Five weekend getaways that pair city life with time in nature

Featured in the Summer 2019 issue of Travel Life Magazine

St. Regis sabering ritual Toronto
St. Regis sabering ritual, Courtesy The St. Regis Toronto

Part of the beauty of the Canadian landscape is its diversity. You can enjoy everything a big city has to offer, then escape to the country within about an hour’s drive.

With that in mind, each of these trip ideas includes both a city and a rural element to create a perfectly balanced vacation. Whether you’re looking for adventure, luxury, relaxation, spiritual connection, or a wellness retreat, these five weekend getaways in Canada have something for everyone.

Ottawa and Gatineau Park

The classy Andaz Ottawa in vibrant ByWard Market is an ideal base for exploring the city. Upon arrival, you’re greeted with a complimentary cocktail to welcome you to the nation’s capital. Settle in and then head up to the 16th floor for another drink in their classy rooftop bar, Copper Spirits & Sights.

Kalla treatment at the Nordik spa

Kalla treatment at the Nordik Spa-Nature. Photo courtesy Nordik |
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The next day, set your sights on the Nordik Spa-Nature, Canada’s largest day spa in the nearby village of Old Chelsea on the outskirts of Gatineau Park. For a truly unique experience, try their Källa treatment, which involves floating in a pool filled with 10 tons of Epsom salts. Built five metres deep into the rock, this is only the second floating pool of its kind in the world. With low candlelight, soft music and gently shifting colours, you’ll feel your body relax, knowing you’re also releasing toxins and boosting your immune system in the process.

O'Brien House Gatineau

O’Brien House. Photo by Andrew VanBeek Photography

Plan to stay overnight at the nearby O’Brien House, a restored mansion from the 1930s built on a hill with majestic views of Meech Lake and Gatineau Park. Alternatively, choose the Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa with a first-class restaurant and an outdoor hot tub overlooking the gurgling MacLaren Falls.

Montreal and the Eastern Townships

Before lacing up your walking shoes to explore the cobbled streets of Old Montreal filled with great shops, cafes and historic buildings, drop your bags at Hotel William Gray.

This boutique hotel boasts a 5,600 square foot spa. Here you can take a break from the city with a hot/cold thermal circuit that includes a Himalayan salt room for some serious detoxifying. You can also arrange for a massage on a warm quartz bed.

William Gray Hotel spa Montreal

© Spa William Gray

The next day, drive just over an hour to BALNEA spa to relax in nature. BALNEA has its own private lake, a gourmet restaurant, 22 kilometres of hiking trails, yoga classes and its own thermal circuit.

If you want to stay overnight, check their website for boutique hotels that offer packages. I have a soft spot for Manoir Hovey, a five-star Relais & Chateaux property in North Hatley.

Toronto, Cambridge and Grand River

Canada’s first St. Regis in downtown Toronto puts you in close proximity to some of the city’s top attractions. Formerly the Trump hotel, the St. Regis has had a serious facelift.

Pose for a selfie next to the cherry blossoms in the front lobby. Then make sure to stop by the swanky Astor Lounge on the main floor around 5 p.m. for its sabre champagne ceremony.

Louix Louis at the St. Regis

Louix Louis at the St. Regis, Courtesy The St. Regis Toronto

The property’s Louix Louis restaurant on the 31st floor is bright, elegant and regal. Its whiskey theme pays homage to Toronto’s distilling history. Enter the dining room and you’re immediately wowed by a two-storey bar housing more than 500 dark spirits. A 60-foot ceiling mural in gold and amber and the glass chandeliers hanging from it invoke the image of a swirling glass of whiskey.

You can find a similarly refined experience an hour away from Toronto at Langdon Hall, a Relais & Chateaux property in Cambridge, Ontario.

Langdon Hall Terrace

Langdon Hall Terrace. Photo by Jonathan Bielaski

From here, it’s a short drive to the village of Blair where you can take a four-hour guided tour with outdoor adventure company Grand Experiences. The tour starts with a kayak or canoe paddle to the Rare area, a charitable research nature reserve. There you’ll hike through a 900-acre re-naturalized tract of land bordering the Grand River. Savannah, old-growth Carolinian trees and a limestone escarpment run through the forest to the edge of the river. You then return to the river to paddle downstream to Cambridge.

With a little planning, you can be back at Langdon Hall in good time for dinner. Enjoy award-winning cuisine prepared by executive chef Jason Bangerter and his team.

Winnipeg and beyond

Start your weekend in Winnipeg by relaxing at Thermëa Spa. Or head to the spa at the Inn at the Forks, a luxury boutique hotel in the centre of the city where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet. Here you can expect some of the city’s top cocktails in the lounge, comfortable rooms and excellent treatments at its Riverstone Spa.

The next morning, change into some casual, sporty wear and head to the Interlake region to troll for giant channel catfish on Red River north of the Lockport Dam. Manitoba is reputed to be the channel catfish capital of the world.

Or if you need something a little more chill, Grand Beach is less than an hour from Winnipeg. It’s been dubbed one of Canada’s finest. The powdery white sand is reminiscent of what you would find in the Caribbean.

Grand Beach, Winnipeg

Grand Beach. Photo by George Fischer Photography

St. John’s and the East Coast Trail

St John’s is one of the oldest cities in North America. It has both big-city amenities and the charm of a small town.

Spend some time exploring its narrow, winding streets and steep hills. Don’t miss Quidi Vidi, a charming historic village just five kilometres from downtown. Here you can grab a pint at the local brewery and visit the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation to see local artists refining their craft.

Have a meal at the top-rated Mallard Cottage, housed in one of the oldest wooden structures in North America. If you time your visit right—think a late brunch on Sunday—you can stay for live music afterward. You can also spend the night at the Inn by Mallard Cottage. This seven-suite property has a few similarities to the famous Fogo Island Inn. Handmade quilts complete the beds and there’s a whole lot of Newfoundland charm.

Inn at Mallard Cottage, St. John's

Courtesy the Inn at Mallard Cottage, St. John’s

Quidi Vidi is also at the base of the East Coast Trail. A 300-kilometre footpath along the Atlantic coast lets you plan as short or as long a trip as you wish. The pass traverses through small coastal towns. There are plenty of cool features like the Spout, a natural blowhole formed by the waves hitting the rocky coast. You’ll also discover a natural sea arch, local wildlife, deep fjords and historic lighthouses.

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