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Falling in love again; She used to wait tables in downtown Toronto. Now Mercury reporter ANUJI VARMA takes a trip back in time with a luxury upgrade.

Byline: ANUJI VARMA

IT was the summer of 1996 and some new band called The Spice Girls had shot to the number 1 spot with the catchy but annoying Wannabe.

Dolly the Sheep was cloned, and Prince Charles finally divorced his long-suffering wife, the restyled Diana, Princess of Wales.

Where was I? Staying in dingy student digs in downtown Toronto with my best pal Sarah Harrison.

We lived on sandwiches from the then-relatively unknown Subway chain and congealed slices of pizza.

We were squashed into one dorm and shared a communal shower room.

The only luxury I had was working in an upmarket gift shop in the world famous Eaton Centre - a bit like Birmingham's Bullring.

Don't get me wrong, I had a fabulous time. But it certainly was a no frills trip that would make even the owner of Ryanair blush.

Fast-forward 15 years, and I had the opportunity to return to the city and its surroundings. This time, however, things were going to be different.

Gone were the fast food takeaways and back-to-basics accommodation.

Instead, I was staying in the lap of luxury - at two of Canada's top spa resorts, no less.

After our flight with British Airways, we touched down at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. We were whisked off to our first stop - the cosy Pillar and Post in the quaint town of Niagara-onthe-Lake.

The building was originally a canning factory but it has been transformed into a haven of spa delights, complete with outside hot tub and a saltwater pool. There's also a range of special treatments available, plus fantastic relaxation areas.

My room was a far cry from my student days of backpacking. For a start, I had it all to myself.

It came with a gas fire and a bed so fluffy that I nearly disappeared into it. I even had my own bathroom, too, which came with fancy toiletries.

More importantly, there were a couple of treats in store for me.

Firstly, an anti-aging facial wrap - I needed to rewind time to catch up a little with my toyboy husband.

And secondly, a scalp massage to get rid of all that pent-up stress.

Both were quality treatments carried out by trained therapists. The waiting area was tranquil and calming, and prepared me well for the forthcoming treat.

Afterwards we headed into the town of Niagara Falls, which is just a 40 minute drive away.

The last time I had been to see this amazing site, it had been a hot summer's day.

This time the natural wonder was a glorious snow-capped vision, with glistening icicles lining the edge. The stunning view from above was even more breathtaking as we took a helicopter ride over the Falls.

Luckily, I bagged a seat by the door so even caught the rainbow which magically appeared.

Back in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I saw the small town by horse and carriage during a 30-minute tour.

Admittedly it was pretty cold, having had another fresh flurry of snowfall, but there were blankets provided by the owners so I snuggled with my travelling companions.

It was like travelling back in time to the set of the Patrick Swayze series North and South, with the quaint wooden homes decorated with fairy lights.

But there weren't just pretty buildings to see, there was also wine to be drunk - and there are plenty of wineries in the Niagara area.

We headed for one of the more unusual ones, Inniskillin, which is a renowned producer of Ice Wine.

Enchan I'd never heard of the stuff before, but I guess the nearest thing I'd tasted to it was a dessert wine.

Ice Wine, however, isn't as rich or sickly as one of those. You could easily wash down with your main course with this drink, which is produced from frozen grapes, The winerie also had normal white and reds on offer.

After our whistle-stop tour of the region it was on to our next destination, Ste Anne's Spa, in the tiny town of Grafton. We got there by train from Toronto's Union Station, where we were picked up by a representative from the spa.

Fifteen minutes later I was shown to the Canopy Room, boasting a real wood-burning fire, a whirlpool tub and four-poster bed.

It was an enchanting room which felt so cosy and warm that it could easily have been in a farmhouse somewhere.

There was one thing missing - a television. Ste Anne's doesn't do TVs because the place promotes a calming environment.

Instead, there was a perfectly good portable CD player.

I'm all for a bit of telly before bedtime, but I'd come prepared with a book, so I didn't miss it much at all.

Besides, the facilities were great. I spent most of my two days here roaming around in my dressing gown, and that included dining!

There was plenty of food, too, with bonanza breakfasts, fancy lunches and delicious dinners. You could even order as many desserts as you liked.

Be warned that the Spa doesn't have a licence to sell booze, but you're welcome to bring your own. Luckily, we had come armed with a few bottles from Inniskillin, which complemented our meals well.

And in between this fabulous offering of food were superb treatments and classes.

First up was my Seaweed Body Masque, which was described as a moisturising and refining skin treatment.

It started with a full body exfoliation, followed by an application of warmed Sea Science Remedy. I didn't really investigate what this was but it felt great, and that was good enough for me.

Afterwards, I was wrapped up in warm linens and the therapist proceeded to give me a superb scalp and face massage.

After the treatment, my skin was as smooth as one of George Clooney's chat-up lines.

Next came lunch, and later the fieldstone grotto. This was an outdoor hydrotherapy facility, which housed a hot tub, ice-cold plunge pool for cooling down and a lap pool where you could swim against a current.

I was a little apprehensive after seeing the weather forecast for snow, and the temperature was fast plummeting. But once you get into the hot tub you soon heat up.

I even dared to go into the plunge pool afterwards. My skin was tingling!

There was also a Eucaplytus steam room, too, but I was more interested in the grotto.

Next day I had been booked for a Shiatsu massage. Not knowing what to expect, I was left in awe.

The masseuse was a trained expert and, after telling him some of my ailments, he set to work. The whole process involved him putting pressure on certain points of my body rather than rubbing them.

For the first time ever I felt fully relaxed in a treatment. I glided out of the room and spent the rest of the day in a daze.

Before visiting Ste Anne's I'd been to spa resorts before, but had quickly become bored. This place had a different effect. I truly let go and felt as chilled as I've ever been.

Our trip didn't finish here, though. There was time for a quick look around downtown Toronto - and for me that was a trip down memory lane.

I visited the Eton Centre but there was no sign of the gift shop where I had once worked.

But on Front Street, opposite the iconic CN Tower, the Tex Mex restaurant where I had waited tables was still standing!

The city had hardly changed in the 15 years since I had last been and I enjoyed roaming around, looking at the familiar landmarks.

I was just glad that this time my visit had been upgraded.

I'd returned to Canada in style and it was most certainly a trip I wouldn't forget.

FACTFILE Anuji Varma stayed at The Pillar & Post Hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Average room price starts from pounds 190 a night. Visit www.vintage-hotels.com.

She also stayed at Ste Anne's Country Inn and spa, in Grafton, Ontario. A standard overnight stay starting from pounds 276 includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, a $100 spa allowance and two wellness classes. Visit www.steannes.com For information on flights and prices visit www.britishairways.com. For more about helicopter rides over Niagara Falls visit www.

niagarahelicopters.com There's plenty of general tourism advice at www.travelontario.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: The world-famous CN Tower in Toronto and below, reporter Anuji Varma at the Niagara Falls.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Aug 21, 2011
Words:1411
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