Plunging myself into a pool of 53 degree Fahrenheit water in November in Ontario is typically not my idea of indulgence. Unless of course, it’s happening at Scandinave Spa in Blue Mountain, Ontario. And when you consider my day started with Belgian chocolates for breakfast, this is a habit I could really get into. You can, too, and here’s how:
Look north, (but not as far north as the name ‘Scandinave’ might suggest). Only a 90-minute drive from Toronto, the Collingwood area of Grey County, once known primarily for its ski hills, has blossomed into a 4-season playground for many ex-pat Torontonians who want to get away from the city craziness – without giving up those special treats that make for a grownup getaway. Those indulgences include fine dining, interesting shopping, and a secluded spa inspired by the European practice of ‘taking the waters’.
But before I dove into those waters, I chose to start the day by diving into some authentic Belgian chocolates at Aarden’s Chocolates in Stayner, Ontario, an authentic chocolaterie owned and operated by Mark Aarden and his wife, Monica.
A native of the Netherlands, Mark brought his European chocolate-making expertise to Stayner after falling in love with the area while vacationing here. Lucky for us he did. With a boxful of certificates and diplomas that attest to his skill, Mark produces the kind of chocolate you typically only find in Europe, adhering to their strict manufacturing and quality standards, and using moulds and equipment imported from Belgium. His solid chocolate confections produce the desired ”hard snap’ when you break off a piece (the ‘snap’ reflects the perfect composition and texture – sort of like a chocolate version of ‘al dente’), and his truffles and bonbons deliver a flavour explosion (especially at 9am!)
And when it comes to seasonal spectaculars like his snowmen or 2-foot chocolate Santa Claus, Mark works his ingredients like a true artist, pouring chocolate into the moulds in layers, using the milk, dark and white chocolate colours to highlight the features and details of each creation. Even with a limited 3-colour palette, the end result delights both the palate and the eye, making Aarden Chocolates reason enough to make Stayner a destination, and not just a ‘drive through’ town en route to nearby Collingwood.
Sufficiently wired on chocolate, it was time to head to the Blue Mountains, where I was fully prepared to exchange my sugar high for another kind of happy place: Scandinave Spa.
Approaching Scandinave through a stand of birch, maple and fruit trees, you immediately know you are entering a place of peace and relaxation: the scent of wood smoke drifts through the cool air, and you are greeted with signs that ask you to respect the quiet nature of the place – nature being the operative word.
Set into the forest on 25 acres of woodland, with views from the pools that look out onto the Niagara escarpment in the distance, this hidden retreat feels like it is miles away from everywhere, even though the ski hills it overlooks and the town centre of Collingwood are deceptively near.
On the advice of Mylisa Henderson, Scandinave’s Director of Marketing and Sales, I start my experience in one of the hot saunas, the Eucalyptus ‘silo’, where I was almost assaulted with the intensity of the moist, fragrant air when I first entered the steam-filled circular room. I let my eyes adjust so I could just make out the tiered benches, and made my way to the top where I let the scented steam work its magic, so that within moments it felt like every pore in my body was breathing clearer.
After 10 minutes or so of steamy serenity, it was off to the cold plunge pool, and cold it was – not quite a Polar Bear dip where you chip through the ice to expose the frigid water, but close. I threw myself into the first pool of cold water, suppressing the urge to squeal (‘Quiet’ signs were everywhere, remember?) but was surprised at how good it felt! Not good enough to lounge for any length of time, mind you, so after only a minute or two of this intense detoxifying cleanse, I was off to the adjacent hot pool.
Immersing myself in the hot water, my body felt like it was being pricked with tiny needles for a moment – a sensation that made every inch of skin come alive, until that too, subsided, and I settled into the relaxing comfort of the heated pool, letting the water jets work their own magic.
So now I knew the drill: hot, cold, hot, repeat. And repeat I did, in different temperature pools, dry and wet saunas, letting hot waterfalls pound the tension out of my neck and shoulders, and even stopping to lounge by an outdoor fire pit between dips. I could see how an afternoon (or evening) spent here could put the ‘aaah’ in Scandin-aah-ve.
Although I could easily have spent more time relaxing in the spa rooms and enjoying more hydrotherapy, I reluctantly left Scandinave after a couple of hours, as there was still much more to see on my visit (and let’s face it, silence isn’t really my strength!)
TIP: Admission to Scandinave’s baths on ‘Unwind Wednesdays’ will save you $10 off the usual $50 fee. Better yet? Book a massage with one of the Registered Massage Therapists (which many company benefits will pay for!) and unlimited access to the baths is included.