Seated inside Tholos, a popular Greek restaurant in the Village at Blue Mountain directly across from the Westin Resort, I enjoy a delicious fried octopus starter, followed by a delectable main course of mussaka while listening to bouzouki music featuring the staccato crescendo theme from Zorba the Greek at the same time observing night skiers slide quickly down lit slopes outside. This is an easy place to enjoy winter.
In the afternoon, four of us went snowshoeing at the nearby Scenic Caves where we climbed to the top of the Niagara Escarpment to view the surrounding frozen land mass and Georgian Bay, often referred to as the sixth Great Lake. There was a good mix of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing along marked
trails and later, we walked to view the suspension bridge. In warmer seasons, people zip through the treetops here on cables.
The modern snowshoes that we rented were composed of lightweight metal with bindings that easily snapped on and off. They featured a claw-like device set in the middle that allowed safe ascent and descent on steep grades without fear of slipping.
After snowshoeing, we devoured warm chili at the snack bar inside the rustic winter chalet. Outside, barbeque, picnic areas, playground and a trout pond, allow summer visitors to enjoy the area for a few hours or the whole day. But like Robert Frost, we had miles to go before we sleep.
Next, we visit Le Scandinave Spa, Blue Mountain, minutes from Blue Mountain Resort and downtown Collingwood. From the parking lot, a long bridge approximately 48.7m (180 feet) feet transports one to the spa, designed perhaps purposively to imply that you are about to enter another world - mentally, physically and spiritually. And upon arrival, a refreshing quietude enveloped the site, causing us to whisper. For the 40-60 year-old target demographic, this is the perfect retreat to get away from it all, the noise and electronic interruptions that consume daily life.
The unique Scandinavian baths are set in the heart of a naturally treed 25 acres. At first, I was surprised to see people in bathing suits, some lounging outside in minus 2 C weather. However, if you follow the recommended circuit of hot baths, Finnish sauna, Norwegian steam room, thermal waterfall and relaxation areas, you easily manage the outdoors and cold plunges.
Mix in either a Swedish or Hot Rock massage along the way, and you feel wonderfully refreshed.
Watching steam rise dreamily from the baths, the interior design of each building appears rustic and quite comfortable. "You can literally escape for the day here and rejuvenate the body and mind," says Mylisa Henderson, Director of Marketing & Sales.
A small group of investors, including former NHL hockey star, Vincent Damphousse, opened the first concept spa in Mont Tremblant, Quebec in December 1999. The first franchise opened in Blue Mountain, Collingwood, Ontario in December 2006.
Whether you call them thermal spas, hammam, Norwegian baths or Finnish saunas, people here are engaged in a practise dating back more than 3000 yrs B.C. as a means of relaxation and a source of physical and spiritual replenishment.
After investigating the invigorating baths, we headed blissfully back to the slopes and today's posted conditions which were terrific for skiers and snow boarders:
average base: 70 cm; snow conditions: machine groomed powder; new snow: 2cm; day lifts open: 10 of 15; day trails open: 34 of 36; day freestyle open: 3 of 3; night lifts open: 9 of 11; night trails open: 23 of 24; night freestyle open: 3 of 3; snow making: yes.
Blue Mountain offers an amazing thirty-four trails, ranging from beginner to double black diamond, stretching across the scenic Niagara Escarpment,
and reaching 720 vertical feet. The runs are somewhat short, but with 13 lifts and four high-speed six-person chairs, you are quickly back top.
I watched many of the 300 teaching pros help with snow boarder and skier alike imparting their wisdom and enthusiasm. Many families with small children occupied the site, the largest mountain resort in Ontario visited by over 1.5 million guests a year. Summer months offer the nationally ranked Monterra Golf course, the largest down-hill mountain biking facility in Ontario, best-known trail system and a private luxury beach property.
Back at Tholos, I discover that it derives its name from ancient Greek architecture; the Tholos was the central building in every city where politicians met to share food, wine and discussion. Tholos imports its feta cheese from Greece, making this dish special. The texture is smooth and creamy and the earthy flavour is magnificent. Great Mediterranean cooking depends on the very best extra virgin olive oil, so to ensure the highest quality, Tholos imports it from Greece as well.
On the way out, I meet Jimmy, one of four partners: Jim Owen, Jimmy Mavrakakis, Bill Vomvolakis and Steve Xanthopoulos. He hopes I will return. I will indeed.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan, Gene Chambers, Le Scandinave
If you go
Blue Mountain Ski Resort: http://www.bluemountain.ca/
Collingwood, ON L9Y 3Z5, 705-446-0256
Grey County Tourism: http://www.visitgrey.ca/
Le Scandinave Spa www.scandinave.com
Contact: 152 Grey Rd. 21, Blue Mountains, ON L9Y 0K8, 705-443-8484
Scenic Caves, www.sceniccaves.com, Contact: 260/280 Scenic Caves Road
Tholos in the Village at Blue Mountain: www.tholos.ca,
Westin Trillium House, Blue Mountain:
Contact: 220 Mountain Drive, Blue Mountains, ON, 705-443-8080
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