What Travel Writers Say
Niagara's Soothing Spas© By Mike Keenan
The old European spas in Baden-Baden, Germany, Bath, England and Hungary were once called "fat farms." They focused on losing weight. Modern spas have acquired a new cachet. They come equipped with nutritionists, personal trainers, guided imagery to combat stress and they focus on preventative health, the leading edge of health tourism. In the United States, some spas operate with "longevity centres" where clients receive a full medical work-up including blood tests.
Niagara-on-the-Lake offers some of the best spas in Ontario. The White Oaks Resort's Spa neighbours Niagara College which developed a partnership with Brock University at their Glendale campus vineyard and serves as a practical lab for students which motivated White Oaks to incorporate the burgeoning Niagara wine industry into their program.
Here, I sampled the "Nectar of Niagara" signature treatment, aromatic balm for the troubled spirit. They employ red wine by-products for facial exfoliation. Hernder Estates Winery agreed to allow the use of the clayish material that purifies wine by extracting sediment that clings to it - material that would normally be dumped. The natural acids remove dead skin. After a scrub, to replenish and nourish skin, antioxidant wine with poly-phenols mixed with honey containing amino acids and vitamin B for viscosity, is liberally applied. This scientific emulsion induces a smooth skin surface. It constituted a deliciously warm and fragrant massage.
With multiple local wineries and 19,000 acres of grapes harvested in the peninsula, the White Oaks "Nectar of Niagara" treatment is an appropriate innovation. Another signature treatment concocted features non-pasteurized, pure, maple syrup from sap loaded with anti-inflammatory ingredients.
At White Oaks, they pioneered hot stone therapy in Niagara, a massage with heated, flat, smooth rocks. The stones are used in a gentle stroking motion, therapeutic to tight muscle tissue. One stroke equates to ten of the regular Swedish variety. There are different sized stones for each body part including small stones employed for the sinus cavities and in between fingers and toes.
Other treatments include aroma therapy massage, employing soft, essential oils, touch and scent that clients find relaxing. For those who desire a vigorous treatment, there is deep tissue massage.
Spas Ontario sets the industry standards. Since 1999, there has been a 127 % increase in the spa industry. A spa has to have some water element to qualify for membership such as a Vichy shower massage. There must be a minimum of 5 treatment areas and hydro-therapy on the premises plus certain other professional standards. There are currently 36 member spas in Ontario.
Next I visited the Vintage Inns spas at the Pillar and the Post Inn and the Prince of Wales Hotel. Allen Gelberg, Director of Sales & Marketing notes that the Pillar and Post's 100 Fountain Spa has been successfully operating since 1995 and was recently voted one of Ontario's best spa resorts by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. "When we fashioned the Secret Garden Spa at the Prince of Wales, we wanted to compliment the services we already had. We developed seven treatment rooms decorated and themed after various flowers."
Spas have rapidly formed part of the contemporary Niagara lifestyle, catering to people from ages 19 to 80 with the 25-58 demographic forming the bulk of the market and male clientele now up to 33%, their ranks growing with the advent of corporate groups who visit spas to de-stress.
Inside the Prince of Wales' ornate Secret Garden Spa, I was treated to the "Soft PAC" signature treatment, one of only three in Canada. I was wrapped and floated on an amniotic surface releasing the pressure on joints and muscles. The lights were dimmed. Harps played in the background, and like Icarus gliding on a cloud (before his waxed wings melted), I mellowed for the rest of the day.
On a Saturday morning in the Pillar and Post's 100 Fountain Spa, the waiting area is crowded with white-robed patrons awaiting treatments. Many are in their mid-thirties from New York State, taking advantage of the currency exchange rate. Four youngish ladies from Rochester willingly share their bliss; one freshly emerges from the heated outdoor pool. "We all live in the same neighbourhood. Coming here is far cheaper than anything back home. It's a treat and we deserve it!"
At White Oaks, clients do not feel rushed. They have installed a soothing meditation room for before and after treatments. The focus is on rest and relaxation. Fish lazily drift inside a large aquarium. The room is dimly lit, quiet and subdued. There are soft, comfortable sofas from where one may casually sip herbal tea or juice. Another reading room sports a gas fireplace.
"We want to take it to another level, involve the whole mind-body." Accordingly, soft coloured wallpaper with a tactile component allows clients to feel comfortable by appealing to their senses. All ungainly equipment is concealed behind stylishly-crafted cabinets. They have developed an inviting "couples" treatment suite. "Price-Waterhouse research discovered that most couples rearing children and working are lucky today to spend 8 minutes of quality time together each week. We are responding to that need."
An average 55-minute treatment at these Niagara spas costs approximately $110 with many options available.
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.
Pillar & Post 100 Fountain Spa, courtesy of Colin Sines, White Oaks Resort Spa, courtesy of Patricia Jones.
When you go
White Oaks Resort Spa: http://www.whiteoaksresort.com/spa.htm Ph: 905.688.2550
Prince of Wales Secret Garden Spa: http://www.vintage-hotels.com/niagara-on-the-lake/spa/prince-of-wales.php
Pillar & Post 100 Fountain Spa: http://www.vintage-hotels.com/niagara-on-the-lake/spa/pillar-and-post.php
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