim Corcoran has played a key role in more recent renovations and in transforming the bed-and-breakfast his brother and sister-in-law had created into a spa destination.
New spa amenities were added throughout the 1990s, the most important perhaps being Canada’s only full-immersion mud baths, as well as an outdoor hydrotherapy grotto, eucalyptus steam rooms, dry saunas and a day spa facility. Jim also incorporated elements of Aveda’s approach to spa development. In recent years, the Maison Sant , a 5000 square-foot fitness and wellness facility was constructed a short distance from the main building. Early 2004, a 15,000 square-foot expansion of the main inn, clad in Kingston granite to harmonize with the original fieldstone exterior, was completed. Recently, a shell has been built for a pool, which will extend the sun patio and serve as a site for hydrotherapy and water treatments.
Corcoran’s long-term vision is to develop this 570-acre parcel of land into a health and wellness community comprised of more spa facilities, a low-density residential component, recreational elements and light agriculture.
Currently Ste. Anne’s the main inn and five guesthouses has a maximum capacity of 100 guests (60 overnight and 40 day spa guests). There are 30 treatment rooms, 16 guest suites in the main inn and 8 spa cottages (suitable for family reunions or girlfriend getaways). Overnight accommodations start at $375 per person in a standard double room; this includes three meals, afternoon tea, a $100 spa allowance, a choice of two group fitness classes and use of all the facilities. A minimum of two nights is required.
Each room at Ste. Anne’s has a different name and unique d cor; some are quite luxurious, with spacious canopy beds and bathrooms with whirlpool tubs. No television sets were in sight, though a few are available on request for those who just can’t do without.
I had time for one treatment, and as it was a warm day, it was the Citrus Cucumber Spritz, which began with a cucumber and sugar exfoliation followed by cooling cucumber, a cool wrap across the stomach, cool stones and cucumbers on the eyes. Next came a warm rinse, a massage with citrus grapefruit essential oil and a face and scalp massage followed by another rinse. The finale: a cooling grapefruit drink served in a martini glass.
The spa menu is extensive; in addition to esthetic treatments and body work, it features a number of hydrotherapy and heat treatments, including the Moor Mud Bath (45 minutes, $75), the Contouring Mud Stone Wrap (90 minutes, $170) and the Milk & Sesame Stone Wrap (90 minutes, $170). A day at Ste. Anne’s ( Carpe Diem ) costs $165 and includes lunch, afternoon tea, a $100 spa allowance and two group fitness classes. Also offered are lifestyle and wellness consultations, as well as a number of different personal training sessions.
For Toronto residents who plan to arrive by train, Ste. Anne’s has a popular add-on known as the Stress Express a train ticket from Toronto to the town of Coburg, followed by a limousine ride through the countryside to the front door.
Another add-on caters to dog owners who don’t want to leave Fido at home while they re on a spa holiday. Guests can have their dog picked up from Ste. Anne’s and taken to the nearby Oberdog Ranch & Spa, a 65-acre farm that offers unlimited exercise, fresh air, freedom, the company of other dogs and lots of pampering. Starting at $65, the pet care package includes return shuttle service and overnight accommodations; additional nights are $40. Special diets and medications are administered without extra charge.
Ste. Anne s, A Haldimand Hills Aveda Spa, Grafton, Ontario, 888-346-6772;
Spotlight on Toronto