Winter Getaway: Ste. Anne’s Spa in Grafton, Ontario (outside Toronto)

I often say that I could live in a spa. Staying overnight at Ste. Anne’s Spa in Grafton, Ontario is the closest I’ve come so far. Between Christmas and New Year’s, we went on a quick girls’ getaway to veg out and enjoy the winter.

Ste Anne’s Spa is an hour and 20 minutes drive from Toronto. As non-car owners, we took a train from Union Station, which was part of our all-inclusive package. A driver from the spa met us at the train station at Cobourg and drove us to the spa in Grafton. 

The spa’s vibe is a cross between a ski resort and country house. The main inn is where the reception, gift boutique, treatments, and most of the facilities are. Some guest rooms are on the second floor. You can also choose to stay in one of their cottages. Since we came on the coldest days of winter, I’m so glad we stayed in the main inn. The property is huge and the cottages are quite a trek away. I believe you even have to drive to get to certain cottages. The walk might be enjoyable during nice weather, but I would not have wanted to bundle up and take all my stuff with me just to get back to my room.

I stayed in the new wing of the main inn, which I believe they had recently renovated. The Cynthia Agatha room was above the reception and gift shop area, so it was convent to nip in and out. It features a French balcony, gas wood stove, and a huge bathroom with a hot tub.

With all the treatments and activities packed in my spa itinerary, I didn’t lounge in my room as much as I would’ve liked, but I’m not in a position to complain.

I had a 60-minute Swedish massage and their Signature Facial* both on the first day. Plus there was lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner scheduled in, as well as their facilities to take advantage of, so I was “busy” well into the night. You can only eat during the scheduled times, so you have to watch the clock if you want to make it to all your appointments. For someone like me, who can easily lose track of time, it can be a little stressful, as ironic as that sounds.

The massage was good. Not mind-blowing, but not bad either. The facial is more of a relaxing, moisturizing one, and didn’t include extractions. What was included: a nice salt food scrub massage and use of products from Ste. Anne’s own nontoxic skincare line, Skin Nourishment, which uses many of the botanicals that are indigenous to the spa’s property. My facialist used the cleansing cream, toner, firming face cream, serum, lip balm, and eye cream.

As for the facilities, the fieldstone grotto was awesome. It’s a small hot tub right outside a door, so on the coldest day of winter, you’ll only freeze for a few seconds before plunging in. Ice started forming on my hair, ears and eyelashes, but my body was hot so I couldn’t feel the cold.

There’s a cold plunge steps away to increase circulation. I’ve seen people go in, but I was not doing that on a record-breaking cold winter day.

There’s also a eucalyptus steam room. In the ladies locker room, there’s a regular steam room, a hot tub and a sauna.

Apparently, an outdoor pool and fitness facility is somewhere on the property, but given the weather, I stayed put in the main inn, which is massive on its own. There are quite a few areas to relax there. The Quiet Room, where guests wait for their treatments, have four really awesome massage chairs. I would like to own one. It probably costs $4000 and takes up quite a bit of room, but still.

Guests read, knit, and chat quietly in the lounge areas. My favourite room is the super cozy game room which features a real fireplace, board games, floral sofas, and a creepy painting of a young girl holding a doll.

The food was excellent for the most part. You always dine in the same room, and if you’re in a rush for a treatment, you can tell your server. The menu is just extensive enough that you have a good variety if you’re staying for one or two nights.

All the meals were included in my package so I didn’t need to bother with a wallet. Three-course meals meant desserts, so I definitely indulged. They encourage you to dine in your spa robes, so the atmosphere is quite relaxed.

What’s great about their food is that they’ll use ingredients, such as fresh herbs, grown on their farm whenever possible. The beef is from Ste. Anne’s own cattle farm, where they’re humanely grown, and hormone and antibiotic free, as part of their Homegrown Beef Program. I did get a chance to visit the cattle farm during the farm tour, and watched our guide feed them hay.

What I didn’t like was the afternoon tea. We actually cancelled it for the second day because it was not appetizing. I’m a hardcore high tea person, and had just enjoyed holiday high tea at the Royal York a week earlier, so perhaps my expectations were too high.

The spa is more down-to-earth than luxury, but it was disappointing because the desserts in the three-course meals had been excellent, and we expected something of the same caliber, especially since Ste. Anne’s has their own bakery. I mean, my two happy places are spas and high tea rooms, so this experience sounded like heaven in theory.

Perhaps for the less picky snacker, this is fine. Fruit on a stick is tolerable, but sliced peppers? I know macarons are some of the trickiest desserts to make, but these ones were hard and crunchy. I’m very particular with my macarons.

Instead of afternoon tea, we went to the bakery, which required a car. The spa has drivers who can take you there if you request it. There, you can get their tarts and cookies, which I recommend.

There are quite a few activities to choose from if you’re ever bored of saunas and lounging around. See the list at reception and sign up for one of them. As I recall, there is yoga, hiking, and snowshoeing during this time of year.

We went to the farms since it’s not something I get to do in the city. I really enjoyed feeding and bonding with the horses at Ste. Anne’s Stables. One of the horses is even named Annie. Some of them are more outgoing, “alpha,” than others, and will hog the food.

The spa is almost always busy, so I hear there is not really a slow season. If you’re ever wondering why there’s a huge lineup at reception after 6 pm, it’s because the day-spa guests are checking out. I don’t think the spa is so busy that it’s really annoying, and we never had to wait to eat since everything is scheduled, but the packed locker room is certainly something to consider since there can be a lot of day-spa guests. In the evening, the spa is more calm.

Little signage asking guests for customer service feedback is everywhere, so I think the spa is really trying to provide top-notch service to the guests. For the most part, the employees were down-to-earth and friendly. I especially enjoyed chatting with the drivers. There were a couple of workers who seemed irritated to be answering questions or taking simple requests. I’m pretty good at reading people, so fake smiles are easy to spot. I think the spa must’ve given all the employees strict customer service training, and a few must be trying hard to adapt. I say if someone does not enjoy working with people, they should really get out of the service industry. That’s what I did, ha.

Overall, I enjoyed my short winter spa getaway at Ste. Anne’s. It’s not perfect, but the good overrode the bad. I would come back in the spring or summer, when I can do more hiking and enjoy the nature. It would probably be a different experience when the flowers are in bloom.

*Ste Anne’s Spa provided me with a complimentary Signature Facial. All opinions are my own.

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